David Amess Murder: Extremism Puts UK on a Fragile Path

UK police and intelligence officers have been struggling to tackle extremism in any shape or form for many years now. After a fatal attack on a Conservative official recently, Counter Terrorism Command is leading the investigation into the death of the politician, David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency.


The brutal  killing of Sir David Amess when he was visiting Leigh-on-Sea reminds everyone of Jo Cox’s cruel murder in Birstall, West Yorkshire, five years ago. David Amess was meeting his constituents in a church when he was stabbed to death in an act of terrorism. The 69-year-old MP served in parliament for almost four decades and was described as a dedicated public servant in the Conservative Party. 


Five years after the murder of Labour MP, Jo Cox, the incident raises discussions about safety in public places in the UK. Although the widespread presence of MPs has been an ordinary matter in the country, this is now a considerable concern for them. The UK Home Secretary called the incident an attack on democracy itself, raising worries over the safety of MPs. Other politicians across Britain have also stated huge concerns after the shocking attack and called for a review of safety and security measures in this country. 


Conservative, Labour MPs Victimised by Extremism  


David Amess was a Roman Catholic who campaigned for animal welfare issues and against abortion. Based on the police’s decision that the murder was an act of terrorism, it is understood that the killer used motivated violence against him. Labour MP, Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016, was a devoted supporter of EU membership; she stood against extremism and hatred and was killed by a far-right white extremist. Racism and extremism have become significant threats in UK society, especially over the last two decades. 


The number of extremists has grown so much that MI5 has warned about teenagers as young as 13 who are drawn into extremism, usually by online platforms. MI5 also said that many attack plots across the country are linked to homegrown extremism. After the 9/11 attacks, MI5 focused on Islamic extremism. Recently, nevertheless, it has also been concerned about racism and far-right extremism as a toxic issue and a growing threat across the country. 


The UK Government Introduced the Prevent Strategy to Tackle Extremism


The murders of MPs Jo Cox and David Amess have added to concerns about the growth of extremism and terrorism in Britain. The UK has many terrorism-related offences and has struggled to tackle extremism effectively. Far-right attacks increased by 320% over five years ending in 2019; the number of arrests related to such terrorist crimes has grown simultaneously. 


The UK government’s tactic was to confront extremism at its origins of extremist thoughts and beliefs. A strategy was developed as far back as 2003 and launched in 2006, called the Prevent Strategy; it tried to tackle the social, political and ideological origins of radicalisation. The strategy had four purposes: pursue, prevent, protect and prepare. It aimed to “stop terrorist attacks, prevent people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, strengthen protection against a terrorist attack, and mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack. 


Hateful Extremism Is a Long-term Concern in the UK 


The old strategy did not work successfully. In 2013, a broader approach was applied to tackle even non-violent extremism or terrorism based on extreme right-wing, Islamist, or any other ideology. The brutal murder of David Amess could stem from not combating the hatred and discrimination circulating across Britain. Terrorism and far-right extremism are among the top concerns of the British public, more so than in other European countries. 


The UK has been fighting terrorism on its borders for many years; terrorist attacks inside the country have been recorded. After the Brexit vote, extremism with open hostility towards UK politicians increased so much in British society that the Home Office expressed its commitment to stamp out any form of extremism. After the shocking murder of David Amess, the current UK home secretary, at a meeting, asked all police forces and intelligent agents to re-evaluate security measures with immediate effect. 


Lack of Consensus on the Definition of Extremism Empowers It  


But besides the government’s long-standing strategies to tackle extremism, its response has been weak, leading to a growth of extremism in British society. Such threats target both the public and officials like David Amess. According to a 2020 YouGov polling, almost a quarter of British adults have personally experienced extremism in just one year. Some public places have been unsafe for the people and politicians, suffering from a lack of sweeping action against hateful extremism. 


The UK’s ability to fight extremism has been blocked by a lack of consensus on what extremism means and the government’s action and response. Police officers are confused about crimes of extremism because they do not know how to respond to them and struggle to tackle the escalating situation. Experts have suggested a national framework and annual reviews for policing extremism, while officers must receive urgent adequate training to counter this increasing threat.


The growth of extremism has been a global issue in recent decades, particularly after the attacks on the twin towers in New York City in 2001. British society has been among the countries that witnessed the rise of hate crimes of any kind, and terrorism threat levels have risen to severe in the UK in recent years. Both Islamist and far-right extremism have been the main threats against the public, with worrying roots in British society. The most recent structural racism emerged in the community, on social media and in the labour market, against people of colour and Asians once Covid-19 hit the country. 

The UK government had already introduced wide-ranging strategies to tackle extremism, but continued extremist behaviour in the country proves the system’s lack of efficiency. The recent fatal attack at midday on David Amess in his constituency is a terrorist act that reopened questions about the safety of politicians and the public in the UK. Police and intelligence officers are vigilant in watching suspicious activities. Still, the fact is that they are not well trained to define extremism and act on it. The UK is on a fragile path, and it urgently needs to review its national counter-terrorism strategies to control homegrown extremists and tackle them robustly. 

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