Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The (hopeless) state we're in


I haven't blogged properly for ages, which is unforgiveable especially considering the news over the last week or so.

It's not that I don't have an opinion about the recent terror scare. I was booked on a flight from Glasgow to Gatwick the morning all the fun started. Already worried that I was way over the baggage allowance, I wasn't looking forward to turning up at the airport with a big metal case containing a video camera, plus a three-foot long shoulder-slung tripod case, plus my overnight bag and trying to persuade the check-in attendant to let me take them all on board whilst at the same time persuading him/her that there was nothing sinister about my intentions. My colleague with whom I was travelling, on learning of the security situation, announced that she was too scared to fly home. My attitude in such circumstances is that lightning is unlikely to strike twice, and Glasgow-Gatwick is probably one of the lower-risk flights (compared, say, to Heathrow-JFK). But her fear prevailed over my bravura and, coupled with the check-in issue, I was persuaded to undertake a (surprisingly pleasant) Virgin train journey back south.

When I woke up that morning and heard the news, my immediate reaction (like NoseMonkey) was "oh, come on". If planes had been blown out of the sky, if Canary Wharf or wherever had come tumbling into dust, if there had been running gun battles at Stansted, I might have been convinced immediately. But the sudden news that a 'plot' had been 'revealed' and that the stable door was rapidly being shut across airports all round the country (even those airports where no horse had been sighted) made me instantly suspicious that this was yet another eye-catching government initiative to rouse us sleepy British citizens from our complacency and drive us into wide-eyed, Labour-voting screaming terror.

If this seems uncharitable, let's remember how many times this government has cried wolf. The terrorist shot on the underground turns out to be not a terrorist at all. The government and police spend a few days assassinating his character (he was an illegal immigrant, he jumped the barrier when challenged, er... well, you just had to look at him, he must have been up to something) before revealing that there was nothing to be concerned about at all, except the death of an innocent man at the hand of over-zealous law enforcers (remember that phrase 'over-zealous', we'll be coming back to it). Then a raid on houses in Forest Gate results in dangerous terrorists being put out of action - or not, just an unfortunate man being shot in the leg (was it?) because he was committing the heinous act of living in his own home and being in possession of a Muslim-sounding name. And I haven't mentioned the 'ricin plot' which got a jolly good going-over in the media before it was quietly revealed that there was no ricin, no possibility of ricin, and nothing at all to get worried about. But the World Cup had probably begun by that point, so people had stopped noticing.

As for 'over-zealous', let's go back to those stable doors. The list of forbidden items being read out on the news made me wonder if, in my sleep, I'd slipped out of this dimension into a comical Orwell-inspired fantasy world in which basically everything is forbidden unless there is specific instruction otherwise. No water bottles, no spectacles cases, no books, no jars of baby food, no mobile phones, no tissues (is that right? To be honest, you could just make up a list of forbidden objects, it would be equally implausible). If you're carrying milk for your baby, you have to taste it in front of them. I was half expecting the newsreader to stop mid-sentence, wink, and say, "naaaah, 's all right, I'm just 'avin' a laugh, ain't I?"

Why was the response so absurd? First, it created a huge amount of unnecessary work for security personnel at the airports, frisking and searching passengers who were clearly innocent of anything beyond parking infringements. Second, it caused delays and damage to the airline industry which could not be sustained in the long-term (which is why the regulations have now been relaxed). Third, any security arrangement put in place can be circumvented with enough time and imagination. Unless they were proposing that the next stage be forcing passengers to strip and board planes naked, there was no future for the hand luggage restrictions. Fourth, it created the impression that masses of terrorists were still on the run; strangely, a few days on, with no new arrests made, we're not hearing anything about that now, even though the restrictions have only just been lifted.

I don't - for the moment - doubt that there was a plot. I don't doubt that the security services acted before any harm was done. If all this is indeed the case then they are to be commended for bringing about a successful end to the conspiracy before anyone was killed or even so much as hurt. I do doubt, however, that the timing of the arrests had nothing to do with the Home Secretary's speech to Demos in which he suggested that freedom of expression and movement is going to have to take a back seat indefinitely, in view of the virtual inevitability of another terrorist attack (how prescient of him). I also doubt that it was necessary to throw the country's airports into chaos, imposing risible security checks on harmless objects carried by law-abiding folk, making the whole thing look like a grown man chasing a wasp with a rolled-up newspaper before it's even stung him.

Anyway, one bit of good news: anyone who's come here from NoseMonkey's comments will be relieved to hear that BA have promised me a full refund on my flight.

Much more good stuff on this at the usual places, ie Chicken Yoghurt, Bloggerheads, Bruce Schneier, Diamond Geezer, Rachel, and especially Craig Murray.


Blogger Philip said...

just an unfortunate man being shot in the leg (was it?) because he was committing the heinous act of living in his own home and being in possession of a Muslim-sounding name.

By coincidence, the unfortunate man was arrested for possession of "child abuse images" on the very day the report into his little accident came out.

6:54 pm  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

Thanks for the link, Philip - I see it was the shoulder, not the leg. What a relief for him...

10:45 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Good post. And thanks for the link.



9:42 am  

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