Killing time

I think we can comfortably assume that, at least in the eyes of the government, the freedom to not be blown up is more important than the freedom to not be shot at. Not only are we supposed to swallow this rather dubious point of view, but we’re being asked to happily accept that not only are we not free to not be shot at, but we are going to be shot at. It’s just inevitable. Better get ready: we’re all potential targets. (And think again about wearing body armour, because that will just make you more of an obvious target – everyone knows that terrorists wear kevlar to disguise themselves – any anyway, in this country we shoot people in the head to make sure they’re dead, and it’s difficult to wear head-protecting armour and not walk into things, like lamp posts and undercover police hitmen.)

What’s probably most appalling about this unfortunate event is that many papers – and not just the viciously right-wing ones – are starting to talk about de Menezes as a victim of terrorism. Jean Charles de Menezes is as much a victim of terrorism as Ahmad Wail Bakri was a victim of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Or, to put it another way, he’s isn’t. He’s a victim of an unfortunate error, but he’s a victim of a British error, and we should all stand up and say that now.

If we’re actually going to fight a war on terror (and let’s assume for a moment that this is both desirable and actually possible), then we have to think for a moment about what that means. A war on terror is waged not by reducing the acts of terrorism, but by reducing the fear of terrorism – reducing the terror. If we’re not afraid of people blowing us up even while they are, then the terrorists have lost. London was doing pretty well with this until last Friday, perhaps in part because of the IRA bombing campaigns last century (we still haven’t got all those litter bins back), but now increasing numbers of people will be wondering if they’ll be one of the other innocents who must die in the hunt for terrorists.

Facing up to what’s actually going on here may not make people sleep easier at night, and it might not even reduce overall levels of fear, but it would at least make it possible to have a reasonable discussion about the correct response. While we brand every innocent victim of the police force’s crusade as a terror victim, we make it impossible to oppose the current policy. The words simply aren’t there, because as things stand the terrorists are so powerful that they are killing more people without doing anything. To argue against the status quo we have to be able to label these people as victims of the approach by the British government, police and security forces.

Of course, that kind of attitude is probably seditious. Almost certainly immoral. In fact, I’m a monster for even thinking it. Yes – they’re not even my thoughts at all, they’re terrorists’ thoughts. I can hear the heavy tread of a policeman with a brainsaw already …

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