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Enough: Police stand over one of the London Bridge attackers (©GABRIELE SCIOTTO/AFP/Getty Images)


The setting was identical. A sombre prime minister dressed in black reading statements from the Number Ten lectern. The attempt at mass murder of Muslims by a white driver was a “sickening attempt to destroy” our freedoms — just as the attempt at mass murder of non-Muslims by the brown driver had been a fortnight earlier.

And the solution? “As I said here two weeks ago, there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years. And that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia.”

On a day when a non-Muslim attempted to mow down Muslims only to then boast about it, it’s understandable that Mrs May would wish to reassure Muslims of her sincerity about protecting them when they so clearly believe that Islamophobia here is rampant — a perception not helped by parts of the press.

But have our institutions really been too tolerant of Islamophobia? No one, surely, could argue this or any other government has been soft about prosecuting people intent on murdering Muslims or blowing up mosques, or abusing them verbally or physically. The Muslim-hating organisation National Action has been banned, and, uniquely in respect of hate crimes, the law has also been changed in favour of the victim’s perception. The police must now record any incident as a hate crime if it is “perceived, by the victim or any other person” to be motivated by racial or religious prejudice. So if a victim believes hatred of Islam rather than anything else was the reason for the abuse, Islamophobia is how the police record it. When it comes to the government’s anti-extremism programme Prevent, the fact that almost a third of referrals now relate to far-Right extremism also suggests there is no institutional tolerance of Islamophobia.

There is, however, plenty of evidence of institutional timidity when it comes to dealing with Islamist extremism, even though its violent manifestation poses a much greater threat to the security and cohesion of this country than far-Right extremism. The reality is that Prevent only came into existence because of the threat posed by Islamist extremism.

Our institutional timidity at being candid about the main cause of violent Islamist extremism begins with academia. At some point in their radicalisation process, the three London Bridge cutthroats experienced empathy fadeout. Dead zones in the anterior insular cortex replaced the normal range of human emotions associated with fellow feeling and compassion. Gone, too, was their fear of pain from the police bullets they knew would be fired into them. They became zombies.

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