Why we should deny the Reading attacker the prominence he seeks

Tracing attackers’ ideologies and radicalisation journeys doesn’t require us to widely name them.

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Two of the victims of the Reading attacker have been named as James Furlong, a teacher at the Holt School, and Joe Ritchie-Bennett, born in Philadelphia but who made his home here in the United Kingdom. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of both. 

In Morning Call, since the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, where possible we’ve avoided naming the suspect in terror attacks. In the event that other criminal acts become politically salient, we’ll follow the same approach. 

The political questions that should occupy us – whether he was radicalised in person, in prison or online, his legal status in the UK, if it is reasonable to expect that more could have been done to prevent this or another attack – don't, in my view, require us to give the perpetrator of this crime, or any other, the distinction of being widely named.

There are times when that becomes impossible – when, for example, the former prime minister of Lesotho is accused of hiring a hitman to kill his first wife, Lipothelo Thabane, we cannot avoid naming him. Figures at the centre of global terror and criminal networks, such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, similarly do have to be named from time to time. 

But for the most part, the terrorists who attacked London Bridge in 2019 and 2017, who attacked the congregations in Christchurch and Pittsburgh, and who bombed the Manchester Arena, don't need to be named. Their ideologies and their radicalisation journeys need to be understood so they can be defeated – but their names, and the criminals themselves, ought to be denied the prominence they sought in committing atrocities.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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