Ed Barker is saxaphone player for George Michael and a former Parliamentary Researcher.
The world recently watched in horror as events unfolded on the beaches of Tunisia where 38 holidaymakers, including 29 Britons, were massacred by a 23-year-old gunman.
We’ve seen a number of responses by the British Government. David Cameron called upon parts of the British Muslim community to stop ‘quietly condoning’ extremism, and repeated his case for tough new ‘banning orders’ and ‘extremism disruption orders’.
The Education Secretary unveiled plans to tackle radicalisation in schools, and the Defence Secretary made clear his view to Parliament that it should consider bombing ISIS targets in Syria in addition to the current Iraq campaign.
Most recently, we also saw the Prime Minister criticise the BBC for using the term ‘Islamic State’ to describe the group responsible for the killings, further to the campaign led by Rehman Chishti, the Conservative MP.
The Prime Minister is right – nomenclature matters – but we must go further than this, and stop using the word ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’.
By using such terms we instantly give the propaganda victory to our enemies that they are seeking. People that shoot innocent civilians are murderous thugs, and that’s the end of it.
By succumbing to pressures to add labels to actions whose causes we feel we don’t yet understand, we are giving our enemies the best recruiting tool in the book.
Prospective murderers are given a sense that they are about to take part in a cause greater than themselves, are made to feel that they are acting not as criminals but as soldiers, and that an early death is something to strive for.
Can you imagine how much harder it would be to recruit someone to engage in an act of serious violence and certain death if he feared that he would be talked about afterwards, not as a terrorist soldier, but as a criminal madman?
Ministers may feel that calling mass murder ‘terrorism’ demonstrates to the nation – and especially to the families and friends of those caught up in the atrocities – how seriously the Government takes these incidents, and how keen it is to stop them happening again.
However, we are doing the families, friends, victims and the entire nation a disservice each time we choose easy but damaging and self-defeating labels.
Surely they would much rather see a rigorous debate, the right decisions made and the correct terminology used, so that these attacks become less prevalent?
When the Commons decided not to support military action in Syria in 2013 it became clear that, since the Iraq War, we’ve come to understand that military action against this type of enemy – however worthy its motives, however efficiently and effectively executed and however many of our enemies we kill – is ultimately counterproductive.
Bombs and bullets kill people, of course, but they certainly don’t kill ideas or messages. In fact, they help them to spread further and faster. We need very quickly to come to the same realisation when it comes to the words we use to describe these people.
Calling someone a ‘terrorist’ and their actions ‘terrorism’ might help us in the days after an atrocity to try to understand the nightmarish situation. It might enable the Government to come out with a raft of measures and ideas to create the appearance of an effective Government response.
But it all actually does more harm than good. The term ‘terrorist’ serves only the lunatic on the beach with a gun.
The term ‘terrorism’ is defined in the Terrorism Act 2000 as serious violence, ‘designed to influence the government…or to intimidate the public’ and ‘made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.’
The Prime Minister says it is ‘inappropriate’ to call the organisation we are fighting ‘Islamic State’, ‘…because it is neither Islamic in the true meaning of the word nor, indeed, is it a state.’
So, why don’t we strike out ‘religious’ from the definition of terrorism? Surely no person advocating or carrying out mass murder can ever be religious ‘in the true meaning of the word’. Let’s make a start at dismantling this spurious term and removing it from the statute books.
I’m all for the free market of ideas, which was why I was in favour of allowing the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, to appear on BBC Question Time in 2009. Flawed ideas should be defeated with better arguments and reason, not shut down.
What I’m against is the promotion of ideologies which are only put on our agenda as a result of mass murder. Once you commit serious violence, you don’t deserve to have your ideas debated or seriously considered by anyone.
No amount of trying to understand the ideologies of these people is ever going to help stop these attacks, so we must stop incentivising the spread of these evil ideas by changing the language we use.
Politicians are often heard saying that we will never be defeated or intimidated by terrorism. By announcing that an act of violence, like the one we saw this week, is ‘terrorism’ we are admitting that our enemies have been victorious in terrorising us.
We owe it to the victims, their families and friends, to Britain and the entire civilised world to stop giving our enemies the stamp of victory they seek.