I should keep a log of how many months pass between the UK newspapers being filled with stories about how the country is open house for terrorist activities and thus how we need to have longer terms of imprisonment without charge and we need to bar immigrants and we should all have identity cards. This one seems to be a reaction to thought of cutting back UK expenditure on jobs in intelligence bodies. At the end of the Cold War these bodies found themselves without much of a job so they first hitched themselves to the issue of organised crime and then since 11th September 2001 they have had an ever re-newing reason for the existence and for large expenditure on them. The last major terrorist incident in the UK was the 7th July 2005 bomb in London and the failed attempt to run a car into Glasgow airport on 30th June 2007.
US intelligence bodies invented al-Qaeda because funding in the USA has to be targeted at an organisation rather than individuals. There is nothing like al-Qaeda that is perceived by the bulk of the population, a multi-national terror corporation modelled on the lines of SPECTRE in the James Bond movies. Rather there are individual terrorist groups, usually very small, that sometimes co-operate but often work in contradictory directions. Some of the ones uncovered in the UK engaged in training which even British intelligence officials acknowledged would not benefit these terrorists at all. Many of young men who in the USA would be in the various militia and like running around pretending to be tough because they can achieve very little in their lives. The doctors behind the attack on Glasgow airport also suffered from similar inadequacies. Everyone loves being in a secret club and as happened with the left-wing terror groups of the 1970s such as the RAF in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, it often becomes an end in itself though leading to terrible consequences.
To perceive a global conspiracy is as misplaced as racist warnings against the 'Yellow Peril' in the 19th century. At the same time as governments keep telling us to fear small terrorist cells they are quite happy to go along with the Chinese government which has millions of people under arrest and adds to that number on a weekly basis, supports dictatorships like that in Sudan and habitually uses torture in its system. Surely the world is at more risk for the 'respectable' Chinese government than it is from small groups of hotheads.
So if the UK is now a 'soft touch' for terrorism what was it in the past. In the 1970s-1990s the UK was plagued by bombings by Irish Republican bodies. Suspected Irish terrorists were barred from coming to mainland Britain, the SAS (Special Air Service) operated an assassination policy of these terrorists in Ireland and Gibraltar, there was internment of terrorist suspects often in inhumane conditions not that different from Station X at Guantanamo Bay, and even innocent people like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six were locked up on flimsy evidence and kept in prison for years. There was censorship of political parties which would not deny terrorism. The British Army was based in large numbers in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary drove around in armoured cars and were the only part of the British police force in which every officer was armed. Was this approach not tough enough? It certainly did not stop the bombings either in Britain or Northern Ireland. It was only when these things
The latest 'warning' from the Royal United Services Institute about the UK points to all the usual solutions: more money for the intelligence bodies, a strong Cabinet committee (often called a junta in other countries) of the military and political leaders to co-ordinate the reaction and more money to all the Armed Forces. Yet the most alarming element of this report is that supposedly Britain's multi-cultural approach makes Britain more vulnerable to attack. Well, that is fine then, lets move towards segregation, say along the lines adopted by South Africa in the apartheid era or the USA in the 1950s, because that policy did very well in having peace and reducing the number of deaths (this is a sarcastic statement). Britain is already suffering from insufficient multi-culturalism, look at areas where segregation has de facto happened, such as in the Bradford riots in July 2001.
The way to reduce terrorism is to make the people who live in a country feel they have something invested in it. If you exclude them further, then of course many will throw their lot in with those who are trying to make their view of society the dominant one. This is what happened in the 1970s in Italy and West Germany when people felt society and politics was all controlled by the rich and powerful and the only way to counter them was with violence. Of course the buzz of being a terrorist soon takes over, but that was what motivated these terrorists, and more importantly, the support system of hundreds more people that built up around the core of actual terrorists.
The other thing is powerlessness. As I have noted before, anger is really common in the UK because so many people of every kind of background feel that no-one will listen to them. Is it then suprising that some people take this anger further into violent attacks? Terrorism takes many forms and we see it with people attacking speed cameras. The government is reducing the voice that everyone has in the UK and so people are angry. If some sectors of society feels that are also facing prejudice and in particular access to opportunities, then their ears are going to be open to those who tell them there is another way and it can be won with violence.
The other point about these scares is they further erode the things we are actually trying to protect. If we move to a situation with censorship, restricted freedom of movement, segregation of different sectors of the population, detention without trial, detention camps, the use of evidence derived from torture, armed para-military bodies, a junta at the centre of government, then we might as well simply become China or North Korea or Saudi Arabia or Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Taliban Afghanistan because we will have turned our back on democracy and civil liberties and created just the kind of society actually many of the terrorists want. Our government is advancing the cause of the terrorists better than they are doing it themselves. Of course these lords and field marshals want such a structure so they can be in power, but for the rest of us we lose out far faster than even if terrorism becomes as frequent as it was in the early 1970s.
Britain is no more of a 'soft touch' for terrorists than it was in the 1970s. However, the rush to establish a segregated, authoritarian Britain which seems to be the mission of so many people in power at present, will exacerbate violence and terror of all kinds. A lack of multi-culturalism is to blame for many problems and its true achievement would actually lift a lot of the tensions that these commentators blame. Of course, they want the opposite, for us to be divided against our neighbours and fearful, because a divided and frightened society is much easier for them to control. Britain is a soft touch for would-be dictators.