Winning the war withinby Dexter Dias / June 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
I’ve spent months with terrorists, in high-security prisons, in court cells-—defending them. Not defending their actions, but their rights. Should I have done so? Should anyone? This question was put to me at the recent Hay Festival in Wales. After I gave a talk, a woman put up her hand. She burned with anger, she said, when she heard I’d acted for terrorists; she had every right to feel that way. She was a Tube driver on the Circle line and a survivor of 7/7. This was only the second time she had mentioned that fact in public. That exchange took place at 2pm on Saturday 3rd June. At around 10pm, three men committed indiscriminate murder on London Bridge and at Borough Market.
In the aftermath of those attacks, many around the UK will have felt the same as my questioner. Certainly, Theresa May was counting on that when she announced that she would change human rights law if it “gets in the way” of fighting terrorism. But this is a lazy substitute for thinking about the real problem. I’ve spent the best part of a decade grappling with the very worst human instincts. Keeping ourselves safe from terrorism has to start by understanding what it is that can make these people, young men normally, ready to maim and murder in this way.
It is entirely natural to reach for a concept like evil, which—as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it—is a word for wickedness that applies “especially” when it is “regarded as a supernatural force.” But the atrocities at Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge were not acts of a supernatural force. They were the acts of men. In our age of high-tech warfare, the most devastating weapon is still the human being. To keep ourselves safe from the darker parts of human functioning, we need to cut through our sense of mystification at how this could have happened. How could Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena bomber, who was born and raised in Manchester, who attended Salford University, and who was repeatedly described by those who knew him as “friendly” and “normal,” have done what he did? And what could have motivated the Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood—born on Christmas Day 1964 in Dartford—to murderous and suicidal fundamentalism?