We need to talk about the killing of David Amess

In the world I inhabit, the killing of Sir David Amess has been formally declared a terrorist incident, a suspect has been taken into custody, and the police have identified ‘a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism’.

In a second world, constructed of headlines and commentary and tweets, a conversation is taking place that is almost entirely disconnected from this base reality. In this world, the Home Secretary is primarily concerned about the ‘corrosive space’ provided by social media, the Commons asks questions about the ‘toxic’ conduct of politics, and attention is given to the level of aggression and abuse experienced by MPs.

These are important issues. It is not right that our elected representatives are faced with a deluge of threats and repulsive language for doing their jobs. But these issues are distinct from the matter at hand. …

It is instructive to compare the response to David Amess’s death to the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox. By the end of the 16 June, the nation was gripped in an in-depth discussion about the potential far-right motive of Thomas Mair, how this related to anti-immigration sentiments expressed by politicians, and the tenor and conduct of the Brexit debate.

The Guardian said that Cox may have died for her ideals of multiculturalism and diversity, called out far-right political parties for rhetoric that mirrored ‘the ideology with which Isis and al-Qaida secure their recruits’, and noted that Brexit risked ‘becoming a plebiscite on immigration and immigrants.’

No one on this occasion had any difficulty tying the murder of Jo Cox to the far right, or indeed to the political discourse on immigration more generally.

In contrast, discussion of the role Islamist extremism may have played in the death of Sir David Amess is notable by its absence. There is, instead, a sense of resignation and a desire to focus on other things. Perhaps, to borrow a turn of phrase, the feeling among the political class is that the occasional brutal murder of a member of parliament in the conduct of his democratic duties is simply part and parcel of living in a big democracy.

This sense of inevitability is itself inevitable. After 9/11, after 7/7, after the stabbing of Stephen Timms, the murder of Lee Rigby, the Westminster attack, the Manchester Arena bombing, the London Bridge attack, there were at least conversations. We talked about the need to combat the spread of Islamist ideology, to find ways to deradicalize those at risk, to redouble our efforts to integrate communities.

Inevitably more attacks followed. And once these liberal policy options had been exhausted, it became necessary to slide and deflect because even a conversation would highlight the powerlessness of these policies.