Chris Selley: If the Brits can handle terrorism properly, surely we sheltered Canadians can too

Selley takes down Sun columnists on their alarmist calls for internment and other measures:

Brits are reacting to the latest terrorist attacks on their soil more or less as usual, though Thursday’s election adds an extra bit of urgency and drama. Conservatives, including Prime Minister Theresa May, are calling for ramped up anti-terror measures: more surveillance, more punishment, more online censorship. “Enough is enough,” May said Sunday.

A few unreconstructed lefties still bang on about Western civilization’s just desserts, but as Terry Glavin observed in the National Post after last month’s attack in Manchester, that species of urban sophisticate is less welcome at parties than ever. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used to be very much of the “Terrorist? Or freedom fighter?” set. With Labour shockingly competitive in the polls, he now accuses May of cheaping out on policing and supports a “shoot to kill” policy that he used to oppose.

Some are calling for much stronger measures indeed. Tarique Ghaffur, a former assistant commissioner for London’s Metropolitan Police, argues “special centres” should be set up where some 3,000 known Islamic extremists could be forcibly de-radicalized — i.e., internment camps. Professionally hysterical Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, who is very un-British-ly proud of being frightened to death, is foursquare behind the idea (though she has apologized for her post-Manchester demand for a “final solution”).

“We face an unprecedented terrorist threat in Britain,” Ghaffur wrote in the Mail on Sunday. There are “way too many (potential threats) for the security services and police to monitor (otherwise).” Ghaffur conceded the precedent was not entirely compelling: the internment of nearly 2,000 Irish nationalists between 1971 and 1975 “led to hunger strikes,” he noted. “But the centres I’m proposing would be different as they would have backing from Muslim leaders.”

One rather suspects they would not. And the problem in Ireland was quite a bit larger than hunger strikes. Setting aside civil liberties and other such malarkey, it didn’t work: 1972 was the deadliest year of the Troubles. With all those suspected threats locked up, the IRA blew up pubs, hotels and army barracks across the U.K.

That took gumption and significant resources. Nowadays, it would take very little effort at all for ISIL to leverage internment as powerful inspiration for amateur jihadists who see glorious carnage to be made with a white van and kitchen knives.

Internment is a God-awful idea, but it’s at least understandable in the British context. Terrorism is hardly an existential or an unprecedented one: 2005 was the deadliest year for terrorism in the U.K. since the Troubles, and it pales by comparison. But when cars and kitchen knives become threats, the cowardly have all the more reason to hide under their beds and demand martial law so they can be comfortable going to the theatre again.

It’s quite ridiculous to see this nonsense crop up here in Canada, however, where the domestic death toll from Islamic terrorism stands at three people, all of them soldiers. “All people (who are) on terror watch list in Canada or are in terrorist rehab programs should be detained and in some cases deported,” Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington tweeted. His colleague Anthony Furey followed suit: “Get the RCMP to arrest the dozens of known jihadists now walking around freely on Canadian soil. Just do it.” Furey’s demand was all the stranger considering he wrote a column explaining how implausible it would be to build a legal case against someone for his activities in ISIL-controlled Iraq or Syria.

Sheltered as Canadians have been from these threats, there is a streak of performative unseriousness that runs through our anti-terrorism discussion. “Let ‘em go,” some chortled when Canadians were found to be heading abroad to fight for ISIL. And when they come back, what then? “Lock ‘em up,” they’ll say — but of course we can’t, or not while respecting the rule of law.

Our relative unfamiliarity with terrorism might make it understandable that we would overreact to whatever threat there is. But it’s all the more disreputable for that reason — especially considering police keep foiling plans that do exist. “Go out as you planned and enjoy yourselves,” senior U.K. anti-terrorism officer Mark Rowley advised Brits heading into last weekend — not because they had everything totally under control after Manchester, you understand, but because MI5 believed “an attack is no longer imminent.”

The Brits, by and large, went out as they planned. Overwhelmingly, Canadians seem to be doing likewise — and rightly so. The rest of us should get with the program.

Source: Chris Selley: If the Brits can handle terrorism properly, surely we sheltered Canadians can too | National Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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