As if we needed reminding, this past week has shown that the Islamist threat is a truly global problem. In the space of a few days, Isis claimed responsibility for attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market; and elsewhere, for the attack on the Iranian Parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. It would be hard to think of more diverse targets than drinkers at London pubs on a Saturday night and the tomb of the theocratic Shia cleric who inspired the 1979 Iranian revolution. Yet for Isis there is logic. All are enemies: infidels, heretics, apostates.
The Tehran atrocity shows again that what we are witnessing is a civil war within Islam. To the Sunni militant, the enemy could be a girl at a music concert or a worshipper at a Shia mosque. Iran has been more involved than anyone in the Syrian civil war, sending its proxy armies to defend their country’s Shia ally in Damascus. The Isis-Iran conflict, the Saudi-Iran dispute and the emerging dispute between Qatar and everybody else goes back to the Shia-Sunni split at the beginning of Islam. As Tom Holland argues in our cover story, the jihadis are motivated by religion — and their war needs to be understood in those terms.
There was a time recently when people hoped that the Middle East would start to look more like Europe: that Turkey was turning European and that history was moving in our direction. It can seem comforting to refer to the Islamic State attackers as ‘medieval’, as if they are a historical anomaly that cannot survive in the 21st century. But this threat is also very modern.
The fact that this evil should have manifested itself twice in a British election campaign has raised uncomfortable questions for Theresa May.