I’m not a doom-monger but the reality is that terrorism is here to stay, actually, in fact, it’s never gone away. Terrorism, by definition, seeks to spread terror. It might be tempting to consider the early 21st century as a period of unparalleled and incomprehensible acts of senseless violence. Sadly these kinds of acts are not new, throughout history, the UK and the rest of the world have been subjected to terrorist attacks in the name of so-called religion and politics.
It is almost impossible to pinpoint the very first act of terrorism carried out within British territory. The most famous incident in early modern history is probably the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the House of Lords. And although he is the best remembered, Fawkes did not act alone. He was part of a larger network of 13 conspirators who sought to destroy parliament and trigger a popular uprising.
In the second half of the 19th century, European anarchism introduced the idea of “Propaganda by Deed” as a tactic of anti-government resistance. This consisted of the assassination of government officials and bomb attacks in public places such as cafes and theatres. Although anarchist attacks were actually more common in continental Europe, England was an important hub for anarchist thought. The less restrictive laws of the United Kingdom made it a haven for radicals fleeing political repression in their own countries.
In the same period, the heavy death toll of the Great Famine in Ireland from 1846 to 1852 prompted calls for Irish home rule and resulted in the formation of networks of radical revolutionaries, the Fenians. Although the largest Fenian campaigns were waged in Canada and in Ireland itself, attacks within England included the bombing of Clerkenwell Prison in London in 1867, in which 12 people were killed and more than 100 injured.
In 1909, the Indian revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated a British official on the steps of the Imperial Institute in London. This followed a number of assassinations and bombings in India, as militant networks of anti-colonial radicals attempted to destabilise British imperial rule by initiating a “reign of terror”. Dhingra was apprehended and executed, but his brazen attack in the middle of London provoked panic within metropolitan Britain.
More recently, the IRA conducted a sustained insurgency against the British government from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. The bulk of the violence took place within the political and religious tensions of Northern Ireland. The IRA also carried out acts of terror in England, including a bomb detonated at the Aldershot headquarters of the Parachute Regiment, that killed seven; in November 1974, the IRA carried out one of its most devastating attacks killing 21 people in a pub bombing in Birmingham and in 1984 it orchestrated the Brighton bombing of the Conservative Party conference.
In 1988, a Pan Am airliner blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing a total of 270 people including 11 on the ground. Following a three-year investigation, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals in November 1991. In 1999, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands after protracted negotiations and UN sanctions. In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for life after being found guilty of 270 counts of murder in connection with the bombing. In August 2009, he was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, the only person to be convicted for the attack. In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained that he had never given the order for the attack.
On July 7th, 2005, the deadly 7/7 Central London bombings were conducted by four separate Al-Qaida extremist suicide bombers, which targeted civilians using the public transport system during the morning rush hour. Three bombs were detonated on three separate trains on the London Underground and one on a double-decker bus. 56 people were killed and 700 injured.
In 2017, there have already been three significant attacks on British soil –
On 22nd March Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British man, born in Kent as Adrian Elms, drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, before crashing the vehicle into the Palace of Westminster’s perimeter. He then entered the grounds of the Palace of Westminster, the meeting place of the Houses of Parliament, before being confronted by a police officer, whom he fatally stabbed before being shot himself. Six, including the perpetrator and the officer, were killed in the incident, and 49 people were injured, carried out in the name of Islamic extremism.
On 22nd May a large explosion caused by a British suicide attacker with a bomb at the Manchester Arena killed 22 individuals and injured 120. The attack occurred shortly after an Ariana Grande concert had concluded, and many of the fatalities were young concertgoers on an evening out.
Sadly last night, June 3rd, saw yet another attack. At least 7 people confirmed dead, including the three attackers. A white van ploughed through people on London Bridge, followed by the attackers exiting the van and then stabbing people randomly at Borough Market in restaurants. No-one has yet claimed responsibility, although it has been declared a terrorist attack.
So where does the UK go from here? Do we exclude all Muslims, the Irish and any other persons perceived to be a threat to British soil, bearing in mind that most are UK citizens, born and bred here? Do we build walls around ourselves, akin to Trump’s ideology to protect the US? Would any of this actually work? Of course not, because there will always be extremists and fundamentalists acting in the name of whatever cause they are supporting. Would more police on the streets make a difference? I doubt it – you can’t police every citizen of the UK 24/7 – there will always be someone that slips under the radar regardless of what precautions that you take to secure your borders. We can continue to blame whatever Government is in power, but at the end of the day, you can only do so much with any intelligence gained, and what you are not aware of, is impossible to defend against.
There are currently 28 terrorist organisations known worldwide working around the clock, looking for opportunities to strike, deploying more innovative, yet sometimes simplistic methods to strike fear into people. Outside these known organisations, there will be breakaway cells and lone wolfs looking to kill indiscriminately, not in the name of religion but in the name of extremism and let’s not ever forget that fact – they are NOT representative of a true religion, whether that be Islam, Christian or Catholicism, etc.
Let’s be thankful and focus on how many actual planned attacks have been thwarted, how many lives have been saved, how the British have pulled together in these times of need and will continue to do so. Yes, any one single life lost to terrorism is tragic, but it is sadly very much a fact of life and we need to accept that, as much as we’ll hate to do so.
On a personal level, I’m a Londoner; whilst I do not live there, I still regard London as my home. It breaks my heart to see the capital being torn apart and the people living in terror – London is truly beautiful, it’s a Cosmopolitan and diverse city – please do not turn your back on her, she is strong and the British people will stand united. Fear will certainly not stop me from ever visiting the capital, it will not stop me from travelling or living my life fully, neither will it cause me to turn upon my fellow human beings regardless of their religion, creed or colour.