I rarely read non-fiction, preferring the engrossing plots of a novel over stark analysis of the world’s generally depressing, stressful hurly burly. But with Western moral and political meltdown in full swing – wrong posing as right, deviousness and irrationality everywhere – I’ve been lately drawn to books that diagnose our world’s problems.
Two of the best I’ve read recently are feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Prey, released this year, and Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7 from 2006. Both were slammed as Islamophobic by leftist pundits, an absurd charge and predictable distraction from the point of both books: that the West has given up on itself and its values and embraced moral relativism, and that this has dire consequences for domestic, personal and global security.
Hirsi Ali argues that mass migration of men from Muslim majority countries is causing grave social problems in a Europe that refuses to insist upon integration. Gove, writing shortly after the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, presents a damning picture of Western governments, especially Britain’s, appeasing or ignoring rather than rooting out and punishing terrorists, and enabling – in the name of serving multiculturalism and avoiding the appearance of racism – whole networks of plotters. As Gove insists, this is down to the ‘sapping of confidence in Western values’, particularly by the left since 1968, and a ‘prevailing moral relativism’ that has stopped us defending our culture properly. Depressingly, the problem has only deepened in the 15 years since his book was published.
Last week we were offered a reminder of the perverse effects of this inverted thinking. Unbelievably, more than 90 terrorists, all “active and ongoing” cases, are being considered for release by the Parole Board. Among them are a gang that was planning to blow up the London Stock Exchange in a 2010 pre-Christmas “spectacular”. A target list found in the homes of one of these plotters included the addresses of two rabbis, then-mayor Boris Johnson, and the US embassy.
Also expected to be up for review are three acolytes of the extremist Anwar Al-Awlaki, while the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, who ran a three-man Al Qaeda cell plotting mass murder, is set to be ruled on in March. He was jailed for life but with a minimum of just 10 years in 2008. A would-be Isis fighter, an extremist visited in prison by the Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi and dozens more men who have grossly violated the right to a free life in Britain, are among the others.
The reasons for this dangerous leniency are invariably portrayed as “complex” by the Ministry of Justice: a fine balance between rehabilitation and further radicalisation, and of course the need to keep costs down.
But it’s hard not to scent the same rot that let – for instance – Abu Hamza, the Finsbury Park Mosque jihadist, go free for so many years. Namely: the sense that it’s better to take a softly-softly, wait and see approach in order to avoid the appearance of hostility towards a minority community. Among some, especially those on the left, this anxiety to be gentle is rooted in a belief that we, a nasty ex-empire, really are a guilty party who deserve to be punished for our hubristic imposition of liberal values on others – past and present. It is this belief that has, for instance, led British politicians to apologise for offence caused by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers, which led to retaliatory violence and murder, rather than stand up for the West’s signature value of a free and uncensored media. It’s the same story among the many who insist that terrorist murder on British and American soil is just and direct payback for military action in the Iraq and Afghanistan, and for ongoing dealings with Israel.
Afghanistan is a potent example of what happens abroad when the West gives up. Our squeamishness about sticking things out and using military might properly has plunged the entire nation into a reign of terror and the smashing of basic human rights for women. Our departure has also turned Afghanistan once more back into a breeding ground for global terrorist plots, a development which will come home to roost on our soil soon enough.
The situation is so bad that even Gordon Brown condemned the withdrawal last week, railing at the irony of nations who vowed to end absolute poverty this decade catapulting a whole nation straight into it.
I’m not suggesting that it is practical for us to go around the world, forcibly installing democracies in all non-democratic countries. No minority – or majority – should ever be demonised for the crimes of individuals. People and society are complex, and not all issues can be boiled down to goodies and baddies, and just or unjust desserts. But our response to terrorism, no matter what community it comes from, can and should be declared and understood in clear moral and practical terms.
As long as we continue to self-abnegnate, muddy leniency, not justice, with prevail. Far more lives will be lost, and our society will be weaker, thinner and far more dangerous.