One key problem we face in dealing with radical Islamic terror is that we are yet to identify a Martin McGuinness figure.
A senior – and feared – leader in this violent movement who has grasped the fundamental futility and intractability of the situation and wishes to actively seek a negotiated, democratic settlement. Open a door for them to pass through, deal fairly, others might see and follow. Over time, maybe many years, as during in The Troubles, that trickle becomes a flow, then a flood, until finally those still dedicated to violence find themselves a minority. Scattered, isolated, devoid of organisational support. But here, of course, we hit a further, more profound snag. It appears they are already scattered, isolated, and devoid of – indeed, apparently have little need of – organisational support. Got a car and a half-decent knife-block? You’re good to raise Hell. You won’t be coming back (unlike, say, the IRA who fought always with the aim of fighting again, the modern terrorist is content with martyrdom; rushing into Britain’s greatest concentration of armed police officers waving knives is nothing if not suicidal), but eternity awaits. ISIS claimed credit for Wednesday’s outrage, but it is hard to see how they provided much more than inspiration, a system of thought. Yet systems of thought need not be smuggled across borders, procured expensively overseas, transported and planted, undetected, in range of designated targets. They just need to reach fertile minds. So no organisation, no McGuinness, no trickle, no flow, no flood, no tiny but purposeful steps toward peace.
Besides, even if there were among those driving the terror some keen to pursue a democratic path, it is far from certain they would. The path is dangerous, littered with danger, assassination attempts and death threats, as McGuinness’s journey showed. Incidentally, there is no need to absolve McGuinness of his past to acknowledge a debt to him and others who helped bring an end to 30+ years of bloodshed. That several newspapers and individuals seemed unable to make this simple leap was deeply regrettable.