Nine Observations on the Westminster Attack

On March 22 at 14:40 GMT, Khalid Masood, 52, drove a Hyundai Tucson vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing three and wounding over 40 others. The vehicle then crashed into the railings outside the Houses of Parliament. Masood exited the vehicle, entered the grounds of New Palace Yard, and fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. Armed police warned Masood, then fatally shot him. In response, Parliament was placed on lockdown and later closed for the day. The National Assemblies in Scotland and Wales suspended proceedings. Nine observations on this event follow.

1. Security personnel should not be unarmed. Matters of violence are generally decided by who is more able and willing to use force. As it was, the attacker brought a knife to a fight without guns, giving him a strong advantage that he used to terrible effect. If Officer Keith Palmer had been carrying a firearm, he could have stopped Masood before he got close enough to use his knife, as the armed police who arrived later did.

2. Citizens should not be unarmed. In the United Kingdom, access to firearms by private citizens is regulated by strict gun control laws. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a legally disarmed society would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Had someone on the bridge been armed, they could have stopped Masood at some point before he reached the railings outside of the Houses of Parliament. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Westminster attack, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.

3. Government prison systems do a poor job of rehabilitation. Masood had a lengthy criminal record, beginning with an arrest for criminal damage in 1983 and ending with knife possession in 2003. His convictions include assault with grevious bodily harm, possessing offensive weaponry, and public order offenses. A better criminal justice system may have been able to reform him, but the government penal institutions certainly failed to do so. In fact, the opposite occurred, as it was reported that Masood converted to Islam while in prison. Spread of Islamic radicalism in prisons is a known problem.

4. ISIS may be lying. In a tweet, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency said, “A soldier for the Islamic State carried out the operation in answer to calls to target the people of coalition states.” But it is in their interest to claim responsibility regardless of whether Masood had any connection to or drew any inspiration from ISIS, as doing so helps them to maintain relevance and prestige. Home Secretary Amber Rudd cast doubt over whether Masood was affiliated with ISIS, and analysts monitoring ISIS point to the lack of biographical information and operational specifics in the ISIS statement suggest a lack of direct involvement.

5. Islam is incompatible with Western civilization. Contemporary Western values include separation of church and state, equality before the law, and rational skepticism. All of these values are largely absent in the Islamic world. The reason that the West has these values is that a great amount of blood was spilled over their recognizance and defense. The Islamic world has yet to undergo the sort of reformation that Western society underwent, and the Quran is particularly hostile to the aforementioned innovations of the West.

Whereas immigrants from Eastern Europe to Western Europe or from Central America to the United States have different customs and traditions, they do have similar (though corrupted) legal and political systems. This makes those immigrants functional within the established systems, even if not as functional as the current populations. Muslim immigration, on the other hand, involves people who support a competing and adversarial worldview. Note that large percentages of Muslims wish to live under Sharia instead of Western common or civil law systems.

6. Preventing vehicle attacks before they start is likely impossible. There have been several incidents in which terrorists have driven vehicles into crowds of people, such as Nantes in 2014, and Nice and Berlin in 2016. Carrying out such an attack is far easier than other methods, in that there is no need to manufacture explosives, acquire arms and ammunition, or engage in multi-stage plots such as hijacking airplanes and crashing them into targets. Given that a terrorist could stay out of sight of the authorities, as Masood did after leaving prison in 2009

7. Successful attacks inspire copycats. One day after the Westminster attack, a French national of North African origin attempted a similar attack in Antwerp, Belgium. The vehicle was intercepted before it could hit anyone. Inside, police found bladed weapons, a riot gun, and a container filled with an unidentified liquid. The Westminster attack was itself carried out on the one-year anniversary of the Brussels bombings. As many attacks are attempted on anniversaries of previous successful attacks, it would be wise to increase security measures on those days.

8. Terrorist attacks make sense in a democracy. A system which does not grant the public a political voice, such as absolute monarchism or anarcho-capitalism, gives terrorists far less reason to kill members of the public, as there is little need for the monarch or the private landowners to listen to whatever calls for action that such an attack may prompt from the public. Conversely, a democratic system politicizes the masses like no other. It explicitly codifies the idea that everyone who is allowed to vote has some degree of political power. This means that targeting civilians becomes useful for promoting political change, both in the form of denying the vote to those who are killed and in the form of coercing the survivors toward a terrorist’s desired political changes. Furthermore, the voters are viewed by the victims of a state’s foreign policy as bearing responsibility for the crimes committed against them by agents of that state, thus causing terrorists who are motivated by vengeance to target civilians. For fringe elements of a society, voting will probably never get them what they want, as they simply lack the numbers to accomplish anything. But terrorism allows them to compensate for this by voting for their extremist causes multiple times over all of the elections that their victims would have otherwise lived through and voted in. While we cannot abolish terrorism by abolishing democracy, it would be a step in the right direction.

9. We should not expect anything to change unless we make it change. Through terrorist attacks in Orlando, Brussels, Paris, and Beirut, the response has generally been for people around the world to hashtag “Pray for Wherever” on Twitter, change their Facebook profile pictures to incorporate the flag of the attacked nation, and do little else. Meanwhile, governments do not change the policies that both encourage terrorists to strike and give them access to their victims. Thus, the terrorists win, which may be exactly what the politicians want. Until the people of Western nations demand real solutions under threat of taking matters into their own hands otherwise, citizens will continue to live with the fear and uncertainty of Islamic terrorism.