Did Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner plumb the depths of public discourse when she referred to Conservative party members as ‘Tory scum’? Without doubt.
Was the physical assault that followed on former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who was hit in the neck with a traffic cone as he walked to his party’s conference in Manchester, abhorrent? Absolutely.
Is it totally unacceptable that almost all high-profile politicians, journalists, broadcasters, sportspeople and public figures – including me – receive death threats and other unconscionable attacks anonymously on social media on a daily basis? Definitely.
But did any of that have anything to do with the barbaric suspected terrorist act that resulted in the murder of MP Sir Davis Amess on Friday? Not one jot.
I have watched dumbfounded over the past 72-hours at the near total disconnect between what we know about the suspected terrorist and the humbuggery from the media and political class around why this tragedy happened.
A conversation about online anonymity or civility in politics may well be important, but, let’s be real for one damn minute, it’s totally irrelevant here.
Amess’ suspected killer Ali Harbi Ali wasn’t some sort of partisan keyboard warrior trolling Sir David with vicious and unsettling abuse.
Everything we know about this 25-year-old of Somali heritage – including from the police – suggests he was an Islamist extremist, radicalised right here in the UK, probably wanting to kill an elected representative.
DAN WOOTTON: I have watched dumbfounded over the past 72-hours at the near total disconnect between what we know about the suspected terrorist and the humbuggery from the media and political class around why this tragedy happened
DAN WOOTTON: A conversation about online anonymity or civility in politics may well be important, but, let’s be real for one damn minute, it’s totally irrelevant here
Obviously, he has not yet been charged with any crime and is innocent before proven guilty, but Scotland Yard said on Friday: ‘The fatal stabbing in Leigh-on-Sea has tonight been declared as a terrorist incident, with the investigation being led by Counter Terrorism Policing. The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.’
We must talk about that.
And in fairness, British newspapers have been doing their job in uncovering a disturbing trove of information about this young man, which is chillingly familiar to the homegrown terrorists who have struck before.
The Daily Mail revealed today the alleged killer was referred to the government’s flagship counter-extremism programme Prevent when he was still at school.
The Sun quoted former friends claiming he was radicalised after watching YouTube videos of hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
The Daily Telegraph reported that police and security services are certain his broad motivation was to strike down an MP to further the Islamist cause spouted by groups such as al Qaeda, Islamic State and especially al Shabaab, which is active in Somalia, where his family are from.
I can think of a multitude of questions more important at this moment that need urgent investigation than the toxicity of social media.
Why isn’t the Prevent programme working and how can it be prioritised so the young people being radicalised can be stopped before it’s too late?
How can we get to young men who have spent a large proportion of the past 20 months locked in their bedrooms being influenced by radical preachers?
And, if we’re talking about social media, why do the big tech giants continue to allow a platform for hate preachers like Choudary specifically designed to create young British terrorists? It’s been well over four years since YouTube and Facebook were shamed for continuing to host videos about how to make suicide bombs and yet here we are.
But asking those questions in 2021 runs the risk of going against the woke orthodoxy and being accused of Islamophobia.
That creates the most bizarre tone of debate, with an almost wilful blindness about what probably occurred.
Consider London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who initially said Amess had ‘passed away’, as if he had been lost to the world from natural causes rather than brutally killed in a likely terrorist attack.
DAN WOOTTON: I can think of a multitude of questions more important at this moment that need urgent investigation than the toxicity of social media. Why isn’t the Prevent programme working and how can it be prioritised so the young people being radicalised can be stopped before it’s too late?
Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister Alison McGovern wrote a lengthy column for The Guardian headlined: ‘Political debate has coarsened. We MPs can take the lead in restoring calm and respect.’
In 883 heartfelt words there were criticisms of the ‘tone’ of the political media, politicians being ‘forever at war’ with themselves, ‘security consequences’ and ‘social media norms’ needing to change. But there was not one word about terrorism or the Islamic extremist ideology that continues to be a serious threat.
Homegrown Islamist terrorism has been responsible for a host of attacks in the past two decades, from 7/7 to the Manchester Arena atrocity, claiming 20 lives in the last five years alone.
And we know that last year the MI5 was investigating 3,000 extremists, with another pool of 40,000 potential radicals.
Far from this being an isolated incident, 31 planned terrorist attacks have been stopped by authorities in the past four years.
I was particularly struck by Sohail Ahmed of the national security think tank The Henry Jackson Society, who was previously subjected to an Islamic radicalisation attempt, and was one of the few voices in the media accurately dealing with the matters at hand.
Speaking on GB News this afternoon, he said: ‘When it comes to Islamist extremism in particular, I would say that the Islamist ideology creates this structure that funnels genuine grievances that people have and perhaps mental health issues into a particular direction, a direction towards violence. Extremism is far more prevalent than when I was in school.’
We should be hearing the voice of Sohail, who turned back on this form of extremism, much more in the mainstream media this week and learning from his experiences.
Sir David Amess was a great man – that rare politician not in it for himself; the type of MP you want to have representing you.
I am delighted Boris Johnson and the Queen have accorded Southend city status, fulfilling his passionate decades-long campaign posthumously. What a legacy.
But we also owe it to Sir David to properly discuss the circumstances behind his death.
This murder was nothing to do with the nastiness of social media or coarsened political debate.
It is strongly suspected that it was about jihadi terror which doesn’t care whether we are naughty or nice on social media or in a TV debate.
Only acknowledging that and attempting to stop the scourge of Islamic radicalisation of young British-born men will contribute to ensuring this type of attack never happens again.
But what hope do we have, if most of our leaders don’t even want to talk about it?