When Roshonara Choudhry was jailed for life at the Old Bailey last week, she was said to be the first person to have attempted an al-Qa'ida-inspired assassination of a public figure in this country. Her target, the Labour MP Stephen Timms, survived being stabbed twice in the stomach by the student, but an Islamist website urged other British Muslims to murder politicians who supported the Iraq war. The US-run site, since taken down, published a list of targets, expressed the hope that Choudhry's crime would "inspire Muslims to raise the knife of jihad", and suggested that MPs be tracked down at their advice surgeries, offering a link to a supermarket website where knives can be bought.
These people are dangerous and delusional. Despite their medieval props – robes, symbols, beards – they belong to a long line of modern fringe organisations that strut, pose and romanticise violence, including ETA, Baader-Meinhof, the Brigate Rosse, the IRA, the Black Panthers and white-supremacist organisations in the US. No matter how elevated their rhetoric, murders, rapes, robberies and kidnappings are their stock in trade. Remember heiress Patty Hearst toting a gun after she joined forces with her kidnappers in the Symbionese Liberation Army. And ETA has murdered more than 800 people in Spain in pursuit of its demand for an independent Basque state.
Today's Islamists display a familiar sense of grievance, self-aggrandisement and contempt for democratic processes. They're also risibly inconsistent: Choudhry refused to recognise her trial because it wasn't conducted under sharia; she also cleared out her bank accounts before stabbing Mr Timms, to prevent the hated "state" seizing her assets. But Choudhry's rejection of the brutal British state was selective; she had no scruples about benefiting from a state education, including a degree course at one of London's most prestigious universities. Two male supporters who shouted abuse at the court turn out to have similarly elastic values, relying on state benefits to support themselves and their families.
Attempting to murder someone is wrong, regardless of their faith. Mr Justice Cooke's unfavourable comparison between Choudhry's religion and the Christian values espoused by Mr Timms are a gift to angry young Muslims who relish the notion that they're victims of a Christian conspiracy. Nor, since Choudhry hid her knives under her black robe, was it the ideal moment for Cherie Booth QC to dismiss critics of religiously-inspired forms of dress. "We use the appearance of women as a metaphor of our fear of a supposed Islamic threat," Ms Booth claimed to a journalist from El Pais, two weeks after her half-sister Lauren Booth announced that she had converted to Islam.
At best, the more extreme forms of Islamic dress are ideological garments, expressing the puritan notion that women's features are too disturbing for public display; at worst, they've been used as cover by Islamist suicide-bombers and escaping terrorists. They are discomforting on both counts, but most of us are too polite to suggest that they be banned here. The horrific details of the 7/7 inquests are proof that Islamism is a threat, even though its ideas are a half-baked combination of religion and ideology. Roshonara Choudhry is the latest young person to be taken in, and the result is simultaneously ridiculous and tragic.