Editorial: This grisly crime must not erode our freedoms

We cannot let Britain grow more intolerant or divided in the wake of this attack


Sickening, brutal, barbaric. Such are the terms in which the attack that left a serving soldier lying dead in the street has been described. All are true, and all are yet still inadequate to express either the appalling savagery itself or the shock of its occurrence in an ordinary corner of south London. Not since the 7/7 bombings on the capital’s public transport network in 2005 – in which 52 innocent people lost their lives – has the brute reality of extremist hatred been so horrifically brought home.

With the two assailants in hospital, the questions now start – and they are legion. The most telling is whether the men were acting alone or were part of a terrorist “cell” supported by others, either here or abroad. But there will also be issues for the security services to address. Although sources suggest that the perpetrators were known to the authorities – and only the ongoing criminal investigations prevent the Government from explicitly saying so – it is not yet clear whether they should have been under closer surveillance. The more far-reaching questions are not for the police or the security services, however. They are for the rest of us.

The ranting of one, blood-drenched attacker – filmed by a passer-by – is a masterclass in extremist absurdity, an attempt to justify the unjustifiable with recourse to a “we” that does not exist. There is a lesson here, though. Not in politics. Nor even, sad to say, in how to prevent such fanaticism from taking hold. But rather in how society can hold out against the threat of limitless violence perpetrated at random and with cold unconcern for the consequences. And the lesson is that only by refusing either to compromise our values or to give in to the attempts to sow division can we deny the fundamentalists their victory.

Thus, the Prime Minister stressed that the revulsion is shared by every community in the land. Similarly, Islamic leaders across the country – and, indeed, many ordinary Muslims, too – were quick not only to condemn the attack but also to disavow any religious legitimisation for it.

Not all have been so sensible. Within hours of the incident there were nationalist protests and even attacks on mosques. More concerning still, the British National Party is proposing to hold a rally in Woolwich tomorrow. It is, perhaps, predictable that the far right might choose to use the activities of the unconscionable few to condemn the moderate many. But it is no less dismaying for all that. The calls for the Home Secretary to ban the gathering must be resisted, nonetheless.

While the prospect of even a handful of ultra-nationalists making such grisly hay is a depressing one, they must – providing that the law is not broken – be free to do so. To clamp down would not only fuel the ire of the far right. It would sacrifice basic democratic freedoms and give in to the bullying of terrorist violence.

The same principle applies elsewhere, too. Amid the questions about the effectiveness of MI5, support was growing yesterday for a revival of Theresa May’s “snooper’s charter”, which would give the authorities much greater powers to monitor citizens’ internet usage. Such a move would be indefensible. What was intrusive before remains so now.

Wednesday’s attack cannot be anything but a cause for great sadness and some considerable alarm. But we cannot allow it to leave Britain either more divided or less tolerant. As the actions of many of the witnesses at the grisly scene attest, the majority of ordinary people – of whatever faith or background – exhibit, unprompted, extraordinary bravery and humanity. As the horrors in Woolwich sink in, it is that which must remain uppermost in our minds.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page


General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk