Perhaps it was because it was that time, quite early on a Saturday morning when I had to commute to a day-conference nearby Westminster Cathedral, but I have not seen so many grimly armed police on duty in London. The cheery rosy-faced London “bobby,” armed only with unflappable reasonableness and common sense, one of the stereotypes of this city, was nowhere to be seen. In his place were pairs of flak-jacketed and heavily-armed Metropolitan Police and there were online rumours that the SAS, Britain’s elite special forces, were on the streets too.
Government sources made it known that personnel from the elite Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) were backing up undercover armed police officers. The Met’s helicopters buzzed above central London all morning; we could hear them in the conference hall, especially when Cardinal Vincent Nichols began his presentation with a moving reflection on what had happened on Friday night in Paris, noting that only on Thursday he had been sitting beside Cardinal Vingt-Trois in another meeting.
Cardinal Nichols shared with us his statement, just released at that time to the press, in which he spoke of how he would pray “for the City of Paris that it will courageously recover its poise as one of the great cities of the world.” One great European city held the other in its thoughts and prayers. The cardinal did not fail to add, “I pray, too, for the Muslim communities in France, and here in England, that they may not be victimised because of the actions of these violent and ruthless extremists.” At this time, one of our fears is over a violent backlash, an ill-informed rage against London and Britain’s large Muslim community.
We are nervous here. Our great city feels less safe than it did, even a few days ago. We know that our state of alert is high, set at “Severe," meaning an attack is highly likely. But it is not, or not yet, at the highest level of “critical,” which will mean that an attack is imminent. We are nervous but we are not under siege. Londoners go about their business as best they can but nobody walked nonchalantly by the armed police without a nervous glance at the loaded semi-automatic weapons they cradled.
The Met are clearly trying to present a balanced response, demonstrating to the populace that they are alert and watching while refusing to lock-down the city, thus risking panic. Most Londoners realise that the invisible security presence is greater than the highly visible armed officers deployed on Saturday morning, and in the evening around London’s West End, patrolling the area that is thick with restaurants and all manner of theatre entertainment. But we know also that, in the previous week, Mohammed Emwazi, a British-born ISIL terrorist, known to the Press as “Jihadi Jon,” was almost certainly killed in a drone strike in Syria on Thursday.
Emwazi was known to have been behind the killings of several British captives of ISIL, appearing in videos boasting of these horrific murders. His death was headline news as was the language used by the military, that he had been “evaporated” [sic]. Nobody here has failed to make the connection; revenge attacks by UK-based terrorists are likely. Recently elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn , who opposes British bombing of ISIL targets in Syria, expressed regret at the killing, suggesting that despite the atrocities ascribed to Emwazi, “it would have been far better for us all if he had been held to account in a court of law.”
UK Prime Minster David Cameron took the opposite view, describing the killing of Emwazi as an "act of self-defence" and "the right thing to do." No-one failed to notice that, in claiming responsibility for the Paris atrocities, one group said to be part of ISIL described these as reprisals for President Hollande’s decision to bomb in Syria. Some in Britain feel anxious that terrorists might deploy a similar response to the killing of Emwazi. It is not clear if a U.S. or a U.K. drone killed him.
Paris is about to host, on November 30th in Le Bourget, the latest attempt to get the world’s nations to work together on climate-change. Yet again, there will be an attempt to negotiate a multilateral binding agreement among all the world’s nations. Among other objectives, Paris 2015 will try to make clear links with the new Sustainable Development Goals and seek to provide a long-awaited framework for decisions that all countries can make—196 nations will send delegates. The security nightmare this poses for the French authorities speaks for itself.
The global warming threat, now seriously denied by no more than a handful of diehards, is clearly an enormous hazard to humanity’s security, prosperity and survival. So too are the actions of this band of indoctrinated criminals who claim to fight in the name of Islam, of faith. Yet how wonderful would it be if Paris 2105 were to go down in history as the date and place of a binding agreement, agreed among all the nations, to end global warming and climate change produced by human activity, remembered for that achievement and not for shocking murders on the streets of one of the world’s most wonderful cities.