Sam Ashworth-Hayes

We need to talk about the killing of David Amess

We need to talk about the killing of David Amess
(Photo: Getty)
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In the world I inhabit, the killing of Sir David Amess has been formally declared a terrorist incident, a suspect has been taken into custody, and the police have identified ‘a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism’.

In a second world, constructed of headlines and commentary and tweets, a conversation is taking place that is almost entirely disconnected from this base reality. In this world, the Home Secretary is primarily concerned about the ‘corrosive space’ provided by social media, the Commons asks questions about the ‘toxic’ conduct of politics, and attention is given to the level of aggression and abuse experienced by MPs.

These are important issues. It is not right that our elected representatives are faced with a deluge of threats and repulsive language for doing their jobs. But these issues are distinct from the matter at hand.

According to the current discourse there are only two acceptable ways to recognise the suspected motivations of the attack. The first is the condemnation of the murder by Southend mosques as being ‘committed in the name of blind hatred.’ The second – as skewered by the late, great Norm Macdonald – is the concern that the murder will drive a rise in hate crime against Muslims.

It is instructive to compare the response to David Amess’s death to the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox. By the end of the 16 June, the nation was gripped in an in-depth discussion about the potential far-right motive of Thomas Mair, how this related to anti-immigration sentiments expressed by politicians, and the tenor and conduct of the Brexit debate.

The Guardian said that Cox may have died for her ideals of multiculturalism and diversity, called out far-right political parties for rhetoric that mirrored ‘the ideology with which Isis and al-Qaida secure their recruits’, and noted that Brexit risked ‘becoming a plebiscite on immigration and immigrants.’

The following day David Cameron visited the Priestley memorial to say that Britain’s prosperity was ‘underpinned by tolerance’, and that ‘where we see hatred, where we find division, where we see intolerance we must drive it out of our politics, out of our public life, and out of our communities’. Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour party, said that she was killed by a ‘well of hatred’. Former prime minister Gordon Brown called out the exploitation of latent prejudice to ‘breed intolerance’ which too often ‘descended into hate’, and the need to address a ‘culture that does too little to challenge prejudice’.

No one on this occasion had any difficulty tying the murder of Jo Cox to the far right, or indeed to the political discourse on immigration more generally.

In contrast, discussion of the role Islamist extremism may have played in the death of Sir David Amess is notable by its absence. There is, instead, a sense of resignation and a desire to focus on other things. Perhaps, to borrow a turn of phrase, the feeling among the political class is that the occasional brutal murder of a member of parliament in the conduct of his democratic duties is simply part and parcel of living in a big democracy.

This sense of inevitability is itself inevitable. After 9/11, after 7/7, after the stabbing of Stephen Timms, the murder of Lee Rigby, the Westminster attack, the Manchester Arena bombing, the London Bridge attack, there were at least conversations. We talked about the need to combat the spread of Islamist ideology, to find ways to deradicalize those at risk, to redouble our efforts to integrate communities.

Inevitably more attacks followed. And once these liberal policy options had been exhausted, it became necessary to slide and deflect because even a conversation would highlight the powerlessness of these policies.

There are, despite the divides between parties, rules to British politics. One of the core rules is that while you may be allowed to know certain things, you are not allowed to notice their implications. So while it’s permissible to know that radical Islamism is a problem, and that some communities are more susceptible than others, you are not allowed to put these two facts together to make the observation that there are specific issues with Islamism in specific communities.

But to avoid the hard conversations entirely is to abandon a community when it needs our help most. Patriotic British Muslims do not want their children exposed to radical Islamists, to be represented in the media by people with hard-line views, to see space given to an ideology that corrodes their bonds with their neighbours.

If our leaders are not willing to deport extremists who stir up hate, to do the hard work of identifying communities and individuals at risk, to accept that for now this scrutiny will not necessarily be uniform while we address risks to their safety, to look for tools of integration that work – well, then there is nothing left to say. And another conversation must be had, another world built, to fill the dreadful silence that would otherwise be left.