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Home > Politics

There's Nobody Here But Us Terrorists

18 August 2006

As with so much in life, a horrible overwhelming terror scare can bring with it a good bushel of laughs... Neighbours of suspects, bewildered, saying, 'But they're so polite and they keep such a nice garden.' Clearly, there is a deep and basic need across all cultures for terrorists to wear permanent vicious scowls and t-shirts saying 'YOU WILL ALL DIE LIKE DOGS'... Mothers having to test baby milk before boarding planes, making Michael Moore (who made much of a single incidence of this in 'Fahrenheit 9/11') hold his belly and cackle like a crazed liberal Santa... Claustrophic late-middle-aged women with handcream causing international incidents... An imaginary new sign in north-east London saying, 'Welcome to Walthamstow, Terrorist Hub and Home of William Morris'. There's a rich seam of absurdity in it all. And it's just as well because without that, we'd probably have got depressed enough to offer ourselves to a terrorist training camp for practice.

We've all scoffed heartily at people who try and get compensation after seeing on telly some traumatic event, and claiming to be traumatised despite not knowing anyone involved. But one of the many ingenious things about modern terrorism is that it lives through the television and the papers, and claiming to feel its effects are a bit more legitimate. You start making adjustments to the way you think and act - you are involved. The media can't help but be somewhat complicit in the terrorist agenda, because without the media we wouldn't know we're meant to be terrified. (Unless we were going to the airport, in which case we'd get a handy 'How to be terrified' leaflet, with a 'maze of strange new bureaucracy' puzzle on the back for the kids.)

Things always move frustratingly slowly at these times, and we're desperate to find out who's guilty and to what extent, who is innocent and how long the BBC is going to devote to their sombre press conference, whether or not there was a stash of guns, a cache of cash and endless bottles of doom. Then once we've got what are purportedly the facts we can start picking over them, and deciding whether or not we're going to believe that the stopped clock of the police and government might be giving the right time, this time. (If they are right, great! Home-grown terrorism is rampant. If they're not, great! Community relations collapse and home-grown terrorism becomes rampant. Win-win!)

It's exhausting trying to extrapolate truth these days, when we're so used to official fibbing and blustering, and the steady cacophony of a confused, unhappy, sometimes furious, sometimes languishing in denial Muslim community in our other ear. The effects of terrorism continue to amaze us with their slithery complexity. What other force is there that has almost as much effect on a society when it *isn't* exerted as when it is? The threat of terrorism, given the horrific incidents we've known, is almost as effective as what the threat... threatens. It changes people.

Knowing this, what we also should be thinking about is the potential for terror-related events and non-events to effectively radicalise not Muslims, but non-Muslims. Good Mail-burners as we strive to be - and it is necessary to put the effort in to keep a liberal outlook, just like you have to watch what you eat and exercise to stop putting on weight - things like this make us eye up the big, tempting, sticky cake of prejudice. Life would be so much easier and simpler without the constant wrestling with the massive tangle of issues surrounding Islam and terrorism - if you've just decided to chuck the moderate baby out with the fundamentalist bathwater, then you can get an early night instead of staying up late trying to make impossible judgement calls.

However smart you think you are, and however often you remind yourself that you're vastly more likely to get hit by a bus than blown up on one, you're never immune to the threat of fear-based bigotry, terrorism's side-effect and its daily bread. After a bit, it filters through that there are people who want you dead and are working hard to bring it about, and irrational as you know it is, you start to hear your inert survival instinct squalling like a two-year-old waking up in the next room. Your patience with the sweeping statements and declarations and gripes of governments and clerics erodes. You wish that instead of sternly insisting that they'll never make decisions based on what terrorists want, the government would try making them based on what *we* want. A bit less death all round would be lovely, thanks, here and abroad - and conveniently, working on the latter would help the former enormously. Sorry that our desire to see an adjustment in foreign policy so ironically dovetails with what terrorists want, but y'know, such are the ingenious crappy plot twists of the dog-eared paperback thriller we seem to find ourselves in. (If it turns out to be written by Dan Brown then we're all up shit creek, but then being in a Chris Ryan book wouldn't be much better. Unless we got to be the Chris Ryan guy.)

Even the idea of the threat nudges us into places we don't want to go. It means that this time when the untenable, unforgivable idea of 90-day life-destroying detention for terrorist suspects comes up, it takes us 90 seconds to go, 'Oh for fucksakes', instead of no seconds. It means that when we read some tiny notice that the Forest Gate police shooter won't face any disciplinary charges because it was an accident, and that the shootee has been re-arrested because of child porn on one of the computers seized (did we dream this?), we don't splutter about set-ups and let-offs and lack of police accountability. Our second thought is 'That's a bit fucking fishy', but it's not our first. (That'd be 'Ho hum'.) Could we have our principles back, please?

So what's most disconcerting to us at present is the sense that, even as we carry on as normal like the good citizens we are, we are in fact being changed. Things that aren't actually there at all and haven't happened and aren't anything to do with us are making alterations to us like so many Channel 4 property developers.

If there was ever a time for the government to legalise all drugs, it's now. Yes. Drugs please.

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

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