30 June 2007

Home-Grown Terrorists

It's rare for me to look at things from a UK-wide perspective, mainly because this blog is predominantly about Scotland's politics, and also because when I look at the different nations, I tend to see divisions rather than connections. Today I'm going to make an exception.


1. A bomb attack against an undetermined target in London is thwarted when it starts giving off smoke far too early.

2. A second bomb attack ends up being neutralised when the traffic wardens spot the car - not because of any explosives but because it's parked illegally.

3. After driving a Jeep into Glasgow Airport, a flaming man runs around trying to spray petrol everywhere and then gets twatted by a passer-by.

What do all of those have in common? Simple. All appear to be acts of terrorism. All could have caused significant damage, injury and loss of life had they been carried out successfully. All come across as, quite frankly, a bit of a fiasco.

Since the success of the Northern Irish peace process, only one major terrorist attack has hit mainland Britain: the July 7th bombings. Similar attacks two weeks later were thwarted. But all in all, the situation could have been far worse. Many lament the fact that the July 7th Bombers were raised in the UK, and I have a hunch that this is true of those involved in this week's events. Many will lament this (if I'm right), but I think it's a good thing, and my reason for thinking this is also the justification for my hunch.

Put simply, the attacks appear to have been cock-ups. And the one thing the peoples of Britain share in common is this amazing ability to screw things up in the most pathetic ways imaginable. Just like our would-be bombers. Of course, we still have to be wary: no success rate is 100%, no failure rate is 100% - 7/7 proved that. But the fact remains that the attackers displayed this peculiar form of allowing things to go arse about face that is unique to the British Isles. So home grown bombers are, from our perspective, infinitely preferable to the imported variety.

Alan Coren once wrote, "Totalitarianism in Britain could never work. How could it, when nothing else does?" Perhaps that applies equally to terrorism.

One serious political point: following the last 48 hours, we can expect a clamour to increase the maximum length of time for detention without trial, and the usual assault on civil liberties. Those arguing for it will say that it's to protect us from those 'who hate our freedoms'. And yet what they are arguing for is the end to those freedoms. So by their own logic, they are giving the terrorists exactly what they want. They are, therefore, surrendering to terror. I do not believe that we should give in so easily. We will defeat the terrorists by giving them nothing, not caving in; by holding onto our freedoms, not giving them away in an attempt to create a false sense of security; by going about our lives as we would every day, not changing our routine fundamentally 'just in case' - which, incidentally, we don't do to prevent the risk of heart disease or lung cancer, and we've shown reluctance to do in terms of reducing our emissions in the face of climate change.

No, giving up our freedoms won't make us stronger against any threat: it will simply show our willingness to give up what we claim to hold dear in a futile attempt to protect ourselves. Those who make the call for extended detention, for ID cards, for all the rest, they are the cowards, they are the weak ones. The rest of us will not give in so easily.


Antipholus Papps said...

Nice rant, but I think you misunderstand the nature and direction of the threat. The response of the media has been appalling and predictable, and it's clear this country will suffer the same fate as Germany. Only with much better technology. Saying that, the response from Brown was infinitely preferable to Blair's shrill fearmongering. However, they're still following the same agenda and these events help that agenda along nicely. Before 1997, you could only be held without charge for 72 hours.

Will said...

I agree that the biggest danger to our way of life is our own reaction to the threats around us, and that the media are stirring things up as per.

However, I think there's still hope yet. Parliament did draw something of a line when they voted to prevent the maximum period of detention from being extended to 90 days. Whether the subject is raised again under the new regime is another matter, and whether MPs have the courage of their convictions to maintain their current position is something else entirely. but the positive signs that we are not willing to throw away our freedoms are there.

It could, of course, all change, and both our press and our politicians could take the events of the last few days and turn them into an excuse for more draconian reactions, but both for this and for terrorism, the response should be the same: optimism that we can deal with threats, coupled with vigilance to look out for them.