“It just never ends,” says Donald Trump, referring to the shooting in Paris last night. He is right, but not as he means it. What never ends is the readiness of politicians to rush to publicise and thus enhance and promote terrorist incidents. Once again Islamic State’s useful idiots are turning a violent crime on a Paris street into a global event. French ministers are plunging into their bunker. French election candidates are cancelling their campaigns. The only sane response was from an early jogger in the Champs Élysées. Asked how she could be in such a place, she replied: “Why not? We continue as normal.”
Fat chance. The presumed intention of the now dead attacker was to deflect the news agenda on the eve of the first round of the French election. If he was clever, he was also hoping to boost the fortunes of the rightwinger Marine le Pen, and thus incur a responsive militancy among the Muslim community. He will have been encouraged by the global publicity given to last month’s stabbing of a policeman in London. By far the greatest risk of similar acts disrupting Britain’s forthcoming election is how far we publicise and react to this one.
We must always be careful how we describe the mental state of suicide killers, but they are clearly not susceptible to deterrence, protection or armed response. The only constructive way to contain them is prior intelligence from the communities and cells within which they operate, though their often solitary character makes even this difficult. As for the ugly, surely useless, fortress barriers now going up across London’s West End, they suggest a city quivering in capitulation. They fly in the face of Theresa May’s claim that “we are not afraid”.
Yet again we must understand that terrorism is not an ideology, not a war, certainly not a nation. It is a weapon in an argument, a method of making a political point. As such, it is 10% crime, 10% news of that crime, and 80% wild exaggeration of its “cause” as media and politicians climb onto its bandwagon. The reward to fanaticism is a celebrity that is now beyond all sense or reason. There is no real defence against a terrorist except to deny him that 80% celebrity.
If we wish to turn Britain’s forthcoming election into a security-drenched hell, we will do so by overreacting to Paris. That way we will ensure that terrorism “just never ends”.