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Winning the war within

To beat terrorism, don’t trash human rights—get to know human nature instead

I’ve spent months with terrorists, in high-security prisons, in court cells —defending them. Not defending their actions, but their rights. Should I have done so? Should anyone? This question was put to me at the recent Hay Festival in Wales. After I gave a talk, a woman put up her hand. She burned with anger, she said, when she heard I’d acted for terrorists; she had every right to feel that way. She was a Tube driver on the Circle line and a survivor of 7/7. This was only the second time she had mentioned that fact in public. That exchange took place at 2pm on Saturday 3rd June. At around 10pm, three men committed indiscriminate murder on London Bridge and at Borough Market.

In the aftermath of those attacks, many around the UK will have felt the same as my questioner. Certainly, Theresa May was counting on that when she announced that she would change human rights law if it “gets in the way” of fighting terrorism. But this is a lazy substitute for thinking about the real problem. I’ve spent the best part of a decade grappling with the very worst human instincts. Keeping ourselves safe from terrorism has to start by understanding what it is that can make these people, young men normally, ready to maim and murder in this way.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s July issue: Steve Richards, Rachel Sylvester and Shiv Malik—as well as Chris Hanretty and Julian Glover—cover the fallout from the recent general election. Richards looks at how the assumptions of centrist politics were upended and how Labour managed to stun the nation—a point that Chris Hanretty explores in more detail, explaining how Corbyn turned the tide for social democracy. Sylvester questions how Theresa May managed to squander her majority—Julian Glover says it wasn’t just May’s failure, the ideas were flawed, too. Shiv Malik explores the remarkable surge in the youth vote and says parties can no longer ignore their concerns. Also in this issue: Dexter Dias argues that to understand terrorism we need to better understand human nature, Paul Wallace looks at the state of the state and asks whether the government is capable of fulfilling large scale changes to the way the state works and Sam Tanenhaus profiles Mike Pence—should we be worried about him becoming the next president?