Posted on December 4, 2019

Deadly Superstitions in London

Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, December 2, 2019

Office workers watching police after London Bridge attack

Office workers watching police near the scene of an “incident” on London Bridge in central London. Two members of the public have died and another three people were injured in a stabbing attack at London Bridge. (Credit Image: © Kirsty O’Connor / PA Wire via ZUMA Press)

If the most recent terrorist attack in London had been an episode in a novel by a social satirist, it would have been dismissed as too crude or absurd to be plausible. Nothing like it could ever take place in reality.

Last week, Usman Khan attended a conference at Fishmongers’ Hall, a grand location in Central London, marking the fifth anniversary of a rehabilitative program for prisoners called Learning Together, run by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology. Suddenly, Khan, wielding a knife and wearing an imitation suicide-bomber’s vest, went on a rampage, killing a graduate of the Institute who helped run the conference and a volunteer worker at the event, also a Cambridge graduate, as well as injuring three people. If Khan had not been stopped on London Bridge by others attending the conference—including a convicted murderer on day-release from prison, nearing the end of his sentence for having strangled and cut the throat of a mentally handicapped young woman, apparently for the fun or pleasure of it—he would have killed others.

In 2012, Khan, along with eight others, was convicted for plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange, kill Boris Johnson, the then-mayor of London, and plant bombs in synagogues, among other places; he had also planned to set up a military training camp for terrorists on his ancestral lands in Kashmir. His 2019 attack was evidently no flash in the pan or rush of blood to the head. After all, he was a disciple and close friend of Anjem Choudary, the extremist preacher and founder of the now-proscribed Islamist terrorist group, al-Muhajiroun.

Initially, Khan was given an indeterminate sentence, a form of punishment introduced by Tony Blair’s government, which meant that he could be released only if the Parole Board thought that he no longer posed a threat to the public. This type of sentence was struck down on appeal—not on the correct grounds that it violated the rule of law, amounting to arbitrary preventive detention, but because it was feared that it would lead to the prisoner being detained longer than necessary. A judge replaced Khan’s indeterminate sentence with a 16-year prison term, though in practice this meant only eight years in prison, since the Blair government had passed a law mandating the release of prisoners on license after they had served only half their terms. Khan was released from prison in 2018, but without any input from the Parole Board.