There is something really incomprehensible about Britain’s approach to terrorism. It seems that the government wants to use every technological, physical and PR tactic they can to make people feel more scared safer.
The most recent is a billboard campaign from the British Transport Police urging you to snoop on your neighbours if you see some vaguely suspicious rubbish in a bin. Amusingly – via The Wardman Wire – this has resulted in a Flickr pool of spoof posters produced from James Holden’s billboard slogan generator.
This follows on from the paranoia that all kinds of buildings must have big barriers around them, everything must be looked over with CCTV, that metal detectors need to be installed in the London Underground and in London hotels, that you can take only 100ml of liquids in hand luggage into an airport (but can buy litres at duty free)… etc., etc.
Let me tell a small story to illustrate the absurdity of all of this.
It was June 2005, about 3 weeks after the London terror attacks. I got on a Number 35 bus at about 7am from Clapham Common Station, heading towards Clapham Junction. The ground floor of the double decker was largely deserted, a couple of people at the back, and a huge bag just left on the wheel arch at the front of the bus. My first thought: who does that belong to? I enquired urgently of the driver who shrugged his shoulders in a blaze fashion. I asked the other passengers and discovered the bag belonged to a guy right at the back of the bus, about 5m from the bag. OK, my fear reduced.
But what about others getting into the bus for the rest of the journey? More than 20 people got on the bus over the 10 minutes of the journey, and not one of them raised an eyebrow about the large bag at the front. All of this despite advertising on London transport about reporting anything suspicious. Individuals do not look out for each other, and a billboard campaign is not going to help; in fact it is likely to make people more suspicious of each other, which is precisely the wrong outcome.
Why, oh why, does the UK always try to deal with the symptoms of terrorism, not the root causes?
The UK needs to emphasise tolerance and understanding, community cohesion and trust. Billboards, metal detectors, bomb barriers etc. are surely not going to manage that. Beyond the UK we heed a decent development aid policy and liberal approach to trade into Europe; reduce economic disparities between the developed and developing world.
In short we need to answer why people allegedly want to blow themselves up on British soil and not try to find every possible way to stop them doing it which is where the government seems to be putting its efforts currently.