On the morning of Tuesday 14 August, suspected terrorist Salih Khater hurtled his car into the barriers outside the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully, there were no deaths, and only three people hurt, with non-life-threatening injuries. The emergency services were praised for their quick and effective response, with many attributing the relatively minor damage caused by the attack.
Despite this, the incident has naturally and rightfully rekindled the discussion around safety in the capital. While this particular attack failed to take lives, what is there to say that the next one won’t be more severe? Can we fully rely on our emergency services, or is there a need for further action to be taken?
Sadly, some responses to the attack have been, predictably, on the side of restrictions. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for instance, has backed suggestions to pedestrianise the areas surrounding Parliament, a suggestion also put forward by the top brass of the police.
The rationale here is pretty obvious: ban cars around Westminster, and terrorists won’t be able to utilise them as weapons. It’s an approach used so often by the UK that whenever an attack occurs it seems to be copy and pasted to fit the scenario.
In the past, however, there’s been little reason to take issue with this response. Take, for instance, the British approach to gun violence. In 1996, a massacre at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland claimed the lives of 18 people, including that of the attacker. It only took a year for handguns to be banned for private use in the UK.
While this may be a hugely controversial issue in other parts of the world, such as the USA, here in Britain the ban received little opposition. After all, since the ban, there has only been one single mass shooting in the UK.
Yet while the ban on arms hasn’t been particularly controversial, calls to restrict the use of cars in certain areas as an anti-terror measure certainly would cause raised eyebrows. While the extent to which freedom is damaged by gun control is debatable, few would contest that restrictions on transport infringe pretty significantly on one’s mobility.
What’s more, the ban most likely wouldn’t do much on its own. While it may stop terrorists or madmen from mowing down people using cars, there would be nothing to prevent one from attacking in other ways, such as with a knife or improvised bomb.
Herein lies the concern: following the path of banning and restricting more and more with each attack suggests that target zones, such as parliament, will simply become more and more restricted. The terrorist uses a car? Ban cars. The next terrorist uses a knife? Mandatory body scanners before entering Parliament Square, and so on.
While I am not usually one to advocate a slippery-slope argument, if we are to follow the suggestions of Sadiq Khan and Cressida Dick, it seems to be justified here. If the response to terror and violence is to simply ban the instrument used, then targets of terror can only become increasingly securitised and restricted.
This is the reality of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, undoubtedly one of China’s foremost landmarks. Visiting the square requires passing through a security check, whereby visitors must go through an airport-style metal detector and bag scanner. Passing through these checks makes visiting the square fairly time-consuming, and could easily put people off.
This is a scene that we should want to prevent in London. Measures such as banning cars around high-risk areas are indicative of an approach which can only become more and more restrictive. Let’s look into ways to fight the root causes of terror, rather than just banning the tools terrorists use. Not only will this be more effective, but it will also mean we stop limiting our own freedoms.