Tackling terrorism: Little more government can do, says expert

Dr Steve Hewitt is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of History at the University of Birmingham Credit: University of Birmingham

A day rarely passes without terrorism receiving a mention as one of the main news stories of the day. Yesterday, it was a report into the brutal killing of Lee Rigby. Last week, it was the 40th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings in which terrorists murdered 21 people.

Today it is the introduction of a new counter-terrorism bill designed to address the current terrorist threat that Home Secretary Theresa May earlier in this week described as the greatest in the history of the United Kingdom.

Proposals include placing a greater onus on educational establishments, including universities, to keep watch for signs of extremism, the tightening of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMS), increasing the power of the government to restrict the travelling overseas of suspected extremists and then to delay the return of those who have already gone to fight.

Leaving aside the reality that the terrorist risk against people on a daily basis is extremely slim (using your car or crossing the street are far more dangerous threats to personal safety), how effective will these measures be?

The answer is that no one knows for sure. Counter-terrorism remains an inexact science. There is no magic solution to the current problem around violent extremism and while it may feel empowering - not to mention be positively received by tabloid newspapers - to strip people of their passports, will not make us any safer. There truly isn’t much the government can do that it hasn’t already done in numerous bouts of past legislation beyond putting more resources into counter-terrorism but even that wouldn’t provide an immediate solution.

Instead there needs to be a greater emphasis by the government on encouraging the public to recognise that while the threat from terrorism is slim there cannot be a 100 percent guarantee of safety.

Resiliency is the key and should be embraced in a country that has survived far more serious security challenges in the past. It is a cliché but an apt one: terrorists cannot destroy our way of life; only we can do that.

Dr Steve Hewitt is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham and author of The British War on Terror.