On Friday, a previously convicted terrorist went on a rampage, killing two and injuring three others with a knife near the London Bridge.
The attacker was convicted in 2012 of terrorism for plotting with several others to bomb the London Stock Exchange, kill then-London Mayor Boris Johnson, and bomb several synagogues and other place. He had also expressed interest in starting a terrorist training camp on land his family owned in Kashmir.
He was released from prison in 2018 after just six years behind bars. On the day of the attack, he was attending a conference at London’s famous Fishmongers’ Hall organized by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology. The conference marked the fifth anniversary or a program designed to rehabilitate prisoners. It was during the conference that the attacker suddenly lashed out with a knife, killing a graduate who helped lead the conference and another Cambridge graduate who was volunteering at the conference. The attacker had attended the conference wearing a fake suicide vest under his jacket, and claimed he would blow himself up.
Three men from the conference helped stop the attacker from killing more victims. One man who worked at Fishmongers’ Hall grabbed a narwhal tusk off the wall to fight the terrorist. Another man, who used a fire extinguisher as a weapon, was previously convicted for murdering a young woman and was attending the conference on a day off from prison.
Theodore Dalrymple, a contributing editor at City Journal, published an essay on Monday warning of the “superstitions” that led to someone like the London attacker to be released from prison:
The first superstition is that terrorists are ill and are both in need of and susceptible to “rehabilitation,” as if there existed some kind of moral physiotherapy that would strengthen their moral fiber, or a psychological vaccine that would immunize them against terrorist inclinations. The second is that, once terrorists have undergone these technical processes or treatments, it can be known for certain that the treatments have worked, and that some means exist to assess whether the terrorists still harbor violent desires and intentions. The third is that there exists a way of monitoring terrorists after their release that will prevent them from carrying out attacks, should they somehow slip through the net.
This is not to suggest that it is impossible to rehabilitate prisoners or even terrorists, as someone’s ideology can be affected and changed. Dalrymple is simply bringing up the reality of what “rehabilitation” actually does and does not do.
The London attacker was released without the prison’s Parole Board having any input and without any actual rehabilitation. As Dalrymple wrote, the attacker was originally given an indefinite sentence, but had that sentence replaced with one of 16 years, but a British law mandating prisoner’s be released on parole after serving just half their term ensured the London attacker would spend less than a decade in prison for his extensive plotting.
The London attacker repeatedly claimed he wanted to be rehabilitated, indicating that perhaps he should have been susceptible to such persuasion. His attack, however, demonstrates that current rehabilitation methods are not guaranteed and perhaps still need some work.