Tuesday, 26 January 2010


I will keep this short and sour.

Three days ago, Home Secretary Alan Johnson warned a terrorist attack was 'highly likely' in the UK, and raised the UK terrorist threat level from 'substantial' to 'severe'. Apparently, we're meant to 'remain vigilant' and 'report suspicious events to the proper authorities'. And if I could just quote a slightly larger passage:
Lord Carlile, the government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the change was designed to make the public more aware, not to scare people. He said: "The government has quite rightly decided that if you don't tell the public to be vigilant, they're not going to be vigilant."

So, my question is, what exactly is it that we're meant to be on the lookout for? What examples of terrorist activity have we been subject to, that could help us (the general public) in identifying 'suspicious events'?

And, in truth, the only examples that we have to hand - the only examples the media has presented us with - is of men in turbans carrying big rucksacks. And I'll be damned if I look at every man in a turban with a big rucksack as a potential threat.

Furthermore, Lord Carlile's argument is practically worthless. If Mr Smith is, unfortunately, going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be victim to some terror attack, there is nothing he can do about it. Telling us that the threat is 'severe' does nothing but make us more paranoid.

So, if I could please translate: if you don't tell the public to be suspicious, they're not going to be suspicious. And again, I, for one, do not want to walk the streets of London being suspicious of my fellow Londoners.

Perhaps this post isn't as short (but it's definitely as sour) as I first intended it to be...

Finally, just watch this Newswipe edition to see what I mean. Long live Charlie Brooker.


  1. Hit the nail on the head. Public proclamations of the imminent danger of terrorism does nothing productive - everyone knows that if you see an unattended bag, you tell someone. And there's little more that we can do as vigilant citizens than things like that, things that we've already been programmed to do. What these warnings DO do is create that old chestnut, the climate of fear, that has been so successfully used in both the US and UK to pass civil liberty-infringing acts that extend government power and restrict our freedoms.

    Since you mentioned the terrorism module I took, the conclusion that Robert Goodin comes to in his text What's Wrong With Terrorism? is (to paraphrase) that if we define terrorism as fundamentally involving the creation of fear for political purposes, then our governments might be considered just as guilty of that as are the terrorists themselves... I can lend you the text if it interests you particularly.

  2. ugh, typo in the second line. *do nothing productive.

  3. I'm ploughing through a 1000-page novel atm, when I finish that I'll let you know and might take you up on that offer of Robert Goodin, it sounds like a v interesting text.
    Also, not happy about this bot post, this is the second time that's happened.