The global lesson from London’s knife attack

A terrorist released from prison and who had gone through rehab programs killed two advocates of such programs. The attack can focus global attention on better ways to reintegrate terrorists into society.

AP
Family and friends of two people killed in a terrorist knife attack, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, comfort each other at a Dec. 2 vigil.

Almost every terrorist attack offers lessons on how to prevent future ones. This may be especially true for a knife attack in London on Nov. 29.

The assailant, Usman Khan, was a convicted terrorist who, before and after his release from prison in 2018, had taken courses to “desist” and “disengage” from radical ideologies. He was also trained in how to gain a “healthy identity.” The two people he killed were advocates of such programs. In fact, all three were attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation.

With an election just days away, many in Britain are now taking a break from the Brexit debate to ponder if such programs actually can turn around extremist offenders.

In the wake of the attack, in which Mr. Khan was killed by police, the Justice Ministry launched an urgent review of conditions used to release people sentenced for terror offenses. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to introduce mandatory minimum 14-year sentences for such crimes. Mr. Khan served only six years of an 18-year sentence for an amateurish plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. His lawyer admits he could have been deceived by his client, who claimed to have turned his back on radical Islam.

On the other side of the debate, the family of one victim, Jack Merritt, said he would not want to see harsher sentences for terrorists. Mr. Merritt was a coordinator for a prisoner program called Learning Together, which is associated with the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. “Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge,” his family stated. The institute says he “worked tirelessly in dark places to pull towards the light.”

A similar tribute was given to the other victim, Saskia Jones, who was also part of Learning Together. The institute says she had “a strong belief that people who have committed criminal offenses should have opportunities for rehabilitation.”

This debate over the rehab of captured terrorists is not unique to Britain. Since the 9/11 attacks, dozens of countries have launched programs to reintegrate those convicted of terrorism into society. A group of countries, called the Global Counterterrorism Forum, was set up to build on the best practices of programs that have successfully “deradicalized” terrorists. Not all programs succeed, however, and the debate has turned urgent since the defeat of the Islamic State’s caliphate in the past two years. Thousands of people from Europe who supported ISIS are still in custody in the Middle East. Their future is uncertain as European leaders debate whether to take them back on the hope they can be rehabilitated.

Britain’s debate may thus lead to a useful drive to improve such programs and further erode support for ISIS. All the prisons and military drones in the world cannot defeat the radical ideas behind the kind of violence justified by wrong concepts about Islam. Rather, programs that give purpose and hope to such individuals, or values based on peace and empathy, can bring a final end to terrorist attacks. That might be the lesson from the London knife attack. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to The global lesson from London’s knife attack
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2019/1202/The-global-lesson-from-London-s-knife-attack
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe