A demonstrator in Paris shows her support for the magazine. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
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Leader: the Charlie Hebdo attack and the terror next time

To overreact to what happened in Paris – to indulge in grandiose declarations about wars between civilisations or to turn Britain into a surveillance state – would further encourage the terrorists to believe that they are winning. They are not. 

The well-planned and murderous attacks in Paris in which 17 people were killed by Kalashnikov-wielding Islamist militants provoked worldwide outrage and revulsion. There was an outpouring of sympathy for and expressions of solidarity with the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the once obscure and struggling satirical magazine that emerged out of the countercultural upheavals of the late 1960s and that has long delighted in wilful provocation and shattering of taboos.

If the French-Algerian Kouachi brothers and their sponsors wished to silence Charlie Hebdo, which offended many Muslims by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, their failure could not have been greater. On 14 January, the magazine published a 16-page special edition, which had a print run of three million, and the paper has been flooded with donations from media groups. If it did not before, the world now knows all about Charlie Hebdo and what it represents.

Left to its own devices or ignored, it might well have gone out of business. As it stands, Charlie Hebdo will be able to go on blaspheming, offending and defending the values of the French republic. One does not have to agree with all of its ultra-left-libertarian editorial decisions to be greatly cheered by this, as well as the courage of its surviving staff.

The attack by the Kouachi brothers’ associate Amedy Coulibaly on a kosher supermarket on 9 January, in which four Jewish men were murdered, was yet another reminder of the vulnerability of Jews, wherever they happen to be in the world. Already the vast majority of Jews have left, or have been forced to leave, North Africa and the Arab Middle East, where millions once lived even as recently as the 1950s (there are small communities remaining in a few countries, such as Iran and Turkey). It is estimated there are 1.1 million Jews in the European Union, mostly in France and Britain. How safe must they feel in the present environment?

The Kouachi brothers said that they did not kill civilians, from which one concludes that as well as the military the terrorists considered the police, journalists and, in the case of Coulibaly, Jews to be legitimate targets in their war against the secular west. Small wonder that more and more Jews are choosing to emigrate from France to Israel because of the way anti-Semitism has poisoned the culture.

How vulnerable is Britain to comparable attacks? As Andrew Hussey, a Paris-based academic and the author of The French Intifada, explains in this week’s magazine, the attacks have to be understood in the context of the peculiarities and specificities of France’s relationship with its Arabs and its former colonies. French colonialism, the Algerian civil war and its long, violent aftermath, the alienation felt by many Muslim youths living in the impoverished banlieue – the zones surrounding cities such as Paris and Lyons – high unemployment, the failures of post-colonial integration: all have contributed to a sense of a nation at war with itself.

Yet, throughout the world, atrocities and the mass murder of civilians are being committed by those who claim to act in the name of Islam, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militant Islamism is one of the great transnational evils and it thrives in states of disorder and where the rule of law has broken down.

Britain has endured attacks – from the London bombings of 7 July 2005 to the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London, in 2013 – and will do so again. But we should treat with scepticism the alarmist pronouncements of those such as Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who, in a speech on 8 January, warned that Britain was at risk of an imminent attack from al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates. He used his speech to ask for the security services to be granted enhanced access to surveillance of digital communications, to which David Cameron seems more than happy to accede. The issue of how to balance the competing needs of security and liberty remains as difficult as ever.

British jihadis are as opposed to the values of a free press and the open society as the Kouachi brothers and their like. They wish to destroy our way of life and change our behaviour and we should not let them. The best way to combat their extremism is through vigilance, patience and a benign reassertion of liberal values.

To overreact, to indulge in grandiose declarations about wars between civilisations or to turn Britain into a surveillance state would further encourage the terrorists to believe that they are winning. They are not. 

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.