No-drama counter-terrorism: what Ingrid Loyau-Kennett can teach America

In South East London yesterday, when Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached Michael Adebolajo who in his blood-drenched hands held a knife and a meat cleaver after having just murdered a British soldier, she displayed exceptional courage. But she also showed there is an alternative to trying to crush violence with greater violence: diffuse the violence by creating a space within which anger can be translated into words.

Behind most acts of political violence there are statements that the perpetrators imagine can be heard by no other means. Sometimes, all that de-escalation requires is simply to listen to whatever they have to say.

Politicians and some security experts often argue that to listen to terrorists is to capitulate to terrorism — that it is akin to being manipulated by a child’s tantrum and will “reward” terrorism.

The opposite — that refusing to listen, merely closes off alternatives to violence — can just as persuasively argued.

Indeed counter-terrorism seems as much as anything to be driven by its own counterproductive emotional logic. Terrorism emasculates the powers of the state. It makes those who struggle to prevent such violence appear impotent and thus provokes what in some ways are ritualistic displays of counter-violence.

In these displays, paradoxically, the power of the enemy has to be simultaneously inflated and thwarted. Events that are in many ways isolated and involve tiny numbers of people, get woven together into a global phenomenon: the multi-headed hydra of terrorism.

A small bomb goes off in Boston or a man is brutally cut down in London, and governments respond as though the first shot had been fired in the run up to an invasion. The more the threat is inflated, the easier it becomes to justify what objectively often constitutes a massive over-reaction.

Terrorism is political and psychological and requires a political and psychological response — a response that reflects a realistic assessment of the actual magnitude and diverse nature of the threat and a recognition that those who choose to speak with violence generally regard such violence as a means to an end.

Even if their methods have no moral justification, the issues that trigger acts of terrorism will retain the power to inspire further bloodshed for as long as governments insist that security alone must be their preeminent concern.

As Ingrid Loyau-Kennett demonstrated, there are times when it actually requires more courage to listen than it does to fight back.

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3 thoughts on “No-drama counter-terrorism: what Ingrid Loyau-Kennett can teach America

  1. La vérité

    Martha Mullen, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett and women like them are THE CONSCIENCE of our world.
    Let GOVERNMENTS claiming to keep us safe, learn from this…. WE DO NOT NEED YOUR WAR ON TERROR……. stop surveillance, stop ripping our constitution, stop wasting billions of OUR hard earned money.
    We are not afraid of YOU nor are we afraid to be ourselves……..

  2. Eddy Mason

    Interesting to see that the “people” were not “terrorised” until the police arrived. Then it became a “terrorist situation”!

  3. Paul Woodward

    If people can watch someone getting hacked to death by meat cleavers and knives and not be terrified by what they are witnessing, then that itself would indicate a terrifying numbness on the part of the passersby. But in this instance, I think it’s probably a case where the iPhone images paint a deceptive picture. We see people milling around in the vicinity of a murder, but it seems that many of them imagined they were in the vicinity of a car accident.

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