23 March 2017

A violent hatred that is doomed to fail

By Tom Harris

“Mr Speaker, yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy.

“But today we meet as normal – as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do – to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid. And our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.

“And we meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy – and the values it entails – will always prevail.”

Theresa May stood and calmly delivered these words to a packed House of Commons this morning. Yesterday, though, was a very different matter.

The orderly business of the house was shattered when a 52-year-old man, Khalid Masood, attacked the Palace. He left three dead and many more injured, and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gate.

These shocking events at Westminster coincided with my first visit to the Palace – on business – for some weeks. As soon as the security personnel started shouting (calmly) and asking (politely) that we all move away from the glass doors of the Portcullis House atrium, it was obvious something serious had occurred.

While all Members of Parliament have stories that place them close to dramatic events – increased security after 7 July 2005 or sudden hectic evacuations of the terrace – nothing could compare to this breaching of the gates. But every MP and Peer has long been acutely aware that the Palace of Westminster, being probably the most iconic building in the country, if not the world, is an obvious terrorist target.

For what more eloquent statement could the men of hatred make than to declare the ancient capital of the British Empire a war zone? The Twin Towers and the Pentagon were targeted for precisely the same reason: because their iconic status was supposed to lend power to the terrorists’ actions and message.

This new iteration of Islamist terrorism – and Khalid Masood has been described by IS as one of their soldiers – sees democracy not just as a threat but as a heretical challenge to their own warped theocratic ideology. How can their special brand of hatred towards all who are different from them succeed when democracy is not simply thriving, but is seen to be alive and well every time they gaze at the skyline of Britain’s capital city?

Luckily, Britain’s capital city – and its bastion of democracy – is protected by the heroic and occupied by the brave. Indeed, one parliamentarian, Tobias Ellwood, struggled at length – and alas in vain – to keep one of the security guards, PC Keith Palmer, alive.

As Ms May reiterated: “Yesterday we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best… And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.”

Today, it was business as usual in the capital as London, undaunted and unbowed, went back to work: “It is in these actions, millions of acts of normality, that we find the best response to terrorism,” said the Prime Minister. “A response that denies our enemies their victory. That refuses to let them win. That shows we will never give in.”

In the last decade and a half we’ve become only too aware of the nature of Islamist fanaticism and the threat that radicalised British-born citizens pose. Our political leaders (most of them, at least) understand that the threat requires to be faced down not only with force of arms – as happened yesterday – but with logic and persuasion and with our own unbending resistance. Nothing will frustrate those who hate our freedom more than our renewed determination to defend it.

As MPs and Lords debate the future of this building – our building – they should pause to consider the symbolic importance of a structure that is not just a legislature, not just a tourist attraction, but is a powerful, inspiring representation of the values we hold so dear. They are values we will always defend.

Tom Harris was a Labour MP from 2001 to 2015