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Home > Politics

Panic attack

31 July 2005

Last Friday morning just before 10am, Jean Charles de Menezes left his home in Tulse Hill and took the number 2 bus to Stockwell tube station. He was on his way to finish off a wiring job in Kilburn, but as we know, he didn’t make it.

The events leading up to de Menezes’ death are by now common knowledge – inasmuch as anything so nebulous and protean can be said to be knowledge of any hue. What we know for sure is that the block of flats where he lived had been under surveillance since its address was discovered in an abandoned rucksack the day before; we know that he was followed onto a bus by plainclothes police officers who knew for a fact that at that point in his journey at least, de Menezes wasn’t about to detonate the bomb he didn’t have; and we know that he entered the tube station, and that he didn’t stand still when a different group of anti-terrorist specialists decided it was now or never.

There are many possible reasons why de Menezes bolted. It may have been connected to worries over his legal status in Britain. It may merely have been the blind panic of suddenly being pursued by armed and angry men in baseball caps. We will never know what was really going through his head in those last few seconds of his life. What we can be certain of however, is that he was afraid, and that he panicked. Panic, it seems, is contagious.

Indeed, if it can be said to have achieved anything, the brutally efficient way in which our anti-terrorist elite dispatched an unarmed electrician has sent a very clear message to the terrorists. It says simply: we are in the midst of an enormous panic attack. Whilst simultaneously and rather ironically urging the public to keep calm, the police have started leaping to paranoid conclusions, flying off half-cocked, half-baked but totally-arsed, shooting first and not really bothering to ask questions at all. We shouldn’t be surprised. This is par for the course; part and parcel of the prevailing War on Terror fire with fire philosophy.

Broadly speaking, opinion on the Stockwell execution tends to fall into two camps: on one side, there are those who simply cannot see beyond the fact that an innocent man has been brutally murdered; on the other side there are those who say, ‘Yes, but what if he *had* been about to explode?’ Well, if he had been about to explode and if his death had saved the lives of tens, maybe even hundreds of other innocent people, then there would be little to carp about. But he wasn’t. He was about to fit a fire alarm.

Few refuse to accept that the policy of shooting suicide bombers in the head, killing them dead and sparing their prospective victims is a necessary obscenity. But if we must tolerate such breath-taking barbarity, then surely, as with any death penalty, a fair degree of certainty that the person about to be terminated is guilty as surmised really ought to be at a premium. Sadly, as experience has taught us time and time again, the people who make life-or-death decisions also make mistakes, just like the rest of us. That’s why we don’t have the death penalty in this country for non-suicide bombers. But as long as young men are trying to blow us up, we will have to be ready to shoot them dead, without trial, without questioning, without so much as a superficial frisk. In that it seems our hands our tied. So what we have to do - obviously - is somehow stop young men wanting to blow us up.

Sure we could pass a few more laws, kit out our tubes and buses with metal detectors, have police patrolling station platforms 24/7, fill our cities with bomb-sniffing dogs and stop and search a few more bearded youths without moustaches, but we know there’s no point really, and it will impact appallingly on our sense of living in a free country. Sadly, as long as people want to bomb us, they’ll bomb us. And despite Tony Blair’s out-and-out refusal to accept the existence of causality, what we really have to do is understand why they want to do so in the first place. Blair already knows of course; he just doesn’t much relish facing the necessary political upheaval of owning up to it.

The fact is, until we address and redress our insane alignment with bigoted US foreign policy, the terror will continue to escalate. Until the government sits up straight and stops lying about cause and effect, there will be more bombings, more accidental murders, more innocent suspects being targeted by terrified fools, and lots more people staying home.

The way things are going, no-one can possibly blame them.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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