YET another terrorist incident has hit London. And this time it took place at arguably the cradle of modern democracy, the seat of the British Parliament at Westminster, by the side of the Thames River which traverses London. The seemingly “lone-wolf” (at least at the time of the tragedy) terrorist first rammed into a number of pedestrians with his car before banking hard before the sturdy gates surrounding the parliamentary complex. He then got out of his vehicle and stabbed at least one police officer dead before being taken down by British security forces. The British prime minister, Theresa May, was in the Parliament at the time and was hurriedly whisked away. All in all, it was another close call, reminiscent of a recent action movie about the terrorist takeover of London. “Life imitating art” has taken a cynical turn.
The terrorist incidents aside, Britain has of course been saddled with many perhaps more mundane but certainly no less important socio-economic concerns in recent days. Top of the list is none other than the official British “trigger,” or notification, to the European Union of the former’s intention to relinquish its membership. The EU started as essentially a customs union, and even then only for coal and steel. Over the years, however, it has tremendously expanded and evolved into an ambitious multinational experiment to form “an ever closer union” of European nations.
Well, perhaps it was too ambitious and too close for British comfort. The United Kingdom, being geographically isolated from the rest of continental Europe and having over the years developed a worldwide web of colonies which then “graduated” into the British Commonwealth, has always stood aloof and slightly away from the European enthusiasm to embrace each other too warmly. When most of the rest of EU countries, even the proud French and the economically enormous Germans, decided to abandon their respective national currencies in favor of the single Euro, the British preferred to stick with their vaunted pound. In hindsight, that was of course a smart move, unencumbering Britain from the burden of having to shore up the Euro when some Euro member states were at the brink of total economic collapse.
But even then Britain had to take up its share of EU obligations. And one such is the admission of asylum seekers. When huge waves of asylum seekers, primarily from the Middle East and North Africa, descended on Europe in recent years, Britain had to agree to settle a number of them. That was perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back, and British voters decided in a referendum last year to go for Brexit, albeit in a narrow vote. Those who still harbored a lingering hope that Britain would stay in the EU launched legal appeals, with the essential argument that as Britain is a parliamentary democracy and not a direct one, it should be the British parliament and not the British people per se who should get to say whether or not to leave the EU. And the British courts agreed with that argument. But then even the British parliament duly voted for Brexit, demonstrating the overall British resolve to detach itself from EU.
And the EU understandably does not look upon Brexit too kindly, Britain being the first country to try to exit the Union. EU senior officials vowed especially tough conditions for Brexit so as to discourage other EU member states from similar intentions. This tough stand on the EU’s part is of course quite telling in itself as to the overall viability of the European experiment. But I am of the opinion that Britain, with its steely resolve during even more difficult times such as the Second World War, can withstand the EU “challenges” and emerge even more splendidly, for it will then be able to pursue many other economic ties on its own terms, not least with the British Commonwealth countries, a number of which are still engines of growth for themselves and their part of the world.
Back to terrorism. Britain is of course no stranger to terrorist attacks even from the days way before the 911 tragedy. Since at least the 1970s, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland spread its horrific wings into London and many other major cities throughout Britain, with even the conference center in Blackpool bombed in the early 1980s while the then ruling Conservative Party was holding its party conference. Of course, the frequency and intensity of these attacks heightened after 911, but they were similar to the waves of similar attacks in the rest of Europe and in the United States. They are bloody testaments to the scourge of terrorism.
And as for our own region, a terrorist bomb attack shook Davao last year, with President Duterte in his hometown at the time. Malaysia has arrested a number of suspected extremist sympathizers in recent days. These incidents once again remind us to be ever on the alert to the dangers of radicalization and the need for moderation in our body politic and societies.