Supporters of moderation and tolerance received a very unpleasant slap in the face this week, as the most inhuman and grotesque assault on a fellow human was broadcast as a sick and depraved political gesture – with the promise of more to come. For me, it matters not who is responsible for this most horrific act, but that it appears to have been committed by a fellow Brit leaves me feeling truly disgusted and ashamed. Words cannot do justice to the extreme feelings this cowardly brutality inspire: firstly, of contempt towards those behind this hideous barbarity, and, secondly, the most-profound sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the slaughtered American photo-journalist. His bravery in seeking to enlighten our understanding of one of the darkest and most dangerous corners of our planet contrasts strongly with the gutless anonymity and decrepit ideology of his tormentors.
The Islamic State has thrust itself into our consciousness in a way that cannot be ignored. There is no doubt in their role and mission: a well-financed, deeply resourced association of the most dangerous bigoted maniacs of our time, intent on delivering death and destruction to anyone not committed to their cruel, idiotic doctrine. These globe-trotting psychopaths do not represent or defend the Islamic faith: their commitment to the religion that they besmirch through their programme of hatred is merely coincidental. Loathsome and loathing, the only thing these degenerates deliver – starting with the Muslim world – is terror, violence and intolerance.
Dr Kim Howells, a former Labour MP and minister, is right to apportion blame on our collective failure to find the courage to recognise and stand up to the existence of evil incubating in our communities over several decades. His claim that the Islamic community in the United Kingdom has been half-hearted in tackling the rise of those who proselytise venom in the name of their faith – most commonly on the internet – has more than a grain of truth. But wounds of sectarian divide have failed to be challenged in our history not only by this community alone; even a cursory glance at Northern Ireland demonstrates that pretty thoroughly. However, the danger posed by this insane bunch threatens each and every one of us: and it falls to us all to respond to this visceral call to arms.
The attitude encouraged through those years of new Labour rewarded people for looking upon themselves as victims. Fashionable metrosexuals flounced around extolling the virtues of a multiculturalism which celebrated those aspects of our nationality which drove communities apart. I regret that these grand patriarchs of new Labour had no real understanding of our country's people or heritage, or to the serious harm that they were inflicting upon those who, from their perspective, mattered so little. In this furnace, extremist agitators got a hold, and piece by piece, our society began to crumble.
In my own constituency of Northampton, we have worked hard on strengthening links between different faith groups and diaspora communities. That does not mean that we should not be doing more to address the challenge which those divisions sowed and have pushed people apart. We all stand to lose if those principles by which we choose to live our lives are thwarted by those now in Iraq and Syria who promise to import their campaign of destruction to our shores (from whence an all-too-significant number were born and brought up).
It's time to respond more effectively to the challenge of immigration and community cohesion. Numerous people have been frightened away from giving expression to legitimate concerns by the taint of racism thrown around too casually. I have no axe to grind about the benefits to our country from immigration, and there is scarcely a household in this country that does not have a link to immigrants within a few generations. But there is a vast distinction between people choosing to come and settle here, bringing with them a rich cultural diversity blending comfortably with our values, and those self-described 'jihadis' intent on ruination. We don't want them, we revile their perspective, and they don't belong here at all.
Given where we are, though, turning this situation around will not be easy. Radicalisation in the name of Islam is a cancer in our society very well entrenched. Tony Blair's lies to Parliament as a pretext to war in Iraq has provided a narrative compelling to those feeding off that same victimhood developed by new Labour as a mere cynical political ploy. Blair might still stand proud of his posturing, as some form of latter-day messianic visionary, but there can be little doubt that the catalogue of blunders made by him in the Middle East region has been one of the most effective recruiting instruments available to these peddlers of prejudice. Much of the danger which we now face has at least been exacerbated by the vacuous gestures committed in the name of Blair's misguided view of the world he wanted to create.
It is true that the terrorists may have got their hands on some of the western military kit left behind in Iraq, but the fight we are facing is one of ideology – from those with a dogged desire for the death of those who will not submit to a narrow, perverted interpretation of what they call Islam. With chilling parallels to previous conflicts, we may be paying a heavy price for allowing our social bonds to fall apart. It is time for those who believe in our country and its values to come together and defeat these evil-minded fiends, and to work towards that harmony which has otherwise characterised our nation through most of its history.