On November 29, the West was reminded of the threat from jihad by a terrorist attack in London. The terrorist, Usman Khan, went on a stabbing rampage near the London bridge, before being fought off by bystanders and subsequently killed by armed police.
A man and a woman were killed in the attack and three other people hospitalized with wounds.
What is particularly frustrating about this latest attack is the fact that Usman Khan was a convicted terrorist who had been released from jail to participate in a “rehabilitation” program designed to “deradicalize” him. In fact, it was workers in that very program that he targeted with his attack.
Khan was considered a model participant in the rehabilitation program, called “Learning Together.”
It turns out that the British justice system failed the U.K., perhaps not just in the case of Usman Khan, but very possibly in more cases.
Khan was originally imprisoned in 2012 for his role in a conspiracy to bomb the London Stock Exchange and establish a jihadist terrorist training camp in Pakistan. He was originally sentenced to an indefinite prison term under British law, but that was overturned on appeal in 2013 and Khan’s sentence was changed to 16 years in prison. The problem is, under the British justice system’s common practice, he became eligible for automatic release recently.
To make matters worse, it turns out that six of Khan’s accomplices in the 2012 plot have also been released from prison. In fact, another of his co-conspirators was released from prison and then ended up back in prison after being convicted of yet another terror plot.
This kind of revolving-door justice is outrageously inappropriate for jihadists. Jihadist terrorists cannot and should not be treated as if they are criminals along the lines of someone who may have robbed a liquor store for example.
Jihadists are waging war. In their view they are not committing a crime at all and don’t even recognize the authority or legitimacy of secular legal systems. Their law is sharia.
The stakes are just too high for early release programs to be used when the justice system is being asked to deal with perpetrators who are at war with us.
One of the associates in the “Learning Together” program, Pen Mendonca, wrote an op ed for the left-wing Guardian newspaper defending the program. In that op ed Mendonca perpetuates some tragically flawed myths about jihadist terrorists. Rehabilitation involving art and academics along with mental health care and social care no doubt have a place in criminal justice, but none of that is useful in warfare.
Too often we are guilty of applying Western standards and mores to jihadists. Some of the myths that have grown out of this are the theories that jihadist terrorism is rooted in mental health issues or poverty.
The idea that jihad is rooted in mental health issues is almost perfectly ridiculous given that jihadists have operated individually, as well as part of established organizations, for decades, if not centuries, in places as divergent as Scandinavia, the Philippines, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria, Australia, Argentina, Thailand, Tennessee, California, New York, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia, to name but a few. How is it that all of these people could possibly be afflicted with the same form of mental illness?
Perhaps there is some doctrinal basis for jihad. That is something that the folks at “Learning Together” should consider.
An even more widespread myth is the idea that a root cause of jihadist terrorism is poverty or lack of economic opportunity. That was infamously declared by Obama State Department spokesperson Marie Harf back in 2015 and was at least implied by Mendonca in this week’s Guardian op ed. So much has been written to refute this flawed theory that there really isn’t a need to repeat it here, especially since I already did so on the Terror Trends Bulletin blog back when Harf made her declaration.
The West in general continues to be lost when it comes to facing the ongoing threat of jihad. We have failed to recognize the true nature of that threat and we have failed to clearly identify it. This is especially true in western Europe and that failure has led to flawed programs like “Learning Together” which have now resulted in the death of innocent civilians at the hands of jihadists.
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