Monday, August 21, 2006

Wolf! Wolf?

On August 10th Jim Sheridan, a Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Government's defence team resigned his post for honourable reasons. He said it was because Prestwick, a Scottish airport was being used to refuel US jets carrying bombs to Israel, in particular and because he couldn't stand the UK and US government's foreign policy in the Middle East in general.

'' I don't believe they [the values of the UK foreign policy] reflect the core values of the Labour Party or indeed the country." he said. He wasn't alone; more than 130 MPs - half of them Labour - had just written and asked for a recall of Parliament to discuss the Lebanon crisis.

Mr Sheridan said he would support such a move and suggested that a "significant" number of his colleagues regarded the current Middle East policy as flawed.
"I think we are now in danger of embarking on an extremely dangerous strategy and we have to stop the bombing and killing of people on both sides of this conflict," he said.

Parliament was not recalled. Despite protests, despite high level members of Government voicing deep disquiet, nothing happened and nobody spoke out. Meanwhile, Dr. John Reid drastically revised the content of a speech he had been booked to give to think tank Demos, and used it to berate people who opposed the Government's anti-terror tactics: ''they just don't get it'' he said . He then embarked on a ten day headline-grab, where he strong-armed all over Sky News and lo, within 48 hours we were told of planes falling out of the sky, blown to pieces by over a score of Muslims plotting to cause ''unimaginable'' carnage. And hundreds of thousands of holiday makers were left standing in the rain outside heaving airports, miserably inconvenienced but seemingly, unpanicked. Although, after a hysterical media onslaught, some passengers were sufficiently jumpy a week later to notice two Asian men looking at their watches, and report them to the authorities.

I think there was a plot. Whether it was very advanced, and whether it could actually have been carried out, is what I am not so sure about. If Reid was sufficiently aware of the details to make oh-so-presecient speeches slyly referencing it, and to tip off Blair and Bush well in advance, before proceeding to wreck people's holiday plans with their apparent blessing, then why didn't he grind the airports to a halt before? As soon as he knew? If the threat was so terrible, so ''unimaginable''? ( I can imagine 3000 dead quite easily by the way. That's as many died on September 11th five years ago. And as many die in Iraq each month.)

And why unleash all the chaos and extra security measures after the arrests? And if the FBI and other security services were aware of the potential of terrorists to use liquid explosives for years why continue to let people on planes with them? And since the 9/11 hi-jackers were able to use boxcutters (and possibly faked bomb kits) to hijack aircraft, why are people still allowed to board planes with cigarette lighters and heavy glass bottles full of alcohol which presumably they can use to wallop people over the head with and set fire to things with? Why has so much information about the alleged plotters been leaked to the media? We're even told of *martyrdom videos ( *they don't say whether they were actually made by the arrested men and if they featured the men and if they did, whether they intended to martyr themselves by fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or by attacking passenger planes full of Westerners departing from UK airports.) The Home Office had apparently known of this plot for months. Why now, then? Why?

And...and...and...but it is easy to descend into lunatic conspiracy theories. I think the plotting was real enough, but I also think it has been milked dry for political gain, and by the US as well as the UK administration. You can choose when to pull a plug, and how you pull it, and what you tell people after you have pulled it. And we all sit back and listen, and listen, and go , hmmmmm. Boilerplating?

I think the timing was v-e-r-y interesting. And very bloody handy for the Government and its friends in the US. And I am frustrated that I, someone who was nearly killed by a suicide bomb, and who has always voted Labour, should even be thinking like this.

And I think that this is the big problem; hardly anybody believes anything the Government tells them anymore. Even if they tell them, look, we have saved you from a terrible fate, people just don't trust them to tell the truth.

But the first job of the elected Government is to protect and serve the people, preserve their liberty and security and their freedoms. And when trust has broken down this badly, so that people think they are lying, lying and deceiving, following an agenda that is not even set by the voters and representatives of this country, when people say that our leaders are silent when they should speak out, speaking out when they should be silent, then where the hell are we going?

I expect there are police officers and security officers who have worked their arses off all summer, who are gnashing their teeth that what they are doing to protect people is looked on as over-hyped and over-spun and even called an outright deceit by those who think there is no threat at all. There is a threat, I am sure of it, and I expect more bombs, more atrocities. But the reaction, our reaction to the threat is the one thing that can be controlled. At the moment it doesn't feel very controlled at all, it feels hysterical.

Margaret Thatcher survived a direct bomb strike just before 3am from a 100lb IRA bomb on the hotel where she was holding the Conservative party conference. People were injured, and killed. She requested that the conference continue as planned at 0930the next day and it did. "This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail" she said.

I was indescribably thrilled when the Thatcher years ended, but she still has my admiration for that sensible, sane reaction that day. I do not remember anyone demonising the IRA as some kind of Elite Evil Army, Unstoppable Satanic Forces of Darkness, a Nexis of Nihilism, an Axis of Evil, an Arc of Extremism, blahblahblah. I thought of them, as many people did, as murderous criminals who occasionally got lucky; vile because they deployed violence against civilians for a political cause.

I think much the same of anyone planning to blow up a plane. But I don't see why I should skulk about, tagged and scanned and cowering and monitored, and have my life made miserable and have my freedoms for which my ancestors fought nibbled away because of the threat said wannabe-criminal youths may or may not pose.

At the end of the day, however overarching and widespread the ideaology, you are dealing with a few people who are determined enough to blow themselves up. Getting it into proportion, that is just one of the risks we run, daily. I can say that now, because I am no longer suffering from full-blown PTSD. I still hate trains, but that is my personal, private, unfortunate reaction to what happened to me. I am sane enough to recognise when I am being sold a bloated, stinking, overhyped pup and when the damage the hype does is ridiculously overstated in comparison to the risk I actually run.

War on Terror? Pfffff. You don't need to have a war on it; you're just giving vicious criminal acts a status that they do not deserve. You're making the loons look cool, FFS. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that the tactics of the War on Terror are speeding us towards hell in a handcart. Social justice, fair trade, arms trade reduction, democracy, freedom of speech and worship, custodianship of our beautiful, probably unique planet; these are causes I believe in. Histrionics, and million-pound armed action against whole countries which happen to harbour those sick few who plot murder and mayhem, nope.

Well. I hope the alledged plotters get a fair trial, and that it happens soon. How many in the pipeline awaiting trial now? For how many thwarted terrorist plots? Compared to how many arrests? And how much media coverage?

Wolf? It's getting too dark now to see if it is a wolf or not. And there's too much noise to tell if the warning cry is real.


Blogger Charlie said...

Fantastic post Rachel. Well written and well put. I was watching V for Vendetta the other day and it all looks a bit too familiar for my liking...

August 21, 2006 11:28 pm  
Blogger steve said...

I'm glad you have been so frank here, because I feel exactly the same way. But, to be honest I am even more cynical than you are with regard to the latest "terror plot". I barely believe anything, at all, with regard to it. I just see the government gaining too much from the whole episode for it to be completely unstaged. I hope I am wrong.

With the Crevice trial we only got a few vague details of the plot. Which is sensible, especially with such sensitive intelligence. Why the massive leaks this time?

And this from someone, who like yourself and hundreds of others has witnessed the horror of terrorism first hand.

If there is such a massive threat, I personally would rather not know. At least not in this manner. Informing us of the impending doom of Al Qaeda every 5 minutes is only scoring goals for the terrorists.

August 21, 2006 11:51 pm  
Anonymous Antipholus Papps said...

I think it's a crock of shit from a criminal government deliberately trying to frighten us into accepting police state legislation and aggressive war. The suspects didn't have plane tickets. Some didn't even have passports, yet this was 'imminent' carnage 'on an unimaginable scale' the day after John Reid told us to sacrifice the freedoms for which our ancenstors fought and died. John Reid is a traitor. Tony Blair is a traitor.

August 22, 2006 1:13 pm  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

my sentiments exactly!...great post! hx

August 22, 2006 5:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few points - The police claim to have found plane tickets. Not everyone involved was going to fly. A number of them are being charged with supporting the intended plot, rather than actually doing it themselves. In which case they wouldn't need a passport...

This is how the conspiracy stuff gets started - half facts misreported by the press and given a weight they don't have.

When JFK was shot, much was made over the years by some of the fact that one of the press photos showed a policeman holding up the wrong rifle. It turned out that the photographer on the assignment had muffed the picture. So the paper dug up a picture of a policeman holding a rifle out of the newspapers archive and ran that on the front page.....

As to the political side - well, of course. Given that the first thought on 9/11 was that it was a great day to bury bad news, what did you expect? Blair cooked it up with Reid, is my guess - they didn't even have to fiddle with the police operation. All they had to do was wait until they were told (a month in advance at least) when this was going to happen.

Tony slips out of the country, Reid gets the press. He'll replace Prescott at the party conference as deputy, all set up to run against Brown when The Day comes....

A lot of the leaks seem to Brown & Co. trying to muscle in on the publicity (think - Treasury releasing the name of those whose bank accounts have been frozen). Though Gordon seems awfully shy these days, doesn't he?

The Anon

August 23, 2006 10:32 am  
Anonymous Atticus Finchley said...

I agree.... But I think they have shouted wolf a few too many times. I also think that there probably was a plot, but many educated people seem to think it is ALL made up, ALL lies. It's going to take a long time for anyone to believe what any government tell us anymore.

August 23, 2006 12:03 pm  
Blogger Gilbert said...

Well written post. I've had similar thoughts about calling it the "war on terror" but you articulate it much better than I could.

While I do not discount that there very well could have been a "liquid bomb" plot, I too am suspicious about the timing and nature of the authorities' actions.

Here in the US, we've have a number of dramatic arrests and announcements about uncovered plots, which later turn out to be more dubious than first alleged and seem to be calculated to give the impression that law enforcement and "Homeland Security" is doing something. There even seems to be a connection between the timing of "red alerts" and important votes or elections. I'm sure you are all shocked.

- Gilbert

August 23, 2006 5:25 pm  
Anonymous joty said...

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
H. L. Mencken


"This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means."

Congressman Rahm Emmanuel

August 29, 2006 10:07 pm  

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