Little did I think when I left Parliament on Wednesday after Prime Minister’s Questions, that a little later there would be mayhem and murder where I had been. Routine can be dangerous and I should have known better.
The security level was ‘severe’, meaning that a terrorist incident was ‘highly likely’. It only took one unhinged fanatic to kill three people and mow down more than twenty others, before a policeman shot him. For a few days or weeks I will be more alert for suspicious people and incidents, but are there more lasting lessons that need to be learnt?
To live in constant fear would be unhealthy, but a stronger sense of realism would not. This incident was inevitable. The so-called Islamic State has called for incidents like this. As many as 800 Britons have gone to fight with them. Their forces are gradually being driven out of Iraq, Syria and Libya so terrorist acts like Wednesday’s are their only way to sustain their evil campaign. Effective education and the Government’s Prevent Strategy may deter younger people from being sucked into their orbit, but hasn’t reached those like yesterday’s crazy killer, those who murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 or other terrorist acts like those in Paris, Nice and Berlin.
Inevitably some atheists will say all this is evidence of the bad influence of religion and will point to acts of genocide described in the Old Testament. The Christian response will focus on Jesus’ life and sacrificial death and resurrection as evidence to the contrary. He did not die to placate an angry God; he was the incarnation of a loving God. Nonetheless, the religious motives of Islamic State and its followers, as well as those of Al Qaeda, El Shebaab and Boko Haram, are evil and lead to incidents like the Westminster attack.
It is easy to condemn these groups, but this should not blind us to the pervasive evidence of evil in the world from other sources. In his book “Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”, Johan Norberg records the unprecedented progress over the past few decades in health, diet, housing and other material aspects of life. But his thesis overlooks the careless indifference of we who enjoy these material benefits towards those who continue to live on the edge of starvation, without access to education, adequate health care and regular work, which leaves them in extreme poverty. We who ‘have never had it so good’ care too little for those who don’t share our good fortune of being born here and now in a prosperous society.
Popular responses to the plight of refugees fleeing from tyrannical governments, religious persecution or from a life-threatening existence and early death point to our own moral and spiritual failings. Jesus’ parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ shows us an alternative response. It is right that churches are leading the way in operating food banks and helping people cope with debt problems, but there is much more to do before the material progress that Norberg charts is matched by compassion and care for those who don’t share it.
When we start to do that, the jihadists and other critics of Western democracy will find it harder to recruit. Those who join them now are rejecting the benefits of material progress and we should ask ourselves why whilst resisting their solution.