After a spate of unnerving public attacks in Europe, citizens across the continent are on edge. Germany has experienced three separate incidents – including a mass stabbing, a mass shooting, and a failed bomb attack – in recent weeks that have resulted in a heavier security presence. For a culture that has prided itself on civil order and peace since the trials of World War II, armed patrols are an alien and traumatizing sight.
In France, a man claiming allegiance to ISIS drove a truck into crowds gathered in Nice to celebrate Bastille Day, killing 84. And, on July 26, a parish priest in Normandy was murdered by two men also claiming allegiance to ISIS before the assailants were shot dead by authorities.
These attacks are threats to the social good. First, they stoke fear and insecurity. As daily life becomes less secure through persistent attacks on the public’s trust, citizens simply cannot enjoy public activities without concern for their own wellbeing. This fear greatly detracts from the quality of life.
Additionally, the attacks create windows of confusion, where facts blur, accusations fly, and the worst impulses in politics emerge in full view. Last night’s knife attack in London was horrifying, yet serves a solid example of sober management from the authorities.
A 19 year-old Norwegian national of Somali origin stabbed six people, killing one – a US citizen in her 60s. Police on the scene successfully tasered the assailant – who had emigrated to England in 2002 – and took him into police custody.
The incident had the hallmarks of recent terrorist attacks, but authorities took a measured approach and concluded that the attack was spontaneous. Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Metropolitan Police told reporters:
Whilst the investigation is not yet complete, all of the work that we have done so far increasingly points to this tragic incident as having been triggered by mental health issues, At this time we believe this was a spontaneous attack and the victims were selected at random.
“So far we have found no evidence of radicalization or anything that would suggest the man in our custody was motivated by terrorism,” Mr. Rowley concluded.
The press and the authorities should be lauded for refraining from hasty allegations. But while the violence was unattached to a terror motive, the randomness is reminiscent of the all-too-common gun violence endemic to the United States. Random acts of violence still create insecurity and fear. Indeed, yesterday London’s Metropolitan Police deployed 600 specially trained arm units to patrol London. While not connected to any specific intelligence, the move is likely a response to the public’s concern and to recent incidents in Europe, and is a huge step for a country famous for its unarmed police officers.
These acts of violence are a reminder of the importance of a strong and responsive security apparatus. And while they may test the public’s resolve, strong and pro-social responses will ultimately pay off more than sowing fear and distrust.