Iain Duncan Smith is a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, founded the Centre for Social Justice, and is Conservative candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green.
Through sleepy eyes, I fumbled for the switch on the radio. Six o’clock, time to get up, I thought as the alarm went off. Then the news broke in on my thoughts, and I listened with horror as the narrative of the terror attack in London unfolded.
As always when such events occur, one is seized by varying emotions. At first, anger at the barbarity and the senseless loss of life, never more so than when I heard eyewitnesses report that these men, armed with knives and fake suicide bomb vests, had shouted “This is for Allah” as they attacked their victims.
My emotion quickly turned to warmth as I listened to the stories of heroism, not just of our brilliant security services but also of ordinary people caught up in the mayhem. One particularly made me smile as he recounted how he had tried to stop them by hurling bottles and chairs at the murderers.
Then, I was overtaken by another emotion, as my wife reminded me that our son who works in Bristol had been up for a party in central London that evening. I quickly called him – no answer. No answer to my texts, or on our Whatsapp group. Over the next two hours, irrational as it must seem, we felt our anxiety grow. Then came a simple text from him, and I felt quite foolish. It made me dwell on how many parents still couldn’t find out if their son or daughter was caught up in the attack, and how must they have felt as the hours ticked by with no news. My heart at that moment went out to them.
For the third time in as many months, our country has been assaulted by fanatics whose sole purpose was to inflict as much death and injury as they could before they were killed. Their mission was martyrdom after they had rid the world of unbelievers; they sought death, both for their victims and for themselves. As far as I know, whether it was the attack on Parliament and Manchester, or near London Bridge in the early hours of Sunday, all three attacks were the work of homegrown terrorists. Young men, whose lives had been nurtured in this tolerant and decent land, turned on it in the name of a perverted belief which celebrates death over life.
Of course, these men are a minority of the British Muslim community and their twisted beliefs have no place in the homes or hearts of good Muslim men and women who take pride in their British identity. Yet these acts, as Sajid Javid wrote the other day, fall heaviest on the collective shoulders of their community. Not because they are directly responsible, for of course they are not, but because it is from within the Muslim community that future fanatics must be discovered and rooted out. As the Quilliam foundation (a muslim counter-extremism organisation) pointed out after the Manchester attack, a recent survey of Muslims showed seven per cent of British Muslims support an Islamic caliphate while four per cent believe terrorism is an acceptable form of protest—a large pool of potential jihadists. Promoting integration, they say, involves deeper questions about belonging and identity that don’t have easy answers.
The Prime Minister’s powerful statement outside Downing Street echoed this sense when she made it clear that we need to make a cohesive effort to confront not just the act of terrorism, but its roots as well. Particularly when she pointed out that too often public bodies had behaved differently when confronted by unlawful action in some communities, almost for fear of offending that community. This is what Quilliam meant when they said that the one way to start underlining a sense of British identity is to consistently enforce British laws in all communities. There must be no safe spaces for extremism. She went on, also, to throw the gauntlet down to the large internet companies to take responsibility for policing so much of the appalling content planted on their sites by jihadi propagandists. This requires international agreement if we are to make this happen, but she is right that they have resisted this for far too long.
As the terrorist group ISIL slowly gets driven out of Iraq, it demands violent action by its adherents – which poses a direct threat not just to the UK but to other countries as well. This is what the Prime Minister meant when she said “enough is enough” on Sunday after the COBRA meeting. As I sat in the studio at Broadcasting House, waiting to be interviewed, I silently cheered. For this crisis may have started abroad but has now become homegrown. Yes, we must come together to defeat Islamic terrorism, but we need to recognise this now requires hard choices about the balance of civil liberties and the powers necessary to take them on and defeat them.
With the election almost upon us it is worth reflecting that three huge issues now face us which require strong, competent leadership to see us through: terrorism, the economy and Brexit. As I look at Corbyn’s massive programme of tax and spend, which will rapidly bankrupt us all, I shake my head. As I think of just how weak he will be in negotiations with the EU, I also shake my head. However, when I think of Manchester and London and how he has boasted about opposing every single counter-terror law, gave cover to the IRA when they bombed and shot our citizens, and supported Hamas and Hezbollah, I despair for my country as never before.
For that reason, I hope and believe that on Thursday the British people will see the challenges that lie ahead and finally reject Corbyn.