The BBC is screening one of its adverts at the moment promoting their current affairs documentaries, Panorama and Whistleblower. I haven’t seen Whistleblower before, but the clip they are showing makes it pretty obvious what it will be about. We see a BBC journalist on board a plane, explaining how easily she has managed to get past security; the clear implication being that if she was so minded she could simply plant a bomb and hey presto, another terrorist outrage.
We regularly hear of such security breaches and how disturbing they are; Fathers4Justice getting through security at Parliament or Buckingham Palace, or Aaron Barshak gate crashing the royal party at Windsor. Now, clearly, these are serious lapses of security and should be dealt with, lessons should be learned; but occasionally I do wonder why so much time is spent worrying about such events when there are a plethora of soft targets all over the place which we can do nothing about?
Returning to that BBC reporter on board the plane; if she has a bomb then she will indeed be a risk to passengers due to fly on that aircraft; but presumably, if she has a bomb she will be a danger wherever she is. The problem is the bomb and the terrorist, not so much where they are.
Imagine that same reporter being in any number of different situations; imagine yourself being in any number of situations where you are surrounded by a large crowd of people. You are at a football match, in the Trafford centre during the January sales, at a level crossing with two inter-city trains approaching, in a traffic jam beneath a flyover at spaghetti junction while sitting next to a petrol tanker. Now, think what you could do if you were a suicide bomber packed with explosives, think of the havoc, the chaos, the death and destruction you could cause; and all without the merest breach of security, with no slip up required.
I think we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot do in a free society. I am not suggesting that we wave a white flag, that because there are millions of soft targets we should give up and not bother about security measures. We should maintain security, and tighten any loopholes we become aware of. More importantly we should concentrate on intelligence in order to prevent terrorist attacks – I personally am happy to make use of intercept intelligence (as are Liberty) – and when we identify those who are planning an atrocity we should of course swiftly arrest, charge and (if found guilty) gaol them.
Alongside this, however, I personally think it is sensible not to engage in the sort of activities that I believe will only encourage terrorism; you know the sort of thing, unjust wars of dubious legality, draconian security measures reminiscent of internment. Apart from anything else, nothing short of complete totalitarianism, a sort of The Prisoner meets 1984, can prevent terrorists from murdering people if they are determined to, and if the intelligence just isn’t available.
But I also think we really have to put the “war on terror” in perspective. I want to cry whenever I hear a high-ranking politician talking about defeating terrorism; such people shouldn’t be in positions of responsibility, they should be sectioned. Unless human beings evolve beyond all recognition some people will always want to kill others; if people are determined to commit a terrorist attack then they will, and there is little we can do about it. Terrorist are often just criminals with a cause; if you can erase both of these things then you can defeat terrorism, but we are talking about a Utopia now; and Utopia, of course, means “noplace”. Winning the war on terror will just never happen. In any event, we can spend all our time and energies trying to prevent terrorism, but that doesn’t prevent natural disasters like the tsunami causing more deaths than any terrorist could ever imagine.
And perhaps there is a lesson in the tsunami. Perhaps we should treat terrorist attacks as we treat natural disasters; we accept that they are going to occur. Of course we do whatever we can to prevent them, and to forewarn people about them, we do what is humanely possible; but in the end we just have to accept the way things are. Bad things are going to happen, and to think anything else means we are just deluding ourselves.