As someone who once wore a similar uniform (the police force of the United Kingdom is split into many separate but almost identical local units), this story has proven to be poignant and a reminder to me of the dark days of the 1980s when the IRA and other Northern Ireland criminal gangs (let's really not glorify them with the idea that they were principled freedom fighters or public protectors) were a real and ever-present threat to public safety. In those days the possibilities of a terrorist (by the way, for 'terrorist attack', please read: "Cowardly surprise attack upon unarmed, unsuspecting civilians." - which is what they really are) was genuine. We had to treat every false - well-intentioned or mischievous - report of a suspect package as a potential bomb, simply because we never knew whether it was or not. On one occasion which sticks in my mind (and for which I therefore refuse to apologize if I'm repeating myself), I was merely feet away from a terrorist anti-personnel device when it was discovered. Had it gone off, it would have killed me and my colleague in a particularly unpleasant way. Perhaps understandably, I have little empathy or pity for terrorists.
This doesn't prevent me from taking a global view of the term. What, after all, is a terrorist? Nelson Mandela, possibly the most Lionized political figure of the last few decades, was once labelled a terrorist for his involvement in armed Resistance against what I think we can agree was an evil social system. Was he wrong? Well, yes. In so far as the activities he was involved in could and would have led to innocent deaths, I have a hard time distancing that from any other act of terror. Regardless of what he achieved since his release from prison, he was wrong to use violence in that way; in my view the taking of innocent lives is always wrong, no matter what the cause. In recent years, however, the advent of 'Jihadist' terrorism has brought a particular kind of terrorist into the spotlight. I'm talking, of course about those acts committed by mentally ill criminals. Which covers just about every modern terrorist act.
No matter what the motivation (religion, of course, being the most talked-about at the moment), the act of strapping a bunch of explosives and ball bearings/nails to yourself and detonating it in the middle of a crowd is an act of madness. It is irrational in the extreme; no less so than the actions of a raving maniac who stabs and beheads one of his Greyhound bus passengers (read your recent Canadian history) because the voices tell him that the victim is Satan. Driving a vehicle into a crowd of people (Westminster and Stockholm) is every bit as unhinged as the member of ISIS cutting off white men's heads in front of a camera because he thinks that will please a merciful Allah. It's madness, plain and simple. The fact that a group such as ISIS then claims either solidarity or direct responsibility for one of these ridiculous acts of murder lends the act no more or less rationality, and is most probably a load of bollocks (I apologize for using a scientific term there) anyway.
I hope, therefore that you agree with me (it's OK if you don't, by the way; I'm not going to come around to your house and blow myself up in your living room if you don't): terrorism = madness.
So, because it strikes particularly close to my heart, I ask myself what happened in Westminster recently? It seems to me that a lone (i.e. he was not backed by a huge, sophisticated and well-resourced organization) lunatic and established criminal took a vehicle (not too hard to get a hold of one of those now, is it?) and a couple of domestic kitchen knives and went out to kill some people. He wanted to kill; that was part of his mental illness that day. He used everyday objects - a car and some knives from the house - to commit his vile acts of murder. He probably expected to be killed; he may have welcomed the opportunity to be killed for whatever warped idea he used as justification for his acts. The lone lunatic went on a rampage and killed. It was, and is, a senseless, disgusting tragedy. Innocent people murdered because of a madman's impulses. Families shattered, loved ones bereft. There is no sense to it other than to accept that it was senseless, as so much of the universe is.
Yesterday's funeral of PC Palmer illustrated - at least to me - a very important point about terrorism and its real effect. As Londoners have shown since that horrible day, life has continued for almost everyone, more or less unchanged. Yesterday, with thousands upon thousands of police officers from all over the United Kingdom present to pay their respects to a former colleague, nothing happened. Essentially, a veritable feast of high profile victims was gathered in one place, ready to be picked off by platoons of terrorists, ready to become a bewildering array of statistics demonstrating the power and might of the terrorist cause. And yet, nothing happened. Despite all the ways that an attack could have been launched upon such a soft target (imagine the death toll of police officers and bystanders in such a circumstance), the terrorists - whom we are taught to fear - didn't show up. In the parlance of my old job, they 'bottled' it. It seems that the 'warriors' only like their targets to be completely unprepared as well as unarmed.
The truth is this; society wins and terrorists lose.
Life continues and the everyday man, woman and child continue with their lives. Of course the bereaved suffer, the injured suffer and their loved ones share the anguish, but the ultimate aim of terrorism fails.
We are not beaten.
I think that may be worth remembering this week...