23 March 2017
Westminster terror attack; the day after
The day after the terrorist attack on Westminster for which Islamic State claimed credit, I was trying to talk my way through the police lines around Parliament to make a 10 a.m. meeting arranged by Lord David Alton and Aid to the Church in Need, to discuss the persecution of Iraqi Christians.
I was talking to my third police officer, who was being just as polite and just as firm as the other two – “I’m sorry sir, only people with parliamentary passes are allowed through” – when who should come up alongside me, to engage in a similar conversation, but Lord David Trimble. “But I’m due in the House at 11 o’clock,” said Lord Trimble. “I’m sorry,” was the firm reply. “I would like to help but I can’t.”
“Wait,” I wanted to say, “I can vouch for this man. He’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He definitely won’t cause you any trouble.”
But before I could utter the words, Lord Trimble had fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a driver’s licence and some other plastic ID.
The officer scrutinised it. “Ah, my Lord,” he said, and waved him through. It was typical of the man, I thought, that the words “But do you not know who I am?” had never passed his lips.
I left to search for another avenue, but wondered at what I had just seen. The previous day one of the officer’s colleagues in the service, PC Keith Palmer, 48, had been stabbed to death by a fellow Briton, whose loyalties were not to the country that supported and sustained him, whose people and freedoms both officers and MPs served and protected, but – according to a statement from Islamic State – he was their “soldier”, who therefore longed to exterminate freedom and democracy in the name of a “global destiny” of world rule.
By murdering the policeman, and mowing a Hyundai Tucson, rented in Birmingham, into scores of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing and maiming as he went, he was serving this cause.
In one sense, the mass murderer is right. The battle is a global one, as anyone in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, Madrid, New York, Washington, Mumbai, Nairobi, and so many other cities will confirm. And, as Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said today, security services thwarted more than 12 UK terror attacks last year alone.
Lord Trimble was turning up for parliament along with all its fractious but, today, united members to ensure that - as Prime Minister Theresa May said last night - it would be “business as usual”. He may not have seen the mocked-up underground signs that sprang up with the words “We Are Not Afraid” in place of the station name, but that was the spirit. And after his time in Northern Ireland, he can lay claim to fearlessness, if anyone can.
And what is Britain defending? As Lord Trimble walked towards the House, he was off to defend freedom and democracy. And what I had just by chance witnessed was a microcosm of British civility.
The enemy, and it is the enemy, hates all these precious and hard won values to destruction. The received wisdom is that the struggle, the war, will go on for decades. But it is worth respectfully marking the published nationalities of all those injured and in hospital. They speak volumes for what London means to the world. Along with 12 Britons, there were three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese national, one Irish national, one Italian, one American and two Greeks. Every nationality in the world is represented here, as resident and visitor. The whole city grieves for the injuries of those hurt on Westminster Bridge and mourns the dead. Because, with one glaring ideological exception, the whole city glories in the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.
We finally had our meeting on the persecuted Christians of Iraq in the coffee shop in the basement of St John’s Smith Square. Of the 1.5 million Iraqi Christians who lived there when Saddam was removed by the Americans and British in 2003, barely 200,000 remain. No one should try telling them there isn’t a war on. After the meeting I walked around to Parliament Square in front of Westminster Abbey. In front of the abbey a huge red truck was parked, with the words “Incident Response Unit” blazoned across the side. Behind, a flag on the Houses of Parliament flew at halfmast.
The Abbey bell tolled, on, and on, and on. “Who for?” A great Londoner, John Donne, once asked.
It tolls, Islamist murderers of all types and stripes need to know, it tolls for them. Take on London, history suggests, and you lose.
PICTURE: Westminster the day after the terror attack ©James Roberts
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