Woolwich, Over-reaction and a Tale of Two Countries

by George_East on May 30, 2013

Last Wednesday saw the tragic death of Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich.  The attack was carried out, it would appear, by domestic Islamist extremists.  Theresa_May The fact that it was carried out with a machete in broad daylight on the streets of our capital, has had a particular resonance.   Lee Rigby’s death has also predictably brought out the right wing crazies in the form of the English Defence League, who have sought to exploit the sickening killing for their own racist ends.

Equally predictably though has been the reaction of our political classes.   Within, it seemed, moments of the murder, senior Tory politicians were calling for renewed attempts to pass legislation allowing the security services access to all of our internet browsing and emails, the so-called Snoopers’ Charter.    This call has been supported by former members of the Brown and Blair cabinets like Alan Johnson and John Reid, and there are some indications that Ed Miliband will assist the Tories in passing such legislation, against Liberal Democrat opposition (this issue is one of the very few in which Nick Clegg can be said to have, to his credit, resisted Tory proposals).       The right wing press has been predictably vocal in its support for such a law (even though they are the first to recoil in horror at what they perceive to be attacks on their civil liberties, such as the proposals coming out of the Leveson Inquiry.

The call for the introduction of the Snoopers’ Charter has been matched by calls for Theresa May to ban various groups perceived to be sympathetic to radical Islam, whether or not the groups espouse or support violent methods, and even the bringing into force of a similar ‘no voice’ ban on certain individuals, similar to the ridiculous ban on Sinn Fein spokesman back in the 1980s, which made the UK an international laughing stock, as actors with similar accents lip synched the words of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on news broadcasts.

These reactions once again reflect what a knee jerk scaredy cat childish political culture we have – where the lessons of counter-productive and philosophically wrong draconian legislation passed by the Blair administration in the light of 9/11 and 7/7 have not been learned.  There has always been a fundamental contradiction in terms in the notion of defending our fundamental freedoms and rights by removing those very freedoms and rights, whether through bans on free speech, intrusive surveillance or extended detention without trial.  There is, of course, absolutely no reason to believe that the Snoopers’ Charter or the banning of Islamist groups would have preventing the murder of Lee Rigby.

LB_Jens_Stoltenberg_162787cHowever, what also struck me when watching the over-reaction from our politicians and press, and the usual optimistic demands from the securocrats in the light of last Wednesday murder, was the striking difference between the British reaction to Lee Rigby’s murder and that of Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway to the atrocities committed by far right extremist, Anders Breivik, in 2011.

Breivik’s attacks in the centre of Oslo and then at the summer camp on the island of Utoya, resulted in the deaths of 77 people, mostly teenagers.  Norway is a small country of only 5 million people.  This was a higher proportion of the population than 9/11 for the US.     Jens Stoltenberg’s reaction was not to introduce draconian laws or to remove fundamental liberties.  In fact quite the opposite.  He made it clear that he was not going to allow the massacre to affect Norway’s openness and liberal society.   He quoted a teenage girl who survived the massacre:

No one has said it better than the AUF girl who was interviewed by CNN: If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together’.

His extraordinary reaction rightly led Stoltenberg to win our Hero of the Year Award for 2011.  If only we in the UK had politicians able to resist knee-jerkery and tabloid populism.   Why on earth can’t we be more adult about these things.  Once again why on earth can’t we be a bit more like Norway.

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