Who needs to plant big bombs once you have planted fear?
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- As I am writing this, confusion still surrounds the latest terrorist incident in London.
But one thing is already clear. These attacks are about spreading fear, pure and simple. The pathetic individuals who carried them out were not propagating a political programme or an ‘evil ideology’, or even trying to bomb London into rubble. They were aiming to create a spectacle and instil terror as an end in itself. As such, their success or failure will not be dependent on what they do. It will depend on how we respond.
Two weeks ago, on July 7, people reacted to the bombs with an uplifting demonstration of human spirit and solidarity. In the fortnight since, London has been getting on with its business, at work and play. But there have been signs of fear and anxiety gnawing away at the public mood. Many people will undoubtedly be more scared now.
Part of the reason for that might be because too many treated July 7 as a shocking one-off atrocity. This attitude was reinforced from the top. The authorities rushed to hold memorial ceremonies and open books of condolence for the victims before we even knew who was dead. They acted as if they were commemorating a war of 60 years ago, before they knew whether the terrorists were still alive or the bombing campaign was over.
These imitation attacks only a fortnight later should remind us that a different response is required. We need to treat the threat of terrorism as part of everyday life in a city such as London today. It is normal now, and we will have to live with it and carry on. That is the way to minimise its disruptive effects.
Amid the new worries, let us try to keep things in perspective. This is not the Blitz. It is the infantile terrorism of overgrown adolescents. Yesterday’s small explosions were a grotesque gesture, the bombers’ equivalent of shouting ‘boo’ in the ear of a nervous child. If the four bombs on July 7 were a limited attack that nevertheless made history as Britain’s biggest terrorist outrage, yesterday’s incidents look like history repeated as farce.
But then, who needs to plant big bombs once you have planted fear? You can set off a detonator, wave a gun, even issue a threat, and hope that the authorities and the public will panic. There are earlier examples of strange ‘terror-lite’ events following major attacks – the anthrax envelopes that closed down Washington DC after 9/11, a small explosive device found on a railway line after the Madrid train bombings. When an act of terrorism seems able to bring cities, nations – if not the world – to a standstill, then any nutter with a grudge is invited to have a go.
What we can do to counter them best is to fight our morbid fears together and guard against panic measures. We surely did not need the Metropolitan Police Commissioner telling us yesterday to go about our normal business, but not to move anywhere. We do not need any more instructions to be silent with our heads bowed. And we do not need extraordinary new laws to ban ‘indirect incitement’ to terrorism. If, as the popular slogan says, we were not afraid after the bombs of 7/7, then we certainly should not be afraid after yesterday’s flaccid efforts. Nor should we send a signal that we are scared of the fatuous words of a few crank Islamic preachers.
- One sure way to spread fear and panic is rumour-mongering. Yet in our new age of the ‘citizen reporter’, it sometimes seems that rumours can pass for news.
Amid the early confusion yesterday, news organisations starved of facts immediately put out the call for accounts and pictures from witnesses. The result was various half-truths and speculation being treated as good coin. For instance, somebody’s claim to have seen a nailbomb attack on the Underground was instantly reported on television news. The next thing I heard was that people watching TV from afar were ringing relatives in Central London, to tell them the Tube was being nailbombed. It is testimony to the fortitude of Londoners that they did not run screaming through the streets.
So amid all the excitement about on-the-spot citizen reporters with their phone cameras, let us try to remember that there is no substitute for hard facts and cool analysis. I mean, in the middle of all that, I even heard a ridiculous rumour that England were beating the Australians.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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