Two devastating terror attacks in the UK in as many weeks, remind us of the vulnerability in the West to domestic and transnational acts of terror. Soft targets, such as the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester arena, which was where a tragic suicide bombing perpetrated by Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old UK national, claimed more than 20 lives and injured more than 119 people – many of them young concert goers and revelers whose lives were cut tragically short. More recently, the city of London was the scene of a low-grade paramilitary attack carried out by 3 knife (and vehicle) wielding assailants who indiscriminately attacked pedestrians, pub goers and people out and about on a Saturday evening.
Sadly, these types of attacks are becoming all too common place in major cities around the word, where London, is only the most recent target to fall prey to this scourge. While it is certain London will remain unbroken and the usually resolute UK will remain unbowed, can the West remain intact in terms of internal social cohesion and global leadership in combating the root causes of these events?
With investigations still underway on the UK’s 2 weeks of terror, a picture of the perpetrators is beginning to emerge that suggests, much like on the other side of the English Channel, a homeborn terror scourge is underway. In many ways, this is the hardest form of terrorism to combat and it is often a byproduct of a “hardened” posture with international counter measures and the vilification of national subgroups. Otherness, marginalization and the lack of hope in many communities around the world helps create the cadre of willing foot soldiers who are prepared to die in the name of vile ideologies, in part because they have nothing to live for.
The first line of defense and accountability are the very communities from which many of the perpetrators emanate. These are the social “tripwires” that can detect the early warning signs of self-radicalization and nefarious plots on the verge of being carried out. However, how likely are these communities to come forward as they are increasingly vilified by populist rhetoric and right-wing movements – many of which are calling for their surveillance, expulsion or internment? Boosting mental health and cultural integration efforts can go a long way in reducing the signal to noise ratio that a person has gone off the rails or an attack is imminent.