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18 August 2021

First Thoughts: A new terrorism, a generation’s lost future, and why home-working helps employers

The news of the shooting in Plymouth was devastating, but the police should not treat it as an isolated incident.    

By Rachel Cunliffe

When news broke that a 22-year-old man in Plymouth had shot and killed six people, including himself, on Thursday 12 August, it took mere hours for the police to rule that the incident “was not terror-related”. Police officers later described what had happened as “domestically related”. Such language gives the impression of a family dispute, a personal matter that escalated (one of the victims was the shooter’s mother) but was nonetheless an isolated incident.

A different story can be told from the misogynistic content on the gunman’s social media accounts and his evident interest in the “incel” (“involuntarily celibate”) movement: a subculture of resentment found in the darker corners of the internet, where frustrated men rage against the women who deprive them of the sexual gratification to which they feel entitled.

While we will never know the exact balance of factors that drove a young man to mass murder, it seems odd that police should so quickly discount the toxic cesspit of online extremism that he participated in. His actions might not fit the traditional definition of terrorism – he was not acting in pursuit of a political cause, as part of an organised group – but he is not the first man to have killed innocent people after engaging with incel content online. In the past two decades there have been dozens of incidents across the world where men associated with the incel ideology have committed or attempted acts of horrific violence.

If terrorism isn’t the right word, perhaps we need a new one: a term for radicalisation that is not political but is very much part of a wider – and worrying – culture. If we persist in treating tragedies such as Plymouth as isolated incidents, we will suffer many more of them.


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An alternate reality

The images coming out of Afghanistan are too numerous – and too heartbreaking – for us to count. But one that has really struck me isn’t from the past few days of bloodshed. It was published in November 2020, and shows a women’s cricket team during a practice session. The women, dressed in cheerful purple, are holding hands and laughing. The photo accompanied news that the Afghanistan Cricket Board had pledged to award central contracts to 25 female players as part of plans to form a national women’s team.

On Monday 16 August, after the Taliban seized the capital Kabul and with it control of the entire country, the cricket board’s CEO Hamid Shinwari stated that the Taliban “love” cricket, adding, “I don’t see any interference and expect support so that our cricket can move forward.” Amid reports that girls and women in Afghanistan have already been banned from attending school and university, and now face forced marriages, such reassurance will mean little to the nascent women’s team. The future depicted by those beaming female cricketers in their purple kit now looks like a parallel universe.


Google’s own goal

After Google made headlines with reports that its US employees who switch to remote working permanently could have their pay slashed, it transpires that more than two thirds of British businesses (68 per cent) are considering doing something similar, according to a new survey by the HR software provider CIPHR. This also echoes a recent call by an unnamed cabinet minister for civil servants working from home to be paid less than their office-going colleagues.

This attitude baffles me. Not only do remote workers save their employers money by funding their own electricity and broadband, but a flexible approach hugely widens the talent pool. Yes, a physical presence in the office has its benefits, particularly for people starting out in their careers, but remote working enables businesses to get the best performance from parents, carers and those with medical or mobility needs, not to mention anyone who can’t afford to move to a pricey commutable postcode.

There have been so few silver linings during this pandemic, but a more creative attitude to working life has been one of them. Why would any business want to punish employees who have proven they can get the job done their own way, just in order to fill a few empty office chairs? 

[See also: The debate around office returns misses an opportunity to make work better]