Failed Liverpool attack signifies nothing

Sound and fury last weekend in Liverpool took Britain by surprise. Almost immediately, it was labelled as a terrorist attack, although this had more to do with the method employed by the perpetrator rather than any kind of motive.

Terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda have not chosen to take responsibility for inspiring the attack, in which a lone attacker detonated a bomb inside a taxi. This is likely due to two factors. One is that the attack failed so spectacularly, causing no casualties other than the person who carried it out. The second is the nature of the target. Targeting a women's hospital, with that hospital having no religious, ethnic or political significance, is of no interest even to the most violent terrorist organisations. At a glance, such a target suggests the perpetrator could have been driven by misogyny, possibly stirred by poor mental health or feelings of alienation rather than ideology.

According to reports, the perpetrator had a history of mental illness. This may put the designation of the incident as a terrorist attack into question, since it suggests that the attacker may have had no religious or political motive. As such, naming it as a terrorist attack could have accidentally focused the state's resources on stirring even more division, conflict and unrest rather than putting mental health in focus.

A way of life under attack?

To talk of the attack as being against our "way of life", as the British government has done, seems to have been in error. The attack was not against any way of life, but against life, in particular the life of the individual who did it. It was an attack by someone fed up with his own life. To talk of unity in the face of people trying to cause division, and to talk of preserving the way of life of the country, could simply be the wrong speech for the occasion and irrelevant to what happened.

The Liverpool attack attempt is something that would have happened even if the so-called war on terror was not taking place. It would have happened even if there were no different cultures cohabiting on our islands. This looks like a case of someone, mentally unstable and enraged at the world, seeking to commit suicide and take others with them. Unfortunately, such things are known to happen, even in countries and societies that are boring, homogenous and not embroiled in any kind of controversy. The perpetrators, enraged at everyone, often even target their own families.

Comparison with the Plymouth attack

Think back to the other recent attack to have disturbed Britain, which occurred in Plymouth. That was a case of a loner who snapped, and sought to take his rage out against the world, including a young child in his path. The acts are evil, as they would have been in Liverpool if the attacker succeeded, but the motive is not one that fits with what we know as terrorism. The motive is simply based on isolation and mental illness. We have a crowded, complicated world that gives rise to false expectations, shattered dreams and mental illness. Sometimes, people die because of it.

More disturbingly, it may be that the attack in Liverpool was designated as terrorism because the perpetrator was a Muslim and of Middle Eastern origin, whereas the Plymouth attacker was not. Yet, in both cases, mental illness played a role. It it seems very likely that both attacks have no political significance and only represent the perpetrators' rage at their own lives, made worse by the disruptions to social life caused by the pandemic.