Opinion: In wake of British bombings, balancing human safety, human rights is key
By Neeharika Hemrajani
LONDON — It was June 4, the morning after another strike at Britain’s heart.
Standing outside of 10 Downing Street, the seat of government, Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to calm fears following an attack by three men who drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge and then used knives to stab people in the nearby Borough Market, killing eight people and injuring 60.
It was the second terror attack on a London landmark in 10 weeks. On March 22, another knife-wielding man drove a van into a crowd on Westminster Bridge, killing five and injuring 50, including students visiting from a French high school. On May 22, a suicide bomber struck an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 and injuring 220.
“Enough is enough,” May said, adding, “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed.”
Yet that statement has prompted vast scrutiny from media outlets and citizens alike, particularly towards the possibility of new restrictions on social media, privacy, tech companies and perhaps public access to landmarks and other high-traffic areas.
As inquests begin today into the London Bridge attack as well as the Manchester bombing, 60 percent of Britons surveyed by YouGov, a UK-based market research group, said The New York Times was wrong when it described London as “reeling” after the attacks:
The London attacks hit a nation still reeling from the shock of the bombing in Manchester almost 2 weeks ago https://t.co/aapuMBQTmf
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 4, 2017
However, 84 percent of Britons surveyed by YouGov last August said it was “likely” that there would be attacks on British cities and other targets.
The truth is, even though Londoners have a long history of carrying on in the face of tragedy, the recent attacks have tested our faith in the future. Reading the headlines, it seems as though the beginning chapters of the next best-selling dystopian thriller are unfolding before our very eyes; a time of terror and continuous suspense grips us to the core with the unpredictability of what tomorrow may bring.
Today, we find ourselves in a perpetual war against terrorism, unlike any other before, where our safety is threatened, technological innovation may soon be under fire, and diplomatic tensions are higher than ever before.
Perhaps the comparison with a novel such as George Orwell’s “1984” is naive, but like Orwell, May sees a clear threat, saying that the three attacks in the UK in the past three months “are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism, that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism.”
Such an ideology is “a perversion of Islam and a perversion of truth,” May said, adding that it “claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam.”
Powerful as those words are, it seems all too simple to point a finger of blame. As May and other world leaders respond to terror strikes in their cities, perhaps we should be asking a question: What comes first in creating a peaceful world, human rights or human security?
This year has already provided us with a plethora of responses. In the United States, President Trump’s highly scrutinized travel ban is his latest stratagem in the global war against terror. A populist ploy? Perhaps. The truth is, balancing what keeps humans safe and what keeps humans free is the challenge my generation will face.
One big obstacle is restrictions on youth being a part of the political process. In the UK, limitations on the voting age and a lack of interaction between established politicians and emerging voters has led to a new form of intelligentsia — one that is cultivated from the very”‘safe space that allows the Islamist extremist ideology to breed.” More and more citizens depend on instantaneous digital media to guide their opinions. At the same time, social media also helps us share the spirit of Grande’s ‘One Love Manchester’ concert, which reset the story of how we respond to terror.
We need to find middle ground. May suggests that winning the impending war against evil begins with policies that aim to limit, contain and control, yet wouldn’t such policies respond to the threat of terror with cowardice? Are we to live in fear, or must we come together, pull together and unite?
It was the Greek philosopher Aesop who first said that “union gives strength.” After three attacks in the heart of my city, I know we are divided. But coming together is the only way forward.
Above: Book cover “1984” by Bence Balaton/Fair Use exemption. Featured photo: A memorial at London Bridge following the June 3, 2017 attack that killed eight and injured 60. Photo by Jamielee Cutts/used with permission.
—GSS correspondent Neeharika Hemrajani is a student at Southbank International School in central London. This is her first article for GSS.