Was the mass murder in Plymouth terrorism? A letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

Re: Let’s not mince words: the mass murder in Plymouth was an act of terrorism

I worry society is becoming too quick to judge and that we are too easily convinced we are right on every issue (having tapped into the opinions of people ‘like us’ on social media). During the Brexit campaign Michael Gove famously (infamously) said “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”. It seems to me the flip side of that same coin is that now “everyone in this country is an expert”.

What happened in Plymouth was undoubtedly a tragedy and nothing justifies or excuses violence of this nature. It was murder, which is the worst crime humans can commit, and humans hold an individual fully accountable for that crime. But was it terrorism? I certainly see online groups as potentially very dangerous, linking up as they do, minorities with extreme views and reinforcing member opinions, thus normalising and potentially exaggerating the extremity.

Whether this was an act of terrorism depends on many factors, and perhaps public opinion should be second to the judgement of the police and security services who are the experts responsible for examining these crimes. Might there be legitimate reasons for not quickly labelling such an event as terrorism? It seems to me the act of making something a ‘terrorist’ activity legitimises the event not as an individual atrocity, but as a cause. This comes with its own inherent dangers of motivating others to join that cause. Additionally, the police might not want to disband online groups where they can monitor and presumably profile individuals and even prevent crime?

Do we, as a public, have the facts and information we need at hand? Are we sitting at home with a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in one hand and Wikipedia in the other, looking at ‘terrorism’, playing psychologist and lawyer at the same time?

But I see a broader concern in this situation, relating to the way society is trying to slot everything into simple black and white (often literally) categories which are essentially the battleground of identity politics. These simplistic categorisations are dangerous and lead us into tribal division, rather than coming together as a society to better identify problems through empathetic understanding. Instead, we’re just entrenching them in quite a literal way – diving headfirst behind the sandbags labelled according to our gender, race or sexual preference and defending it as though our lives depend upon it. What if we’re wrong?

I prefer the idea behind Christianity, that the individual is sovereign. We are not defined by our race, gender, or sexual preferences, but by the entirety of our being and we relate to each other not as a concept, but as a fellow human accountable and responsible for our actions, not as men or women or transmen/women or bi men/women, but as people.

In the meantime, maybe we can let the experts get on with their jobs?

John Hooper