It's been interesting to hear American commentary on the terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom. Indeed listening to them sort of emphasizes that we're pretty much clueless here on what the British should do. We feel, as do they, that they need to do something, but it doesn't take much to reach that conclusion.
Some of our commentary has been surprisingly muted. One thing that hasn't come up is a discussion on firearms, which did come up a bit in regard to the attacks in Belgium and France. The reason it hasn't come up is that the attacks haven't involved firearms. They've involved explosives, knives and automobiles, but not firearms. In the UK, that is.
Nobody should take false comfort on that, fwiw. The UK endured a decades running IRA campaign in Northern Ireland and on Great Britain which involved plenty of firearms. So the fact that the British have strict firearms laws probably doesn't fully explain the lack of arms. We probably don't really know what does other than a lack of organization and the ad hoc nature of the attacks we're seeing.
Which probably points out that the attacks are ISIL inspired, but not really ISIL controlled.
Before we look at that, its really clear that British police should be armed and the fact they aren't is just stupid. I know that its a tradition that they be unarmed but its a dumb one. Facing a domestic terrorist campaign, they need to be armed and all the time. Probably more people than just that do, although I do not intend to launch into a general discussion on firearms and British society. I will note that during World War Two British soldiers took their arms home with them while on leave (British firearms control laws, fwiw, were much less restrictive at the time in any event). That made sense because if something bad happened while they were on leave, they were armed. And the British issued a lot of long arms to members of the Home Guard.
British Home Guard Stand Down Parade. That isn't "Dad's Army". Those are soldiers.
Again, as I'm not British and it doesn't directly relate to what I'm trying to say, I'm not going to use this as a springboard for a 2nd Amendment discussion. Rather, I think maybe the British need to think at this point about having more official folks carrying, both openly and concealed.
I am going to make this a 1st Amendment conversation, however.
One thing that has come out since the second attack is that the current British government wants to clamp down on the transfer of information via the net. They argue, not without merit, that ISIL inspires and conspires with domestic Muslims to cause these things to happen.
That may be true, but as an American I gasp at the suggesiton that clamping down on information is ever a good idea. I think you combat it, but preventing its transfer is dicey in my view. NOt that we haven't done it ourselves. In wartime we have, but this would require a global effort and its one we can't participate in. Beyond that, plenty of hte world's governments are already all too keen on restructuring information and that seems to encourage that sort of behavior when I don't know that we should be doing that.
This gets into an interesting aspect of a debate like this that we don't hear in the United States very much because the 1st Amendment is regarded as so untoubable, principally by hte Press, that disucssions like this just don't come up. Are you willing to restrict information if it saves lives?
We do hear that in regards to the 2nd Amendment (okay, I can't help but touch on it some), but not the 1st. I.e, are you willing to impose restrictions on the 2nd Amendment to save lives. It's a question most people don't want to answer who are 2nd Amendement supporters (and I'm one, and it makes me uncomfortable. But are you willing to restrict free speech if it saves lives.
Most people are during wartime, that's clear. But what about to counter a terrorist campaign that goes on for years, maybe for decades? That comes close to a different type of censorship than we're generally comfortable with in the US.
And, quite frankly, if the US doesn't participate in the effort, it isn't going to work.
So, are you so comfortable?
I'm not terribly comfortable with arguments in this area that have the warm squishy feel of oatmeal to them, and there's a few of those around.
John Kerry offered one that has a definate element of truth to it, but which is far too simplisitic, but which is an example of what we tend to hear all too often in this area. Again, having said that, there's an element of truth to it. His is the economic and social argument.
Basically, what he said (and he wasn't the first one to offer this explanation over the past week, is that the British in particular and the Europeans in general have done a fairly poor job of integrating Islamic populations both economically and socially. That's quite true.
Indeed, this entire aspect of this story fits into an odd "how bad are you doing" story regarding race, class and religion. It's likely that Brits hearing this from us would stammer back that we're hardly in a position to lecture them on integration of any kind when we had slavery as late as 1865 and segregation all the way up into the 1960s. And they'd really have a point.
Indeed, expanding this out a bit, the French (who have the same problem noted above, along with the Belgians) were much better about integrating our black troops (but not theirs) as early as World War One and the British were, to their credit, fairly horrified by the US having segregated units during World War Two and on how badly black Americans were treated. Having said that, it's difficult to credit that too much when the British and the French had major empires from which they recruited foreign nations to fight for them during those wars. That is, how much more benevolent are you really in this situation? Not much. There's plenty of finger pointing that could go on back and forth on both sides of the Atlantic, on history, on this one.
But importantly the US has made enormous strides in this area since 1900 and in particular since 1945. The Europeans, to include the British, really haven't. That seems to be a cultural thing as European populations simply don't mix very much where as Americans famously do, even if not perfectly by any means.
So now we do have all over Europe populations of ghettoized Muslims, and that's a bad deal by any measure (much less noted, on the continent, we also have a Muslim population that's taking up a lot of conservative traditional European culture more aggressively than Europeans have maintained it). They're ethnically distinct and kept poor, to some extent, which is not good at all.
But the story is a lot more complicated than that. Most of these groups are very recent arrivals having come onto the continent only since 1945 and a lot of them only since 1970. Given that, they managed to arrive just as much of meaningful European culture disintegrated post 1968 and became apatite based, something we here in the US have done as well. Their cultures, however, remained conservative and were religiously based quite often. Indeed this has been so much the case that its sparked some conversion, particularly by European and British women, to the immigrant religion as its clearly centered, whether you think it right or not, and based on something other than materialistic and hedonistic pleasure.
In that situation its clear that a certain massive culture shock is going to occur. Added to that, the immigrant religion has a strong call to forced conversion and licensees violence in some circumstances. That's a fact, not propoganda, although modern Westerners are so schooled in thinkign the opposite they are loathe to admit that. Those who heed ISIL's call aren't irrational by any means, they're thinking and fairly devout.
Of course, ISIL is added to this mix as a motivating force and this brings in other elements. ISIL isn't crazy. Looking at the world they way they do, they're acting in a rational fashion. This may be due to a plethora of external forces and its highly likely to be overcome by developments in culture, technology and economics, but that it would struggle for a Caliphate at this moment, and that some Muslims in the US and Europe would heed the call, makes quite a bit of sense. That's a lot more complicated story than simply assuming that a terrorist could never get his dream job of being an actuary.
Both the US and the UK used versions of this poster during World War Two. Today, the same poster would likely be regarded as culturally insensitive.
And part of that means reexamining ourselves, or I guess the British reexamining themselves (and the Europeans, and us too). That doesn't mean that ISIL is right and we need to surrender to an Islamic Caliphate, but it might mean that some aspects of our culture that have decayed may need to reassessed. The Europeans should be able to grasp that, as should we, as we've done it before.