More than any other country in the West, Britain has become practised in the arts of self-deception and subject avoidance. If a politician in France had been butchered by a Muslim of Somali descent, the French media and political class would have gone through a cycle of debate about the ideology that propelled the killer. Government and security sources would have talked about the networks surrounding the suspect. And the whole society would have learned a little more about what might have led to such an outrage.
In Britain the situation is otherwise. David Amess was stabbed to death in a church while holding a surgery for his constituents. The man apprehended for his killing is a 25-year-old of Somali descent named Ali Harbi Ali. In the days since then we have learned that the suspect had been referred to the government’s Prevent programme seven years ago while still a sixth-former at Riddlesdown Collegiate school in Purley. Yet the political classes have once again shown themselves incapable of even being able to speak about the most likely source of the problem.
From the immediate aftermath of the murder politicians talked of the killing almost as though Sir David had died of natural causes. Sadiq Khan, among other senior politicians, tweeted his sorrow that Sir David had ‘passed away’. When the Commons met on Monday to commemorate Sir David, it was once again as though a colleague had merely died uncommonly suddenly and unnaturally early.
Compare this with the aftermath of the killing of Jo Cox in 2016 when the entire pro-Brexit movement seemed for a moment to be in the spotlight as anything from inspiration to actual co-conspirators. The UK knows what to do when a far-right maniac goes on a murder spree. But as reactions since last week have shown, even after all these years we remain utterly unsure of how to even speak about likely Islamic radicalism.