Police in Edmonton, north London, yesterday. Photo: Getty
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Are beheadings terrorism? Palmira Silva was the third woman to be decapitated in London this year

On politicising a tragedy.

Yesterday, an 82-year-old woman called Palmira Silva was killed in her garden in Edmonton, north London. 

She is the hundredth woman killed by a man this year; the first was 87-year-old Elsie Mowbray, who died in hospital on 8 January from injuries sustained when her house was burgled on New Year's Day. A 33-year-old man has been charged. The 50th, according to the list maintained by campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, was Ann Maguire - the teacher stabbed in her classroom. 

I was shocked when I read of Palmira Silva's death - not by the fact of it, unfortunately, but because of the way in which it happened. She was beheaded.

The assailant is alleged to be a 25-year-old man, who "waved a machete-like weapon as he wandered screaming and shouting through private gardens", according to the Guardian.

Let's take a moment to talk about connections. 

The Sun's front page this morning reports that the alleged perpetrator was a "Muslim convert". Inside, its report reads:

"The killing follows the brutal beheadings on video of two US journalists by IS jihadists. But police yesterday stressed there was no evidence of a terrorist connection."

Oddly enough, like the Sun, my thoughts immediately went to the IS beheadings when I heard about this story, too - albeit for totally different reasons. On Tuesday, I wrote a piece on how revenge porn, hacked photos and online harassment were, in my opinion, forms of "terrorism". They are not intended merely to harm the individuals targeted, but to create a spectacle which makes all women feel a little more insecure, a little more afraid.

The reaction was, shall we say, mixed. Among the critical comments, one theme repeatedly came up: I was "hysterical" to compare "real terrorism" with having naked photos published on the internet. Many a wag tweeted me to the effect that they would rather get online abuse than their head chopped off in Iraq.

Because I am nothing if not willing to pour hours into pointless arguments, I replied to some of these men (#notallmen) that of course, the comparison wasn't perfect and true in every way - it would not then be a comparison. They would just be literally the same thing. But I still think the similarities of intent, method and effect are noteworthy.

And then a woman had her head chopped off, not ten miles from where I live and work. 

Now, I have no idea whether Palmira Silva was targeted because she was a woman. We might never know this. She might have tried to be compassionate to the killer, she might have known him a little, she might have simply been the first person in his way. 

But here is the second shocking fact about the way she died: Palmira Silva is the third woman to be beheaded in London this year. 

On 3 June, a 38-year-old woman called Tahira Ahmed was found decapitated at her home in West London. The neighbours reported hearing a loud argument. Her husband has been charged with her murder.

In April, 60-year-old woman called Judith Nibbs was beheaded in Shoreditch. Her 67-year-old estranged husband was found at the scene. Police are not looking for anyone else. The day after Judith died, her daughter - who is severely disabled - tweeted the single word: "Mum?"

In the last few years, Karen Ingala Smith - the CEO of the charity which I chair, Nia - has maintained a list of every woman killed by a man in this country. Yesterday, she wrote about beheadings. As well as Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed, she has recorded others:

Last year, in June, Reema Ramzan, 18, was decapitated by boyfriend, Aras Hussain, 21. The year before, in October 2012, Catherine Gowing, 39, was decapitated and raped by serial rapist Clive Sharp, 47. In March the same year Elizabeth Coriat, 76, was decapitated by her son Daniel Coriat, 43; earlier the same month, Gemma McCluskie, 29, had been decapitated by her brother Tony McCluskie, 36.  

In May, she wrote about Ann Maguire, the 50th woman to die this year. It was not an "isolated incident", she argued: "Between April 2001 and March 2012 . . . 31.8 per cent of homicide victims were women, 68.2 per cent were men. 6.1 per cent of people convicted of murder were women, 93.9 per cent were men". In other words, men kill men, men kill women - but women only rarely kill anyone at all. 

I remember the response to Karen's piece: many people were angry with her at talking about male violence in this context. Some accused her of "politicising a tragedy" or "scoring points".

If you want to talk about politicising a tragedy, let's talk about the death of Palmira Silva. Why did her death make the front pages, when Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed did not?

Because she was not allegedly killed by an ex-partner or family member, which is "normal".

Because her death seems to be random - it could have happened to anyone, even a man.

Because terrorism is real when it's Islamists against the west, but violence against women is just the background hum of our lives. 

This year, in the city where I live, in twenty-first century Britain with its smartphones and coalition government and internet commenters telling me that feminism has gone too far, three women have been beheaded. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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