The terrorism that never was
A friend from abroad asked me about the disturbing attack in Woolwich. Disturbing indeed, for various reasons. And senseless. As if the responsibility of Britain's disturbing and equally senseless wars rested exclusively on the shoulders of somebody collecting funds for his perceived heroes. Just as disturbing, however, is the government exploitation of the event. The defence secretary is quoted as saying: "We are not going to be cowed by this kind of terrorist action", thereby completely devaluing the term terrorist as entirely meaningless. The BBC quotes the prime minister's support for a passer-by who talked about the attacker losing his "war" in London. Whilst stating that "one of the best ways to defeat terrorism is to go about our normal lives", he does the opposite and cancels a meeting in Paris to hurry back to Britain to attend a meeting of the anti-terrorism committee Cobra.
In news reports, the attacker's motives are quoted but not meaningfully discussed. His statement that innocent civilians get killed daily in Afghanistan and other theatres of wars is sadly all too true, and many suffer their fate as a result of remote controlled drones. Since those drones have now also been confirmed to have killed four US citizens, US president Obama is shortly going to make a statement justifying their continued use whilst already having pronounced that his country will "stand resolute" with Britain following the Woolwich attack. Needless to add, but for the common finger-pointing at Muslims, that justified motives do not excuse aberrant action and taking out frustrations on a misled and misguided solider will neither stop the slaughter nor aid the victims.
Once the politicians and news channels had hyped the story out of all proportion, it didn't take long for reprisal attacks on mosques and individual Muslims who were even less guilty of the knife attack than the killed soldier was of the overall conduct of the war in Afghanistan in which he had at least been previously deployed. Muslim organisations responded with messages of condemnation for the attack and the typical apologetic "it wasn't us, please don't hurt us on account of it", some even going as far as asserting their support for British soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Reading all the hype one might be forgiven for thinking that London is a quiet and peaceful little town shook to the core by this violent occurrence. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Putting things in perspective, we are dealing with a knife attack perpetrated by two individuals not acting on behalf of any group or organisation and with a single victim. There are between one and two hundred fatal gun and knife crimes in London every year. The motives differ, but the none of them is victimless. There are in excess of three thousand non-fatal knife crimes leading to injuries. Each and every one of them is brutal. For the whole of the UK there were nearly thirty thousand offences committed involving knives. If the prime minister were to return from abroad each time somebody wielded a knife in an attack in London, never mind the other major British cities, he might as well stay at home, not that this would be a bad thing. If every fatal knife attack is now upgraded to an act of terror, then embassies around the world should issue urgent advice to their citizens against visiting the UK.
Do the churches issue an apology for every violent killing in Northern Ireland? Do they distance themselves from the one of the Woolwich attackers who quoted the Bible? Do animal rights groups issue an apology for every violent animal rights campaigner targetting research labs? Should all men collectively apologise for sex crimes? All adults for pedophilia? After all, such crimes are every bit as horrific as the one David Cameron called "deeply shocking". Is he also shocked by the high level of birth defects in Iraqi babies due to the illegal use of radioactive weapons by US and UK forces? More importantly, will the security services apologise for their repetitive incompetence? It appears that both attackers were known to them as has been the case with nearly every previous "terrorist" attack perpetrated, so obviously they're are not giving us our money's worth in protection whilst spending ample time and resources spying on innocent citizens. Maybe, letting things happen serves them as a welcome argument for increased funding?
It is high time that this whole anti-terrorism business is becoming the object of a more focused discussion. How much of our fought-for freedoms do we wish to surrender to an ever-more encroaching government on the excuse that the terror threat is alive and kicking and that a potential terrorist could be lurking at every street corner? We already have more surveillance cameras in London than in any other capital on the globe? Whom do they benefit and how did they make the people of Woolwich more safe? What role do the security services play in fermenting the terror threat? How do we define terrorism, both at home and abroad? Without attempting to answer these questions and many more we will completely lose touch with reality and become open prey to those in authority who want us to live in permanent fear in order to let them exploit their positions - and us - unchecked.