Just after midnight on the 19th of June 2017, a 47 year-old man called Darren Osborne is suspected to have driven his van into a crowd of worshippers outside Finsbury Park mosque in London. One man died and 11 others were injured. After chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "It is a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms and our determination to tackle them must be the same, whoever is responsible".
However, debate has been rife on social media, as some describe this particular attack as an act of retaliation, not terror. From apparently moderate claims that it was a 'hate crime', or that Osborne cannot be described as a suspected terrorist due to his apparent lack of affiliation to any organisation, to statements such as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", members of the British public seem to be having some difficulty establishing what constitutes a terror attack.
Definitions of terrorism vary between countries. In the UK, The Terrorism Act 2000 describes terrorism as "the use or threat of an action" which is "designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public and [...] the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious[, racial] or ideological cause". This is updated from the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993, which stipulated the acts must be of persons "acting on behalf of, or in connection with, any organisation which carries out activities directed towards the overthrowing or influencing, by force or violence, of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom or any other government [...]".
Therefore, the stipulation that Osborne needs to be a member of a terrorist organisation for his alleged attack to be considered a terrorist incident is 17 years out of date. Meanwhile, the definition of a hate crime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is "any crime or incident where the perpetrator's hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised".
Witnesses to the attack at Finsbury Park Mosque describe Osborne as shouting "I'm going to kill all Muslims". It doesn't really need clarifying, but it seems the victims race and religion were evidently at the forefront of Osborne's motives. However, under current UK law, most terrorist attacks might then also be described as hate crimes. The propaganda used by self-described Islamic State encourages attacks against 'infidels', which includes both non-Muslims and Muslims who aren't deemed to follow the group's interpretation of the Quran. The definition of a hate crime applies to "any criminal offence which is perceived [...] to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person's religion or perceived religion", as well as hostility towards a person's race, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation.
But attacks committed in the name of Islamic State aren't described as hate crimes are they? They're terrorist attacks. Perhaps this is a technicality, as the now-defunct definition which required terrorists to be acting in the name of an organisation more clearly applies to Islamic State's version of terror. But legally, there is no separation between Osborne and Khuram Shazad Butt, the presumed ringleader of the attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market earlier this month.
However, it is claims such as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" which demonstrate the most profound misunderstanding, or even ignorance, of the motives behind acts of terrorism for the perpetrators. The truth is, the overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents are inspired by the attackers' desire for political or ideological revenge.
In a 'Letter to America' in 2002, Osama Bin Laden lists US support of Israel and other 'atrocities' or 'attacks' against Muslims worldwide among the reasons for 9/11. Similarly, Omar Mateen, the shooter who murdered 49 LGBTQ+ individuals at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year, told a 9-1-1 dispatcher that his attack was 'triggered' by the killing of Abu Waheed, an Islamic State leader in Iraq, by US forces. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, more popularly known as the Lockerbie bombing, was perpetrated by two Libyan nationals amidst ongoing military conflict between Libya and the United Sates. Needless to say, the list goes on.
Does US support of Israel justify 9/11? Of course it doesn't. A rise in Islamist extremist violence on European soil doesn't justify the Finsbury Park mosque attack either. Unfortunately, if you claim otherwise, you actually have a fair bit in common with so-called Islamic State. You're just on the opposite side of the fence.