One would have thought that U.S. President Donald Trump might at least have waited for the blood of dozens of innocent Londoners to be washed from London Bridge and Southwark Street and the sidewalks of Borough Market before insinuating his characteristic vulgarity, meanness and stupidity into the horror. But even that was too much to expect.
After an initially anodyne expression of support on Twitter (“Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U.K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”), Trump immediately took the opportunity to present a preposterous conspiracy theory (“We need the courts to give us back our rights”) to explain the fate of his constitutionally incompetent effort to bar visitors from a handful of Muslim-majority countries (“We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”). That would have been ugly enough.
But on Sunday morning, Trump further disgraced himself by attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan (“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ”). He followed that up with more idiocy (“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.”)
To begin with, Khan said no such thing. The thing Khan implored Londoners not to be alarmed about was not jihadist terror, but rather the stepped-up security measures made necessary by the terrorist outrage—the third atrocity carried out in Britain over the past three months. “You will see an increased police presence today,” Khan told Londoners. “There is no reason to be alarmed by this.”
Quite sensibly, Khan’s office responded to questions about Trump’s eruptions by noting that the mayor was rather too busy “working with the police, emergency services and the government” to be responding to such outbursts. Lewis Lukens, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in London, later made a valiant effort at damage control. Lukens offered his condolences to the victims, congratulated ordinary Londoners and law enforcement officials, and singled out Khan for praise: “I commend the strong leadership of the mayor of London as he leads the city forward after this heinous attack.”
This is not the first time that Khan’s statements about terrorism have been misrepresented by far-right windbags and members of the Trump family so as to give the impression that Khan, a Muslim, is complacent about Islamist terror. Three months ago, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage accused Khan of dismissing concerns about terrorism by referring to attacks as “part and parcel” of living in a big city. Donald Trump Jr. took up the same line: “You have to be kidding me?!: Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”
Again, Khan had said no such thing. What he said was this: “Part and parcel of living in a great, global city is you’ve got to be prepared for these things, you’ve got to be vigilant, you’ve got to support the police.”
That’s hardly an appeal to complacency. But repeating hysterical propaganda lines like these serves the purpose of preying on the legitimate fears of the overwhelmed and ill-informed. One can only hope that most ordinary people are not so stupid that they fail to notice that both the “right” and the “left” have cultivated habits of conflating Islam, the religion, with Islamism, the political fanaticism. The “politically correct” line is the fiction that Muslims are legitimately aggrieved by interventions the “West” has carried out in Muslim-majority countries. The bigots’ version: Muslims cannot be trusted; they’re all jihadists under the skin.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was subjected to similar hysterics last July in response to his remarks following the Bastille Day mass murder of 86 people by a jihadist who drove a 25-tonne truck through crowds of people gathered along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Valls was viciously traduced for having allegedly dismissed public outrage on the grounds that the French are simply “going to have to live with” terrorist attacks.
In fact, what Valls said was rather more nuanced than that: “We would like to tell the French people that we will never give in. We will not give in to the terrorist threat.” While Valls did say “the times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism,” he was merely reiterating what he’d said several months earlier, following another jihadist atrocity: “We must be fully conscious of the threat, and react with very great force and great lucidity. There will be attacks. Large-scale attacks. It’s a certainty. This hyper-terrorism is here to stay.” This was no appeal to surrender, but rather the opposite. It is a recognition of reality.
It isn’t easy for politicians to speak honestly about Islamist terrorism. It’s far easier to be dishonest, to play on the misapprehensions of broad political constituencies, to tell voters what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. There aren’t many votes in pointing out that no amount of surveillance or “counter-radicalization” programming can assure protection against jihadist mass murder, or that “western foreign policy” is not what’s instigating acts of barbarism in Britain, Denmark, Afghanistan or Nigeria, or that Islam is not simply the “religion of peace” that the overwhelming majority of harmlessly devout Muslims want it to be.
British voters go to the polls on Thursday, and it is a testament to the ghoulish Conservative leader Theresa May’s unpopularity (as Home Secretary, May laid off 20,000 police officers) that British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has managed to dodge accountability for his past pronouncements. Corbyn has built a career out of speaking dishonestly about Islamist terror.
Three days after the July 7, 2005 London jihadist bombings in London that killed 52 people and injured 700, Corbyn blamed British foreign policy. Britain’s security problems were the result of “the way we inflict an insecurity on so many other people around the world.” After the gruesome 2014 beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning, Corbyn said the murder was “the price we pay for war and jingoism.”
Just one of many problems with this sort of “it’s all our fault” rubbish is that according to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, it’s not even true. They hate all of “us,” including ordinary Muslims, because we refuse to submit to their fascistic death-cult interpretation of Islam. ISIS made that plain in a manifesto published last August: “The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”
On Sunday afternoon, ISIS claimed responsibility for Saturday night’s mayhem in London. This can’t be trusted as evidence of Islamic State direction, but it’s certainly proof of Islamic State endorsement. Last week, ISIS took credit for inspiring the mass murder of 23 people, most of them children, at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Atrocities like these, carried out against innocent civilians in Kabul, Paris, Baghdad and London, will continue. It’s got nothing to do with either “political correctness” or “imperialism.” It is going to be a very long war, and vulgarities of both the Corbynite variety and the Trumpist variety aren’t helping. We’re having a hard enough time as it is, just keeping an eye on who the enemy is.