Opinion: Helpless in the face of terrorism | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.06.2017
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Opinion: Helpless in the face of terrorism

It’s still unclear if and how the recent terrorist attack in London will influence the British election. What is clear is there are lapses both the Conservatives and the Labour Party must answer for, says Barbara Wesel.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for new measures to be taken following the most recent terrorist attack in London. This was the third attack in three months, and now it's time for a tough response. Her announcement emphasized the need for harsher sentences for suspected terrorists and a stronger commitment to fighting Islamism and extremism.

Conservative cost-cutting

It is yet to be seen whether the voters will reward May for her response. It was she who, while home secretary, cut 10,000 law enforcement jobs, downgraded some of their salaries and produced an understaffed, under-motivated police force. And the voters remember this, for it was only a few years ago. A young policeman in Britain can hardly make a living anymore. Who would want this job?

Committed police work on the ground is indispensable if we want to find the perpetrators in time. "Homegrown terrorism" prevails in Britain. Theresa May's cuts, however, mostly impacted the patrolmen who were well versed in what was happening in their respective neighborhoods. They were targeted at the very officers whom neighbors might have informed about certain mosques and preachers, and who would have followed up on such reports - unlike in the case of Salman Abedi in Manchester.

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*

Barbara Wesel is DW's European correspondent

Radicalization in parallel societies

For several years there has been a nationwide program aimed at preventing radicalization. Its creators have hailed it for its various successes, but all in all it's too little too late. And it has been hampered for social reasons: Some Muslim groups oppose the "Prevent” program for allegedly being discriminatory.

In certain sections of large British cities, parallel societies have been forming for decades - societies that are reflective not of cheerful multiculturalism but rather of an alienation from Western society. In these areas there exist Sharia courts and Muslim schools that are able to teach an unfettered, conservative brand of Islam.

The political responsibility for this development lies with both major parties in Britain. The Labour Party has closed its eyes to the problems in some Muslim neighborhoods out of political correctness. But the Conservatives have also failed miserably in recent years - for instance, over the matter regarding the control of Muslim schools. They had little desire to deal with the sometimes loud representatives of some of these groups.

All talk, no action

New laws won't change the situation. Some courageous reforms are necessary to counter terrorism successfully on home soil. The unarmed bobby is antiquated. A police officer who bravely confronted the attackers on the London Bridge with his baton is now being celebrated as a hero. But had he been armed with a service weapon, perhaps he could have stopped the atrocity before the perpetrators managed to attack pedestrians with knives.

The cuts to the police force need to be completely reversed. And more than anything there needs to be an honest debate about the mistakes of the past and the situation that currently exists in certain communities. This means that the British government must seek the cooperation of diverse Muslim communities, and talk to them instead of just about them. More laws, on the other hand, would only serve as sedatives - in the past decade alone there were 11 in the name of fighting terrorism.

Can Theresa May do it? As home secretary she was narrow-minded, unimaginative and in the end not especially successful. Her opponent Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has no governing experience and shows little inclination to address the topic, which is unpopular on the left. If they feel unsettled after the attacks of the last few months, the British are likely to feel rather helpless when they stare at their ballots this week.

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