The reaction to any terror bombing in any Western nation is as predictable as the tides and, with its own eccentricities, Britain is no exception.
First, a selection of political worthies mouth the Standardised Incident Phrase “my thoughts are with the victims” — whose names they will mostly not know or care to remember a week after the fact. The leader of the opposition scrambles to offer a pantomime of solidarity with the serving government, which reciprocates because division at this stage would be a poor show — that’s what next week is for.
Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister calls a meeting of some sort of “fast-reaction” body (in Britain this is COBRA), because that sort of thing looks decisive, and COBRA is an evocative sort of name. “What can we do?” the members of COBRA ask each other, referring not to the process of helping victims, or analysing broad issues which may have led to the event, but to how they should handle its fallout for ever-present camerafolk.
A Strong Showing will be suggested, probably by a high-ranking politician who knows that spectacle often makes up for a lack of ideas. But what sort of Strong Showing is to be offered?
Obviously, as it’s a terror bombing, there’s not much that can actually be done. There’s already a huge, well-funded and highly invasive security apparatus monitoring the masses and anti-extremism programmes which have long since tipped over into damaging forms of racial and political profiling.
As far as such efforts can go they have already gone and indeed further, into the territory of destroying freedoms and values they were supposed to protect. They have in many cases already become a double-edged sword, with invasive strategies such as PREVENT, implemented with zeal by the sort of person who joins up to a hardline State intervention project, alienating Muslims and making criticisms from fundamentalists echo with increased force.
Guns and anti-terror measures meanwhile are already in place at every major political hub and “key site” such as nuclear stations, airports and army bases. Such protections are absent from water treatment plants, food distribution warehouses or county towns on a Saturday of course. It would be prohibitively expensive, and highly dangerous, to try and hire in enough guards for every vulnerable site.
How would you even make sure they’re all on the level, a “good guy” with a gun as opposed to a “bad guy” looking to get hold of one? Any worker in care fields can tell you how inept the Disclosure and Barring Service checks can be when applied on a mass scale, how open to manipulation they are.
Fundamentally our Western nation has too much complex, interlocking infrastructure and too many zones of intense human activity to be physically protected from a competent and driven attempt at mass murder. What’s continually amazing is how little terror we face, given the circumstances.
But merely explaining this will not placate the presses. Applying logic and accepting the simple reality that terror is a) very rare in the West b) not very lethal c) designed primarily to panic people into doing something stupid d) impossible to stop in its entirety will raise the cry “well you don’t care about the dead” — itself the worst kind of politicisation and unethical manipulation of a devastated family’s feelings that can be found in modern life.
And so the COBRA meeting breaks up, a placatory propaganda angle has been found. Troops on the Street to defend [Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, foreign embassies and the Palace of Westminster]. Threat levels [raised to critical] and we might take another look at existing terror legislation, maybe make it sound a little more draconian, a little more persecutory against the fringes.
Maybe we should do something about that whole internet business. Bomb Syria some more? That’d keep the “bomb the Muslamic infidel” types quiet for a while, they love a bit of wasted ordnance. Pencil that one in for next meeting.
And give the Sun a ring, let them know we’re dealing with the situation.