13 August 2006

Sanity at last!

On Thursday I was sitting working and the TV was tuned to Sky News, with the sound turned down, and occasionally I turned up the sound to hear if there was anything new. There wasn't.

The whole broadcast, the whole day long, was about an alleged plot to blow up aeroplanes flying between Britain and the US, and the chaos at airports caused by the stricter security measures.

My son came in and glanced at it occasionally, and then remarked that it looked like a film called V for vendetta, which he said was an old one that predicted the kind of place Britain seemed to be becoming. To me it seemed like one of the "Hate weeks" out of George Orwell's 1984. Every now and then they would switch to American commentators who would go on about the "evil people out there who spend all their time planning to destroy us". And the message was clear: Sky News wanted their viewers to spend all day thinking about the evil people who spend all day thinking how to destroy us. So this is the New World Order. This is the post-Cold War world.

I am reminded of the Cold War hymn:

The day God gave thee, Man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

And into all this paranoia comes a voice of sanity from, of all places, the Financial Times.
The first response must be to adopt a foreign policy that saps terrorists of support without pandering to their demands. It should not be necessary to remind either the US or the British government that it is not possible simply to kill or catch all the terrorists until there are none left - a pointless strategy based on what one might call the "lump of terror" fallacy.

The second response must be a sense of proportion. More than 3,000 people died last year on our roads, but the roads stay open. Even the worst acts of terrorism reap their largest toll in hysterical responses. Scotland Yard's statement that they had disrupted a plot to cause "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" was alarmist even if it is true. Journalists - and terrorists - are perfectly capable of spreading hyperbole without any help from the police. The most powerful answer to terrorism is not to be terrified.

Not that it's nice that some people were allegedly plotting to blow up aeroplanes. It's a good thing that the British police are taking such potential threats seriously and trying to neutralise them, though preferably not by comitting mayhem on the Underground and murdering Brazilian electricians.

But it's the media hype that is even more disturbing than the alleged plot. When a police spokesman talks about "mass murder on an unimaginable scale", he's dead wrong. It is quite imaginable. We've seen it on TV in the Near East for the last 6 weeks. And during that time it hasn't stopped in the Middle East either. Thirty-five people actually died in a car bomb explosion in Iraq on Thursday, in case anyone noticed. Not Sky News, though.

It looks as though Big Brother in the UK was thinking that the public was getting too sympathetic towards the wogs who were dying in places like Lebanon, and needed to be brought back on side.

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