Sunday, 26 May 2013

Reason thrown to the wind in Woolwich

The tragic and pointless murder of an unarmed and off-duty soldier in a Woolwich street has not unsurprisingly hit the headlines of our press and appalled pretty well everyone. But what next? The police appear to have mopped up a number of suspects, and no doubt high profile trials will follow.  Those who stupidly typecast all Muslims in the same vein as those seen explaining, with bloody hands, the twisted logic of their actions, are having a field day of racist prejudice. Islamic leaders have joined the condemnation.  And the Government?  They appear to see the need to do something, anything, perhaps, to "stop this happening again". 

This post sets out the reasons why such an approach is misguided. First of all, I think this awful event needs to be seen in context.  We live in a society where a large number of individuals behave as individuals, and where pretty well every aspect of that behaviour confirms to a normal distribution. Statistics in a Solicitor's blog?  Yes, statistics. Now one facet of a normal distribution is that there are extremes.  At the risk of trivialisation, let us take the harmless pursuit of trainspotting.  As a society we range from people whose interest in trains is virtually non-existent, through people who like them to run on time and wouldn't mind a seat please, to those who have notebooks filled with numbers filling shelves of their suburban homes.

Violence conforms to the same pattern. Just as there are those who really would not hurt a fly, at the other end are those who have taken what I believe to be a societal aversion to violence away from their world-view.  Some seek to justify that, others do not. Murder is the result, and I would say that it is an inevitable result, of normality.  The more violent the mid-point of the curve, the nearer to normality is any particular act of violence.

Western societies, and I would suggest Britain is no different here, have become markedly less violent over the last century.  Indeed the publicity afforded to this event is evidence that we are just not attuned to violence.  With murders in the UK hovering around 600 a year, and around two thirds of them being perpetrated by people known to the victim, the chance of being killed by a stranger is around 1 in 300,000 -  around a fifteenth of the chance of being killed in a car accident.  You are over thirty times more likely to be murdered in South Africa.

Still, even in a society such as ours, there will be extreme events. But that is what they are, and they should not dictate policy.

Secondly, what possible steps could be taken to restrain lone maniacs from acquiring standard kitchen equipment and using it to attack someone chosen almost at random?  I possess three meat cleavers, around 15 large and very sharp knives, and two meat hammers, with impressive ends.  Will the possession of these items become a matter for licensing?  I think not. 

We are, I fear on the brink of a knee-jerk overreaction.  in Theresa May, we have a Home Secretary whose insecurity is palpable.  Calling a meeting of the COBRA Committee in reaction to what was obviously an isolated event with no national implications at all is an astonishing miscalculation.  Only today, the suggestion that groups who do not advocate violence but who are "radically islamic" in character may be banned has come from her.

If there is any lesson to be learnt from history relating to such things it is that pushing radicals underground leads to adverse consequences.  It leads to normal people feeling repressed and tending towards violence. Ms May is out of her depth here, and is running with the crowd, not making effective decisions and avoiding statements putting this matter into perspective, It is a crime, a horrid one perhaps, but the law is sufficient to deal with it. Jusitce must be done.

So is there anything that can be done at all?  In the short term, there is nothing, but in the long term maybe the Government's attitude towards religion needs rethinking.  Mr Gove's education "reforms" have facilitated the setting up of schools run by cranky Christian sects as well as Islamic ones.  Children are increasingly being segregated on religious lines, and the last thing we need is a society where faith determines everything, such as exists in Northern Ireland, and where divisiveness is a feature of normal life; and where tolerance is hard won rather than expected. 

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