The life and death of Sir David Amess

21 October 2021

Tim Dieppe comments on the tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP by an Islamist terrorist.

The nation is still reeling from the shocking death of Sir David Amess last week. He was brutally and repeatedly stabbed whilst conducting a constituency surgery in a church in the afternoon of Friday 15 October and died shortly afterwards. Sir David was a long-standing, much respected, and much-loved Member of Parliament. The stabbing is being treated as a terrorist incident and the attacker, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was arrested at the scene and has now been charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts by the police.

Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service commented: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Pro-Life and Pro-Israel

Sir David Amess was the longest-serving Member of Parliament, having been an MP for almost 40 years. He was known to be a devout Catholic with principled views, who stood up for pro-life issues in parliament. He was a patron of Right to Life, a pro-life charity, and he had a consistent strong voting record on life issues.

He was also the Honorary Secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel from 1998. He previously campaigned for a statue to honour Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved 100,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in World War II. The statue was finally unveiled by the Queen in 1997. In a speech to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in January this year, he described the unveiling of this statue as “one of the proudest moments of my life.” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that Amess “always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel.”

Interested in Iran and Qatar

Another foreign policy interest of David Amess was Iran. He was the co-chair of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF) and a frequent speaker at rallies of the Iranian resistance. In a speech on 6 September 2021, he said: “One of the proudest things I have ever done in my political career is to support the National Council of Resistance of Iran which calls for the Iranian regime to be replaced with a safer and more democratic government.” Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), described Sir David as “an enemy of dictators, especially the mullahs’ dictatorship in Iran.”

Sir David was also chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Qatar. One of his last tweets, put out the night before he died, was a picture of him meeting with the Emir of Qatar. The visit was to find out about the situation with Afghan refugees who were evacuated to Doha. The attacker’s father, a former aide to the prime minister of Somalia, criticised Qatar in a tweet earlier this month. His tweet reads: “Since the Feb 17 we have unfortunately witnessed the unhealthy direct involvement of Qatar in the Somali political arena. It is time this notorious and ill conceived relation was eliminated and utterly diminish its influence.”

Attacker radicalised online

The attacker, Ali Harbi Ali, who was arrested on the scene, is a Muslim who is thought to have been radicalised online. He is understood to have made an Islamist declaration after the attack. A former friend of his claimed that Ali was “radicalised after watching online videos by convicted hate preacher Anjem Choudary.” These videos are openly available online to anyone who looks for them. Intelligence agencies have warned that there could be a new wave of terrorist attacks by people who have been radicalised online during the lockdown.

Referred to Prevent

It also emerged that Ali Harbi Ali was referred to the government’s anti-extremism scheme, Prevent, when he was still a teenager, some six years ago. A teacher at school reported his extremist views. He was not referred to MI5 and was not on the MI5’s watchlist. Last year it was revealed that MI5 is aware of more than 43,000 people who pose a potential terrorist threat to the UK.

The Prevent scheme is being reviewed after questions have been raised about its effectiveness. it has been found that only 22% of all Prevent referrals are Islamic, in spite of the fact that Islamic extremists make up three quarters of offenders convicted for terror-related offences, and the vast majority of the 43,000 on the terrorism watchlist.

Furthermore, in some parts of the country the scheme has involved Muslim groups like MEND that are actively opposed to the programme. It should be remembered that Islamists are responsible for nearly 100 deaths in Britain in this century, compared to three deaths at the hands of far-right extremists.

Not the first Christian MP stabbed by a Muslim in a constituency surgery

Stephen Timms, another Christian MP, was stabbed in 2010 in a constituency surgery by a Muslim woman with Islamic motives. The 21-year-old student stabber was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to jail for life. She was radicalised after watching online sermons by a leader of Islamist group Al-Qaeda. Timms suffered potentially life-threatening wounds and was fortunate to survive the attack.

‘Lone wolf’ – or ‘lone actor’?

Everyone wants to believe that someone motivated to brutally stab an MP in a church must be a ‘lone wolf’. Certainly, he acted alone, but the ‘lone wolf’ idea can work to absolve anyone else of any responsibility for what happened. What responsibility does Anjem Choudary have, for example, given that the attacker was radicalised through his videos? What about others who knew of his views and didn’t challenge them? Radicalisation may happen online, but it rarely happens in a vacuum.

Somalian born activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali complains about the myth of lone wolf terrorism. She writes:

“Lone wolves, then, do not come out of nowhere. They are inspired by other radicals and they are noticed by their community. The problem is that the community then keeps quiet.”

The attacker’s father very likely influenced his son. His tweets do not only contain criticism of Qatar but also defend Palestinian attacks on Israel and criticise British colonialism in Somalia. He has even compared Islamic State terror attacks in Paris to bombings carried out by Western powers in Syria. He had reportedly received threats from Islamist terror group al-Shabaab in Somalia in the past, and there is no suggestion that he supports terrorism or the actions of his son. Nevertheless, he does appear to have adopted a victim mentality which is at least part of an Islamist narrative and likely fuelled his son’s radicalism.

Facing up to Islamist ideology

The reason that some Muslims are susceptible to radicalisation is because of the explicit teaching of the Qur’an and the Hadith, as well as the historical example of Muhammad. I have written before at length on the question of whether Islam is a religion of peace. In short, the answer is that while most Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding people, the teaching and history of Islam cannot be described as peaceful. A significant minority of Muslims are therefore radicalised when the teaching of the Qur’an is explained to them. One can hardly say that the founder of Islam was a peaceful person, for example, in sharp contrast with the example of Jesus.

Sadly, much of the media coverage and political discussion following the attack has shied away from discussing the Islamist motivation. Instead, there has been focus on online threats, and proposals to crack down on anonymous social media accounts. This is despite the rather obvious fact that this attack did not involve online threats or internet anonymity; stopping them would not have prevented the attack. Is it a case of finding something to do in response to the attack whilst avoiding actually dealing with the root causes?

There will be more to learn about the attacker’s motives in the coming days and when he is eventually tried. In the meantime, there are lessons to be learnt about our response to such attacks. We could start by having an open conversation about the role of Islam in motivating terrorist attacks. If we can’t even talk about the motives of those who want to attack us, then we have no chance of challenging their ideology. Proposals to outlaw ‘Islamophobia’ should be dropped completely, and those political parties that have formally adopted a dangerous definition of ‘Islamophobia’ should drop it too. We need to be able to talk about Islamic teaching and influence without fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia’ or worse, expelled from a political party for what we say.

The Prevent scheme does need an overhaul, and its focus needs to be balanced properly to tackle Islamist ideology. It may be more politically correct to focus on far-right extremism, which does need countering, but Islamist extremism is much the greater threat and requires the largest share of resources to counter it.

The church has a role to play

Finally, the church has its role to play in all this. It is clear that the security and intelligence services cannot cope with monitoring 43,000 potential terrorists, and countless others like this attacker who wasn’t even on the list. Prayer is vital for our security and the hard work of these critical services. Evangelism is also vital. We need to love our Muslim friends, and love them enough to share the gospel with them. The surest way to convert a potential terrorist is for them to see the falsehood of Islam and the truth of Christianity. There is a harvest of Muslims who need Jesus out there on our doorsteps. What we need are Christians who will fearlessly and confidently proclaim the gospel to our Muslim neighbours. Prayer and evangelism are the hope of the nation. Will you play your part?

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