An invitation to wannabe celebrity suicide bombers
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- The best thing about this week’s memorial service for the victims of the London bombings was that so few people outside St Paul’s took any notice of such a hollow state-sponsored ritual.
The big screen set up in Trafalgar Square to relay pictures to the masses was watched only by a few bemused tourists. It is not that Londoners have forgotten those who died on July 7. It is only that most are too busy getting on with life to be dragooned into yet another display of stage-managed grief by order of the Government.
One group that might have paid close attention to the memorial service, however, were any potential British suicide bombers. It was an advertisement for the disproportionate impact that four losers with rucksacks and a grudge can apparently have on our society, getting half the Cabinet and Opposition leaders into the cathedral for a mourning television show fronted by the Queen. What an invitation to any other wannabe celebrity suicide bombers who fancy becoming famous through the X-plosive Factor.
The Home Office is asking what it means to be British today. To judge from this service, it means being a nation of fearful victims. The memorial was not so much about sympathy and solidarity with the dead, injured or bereaved as about portraying all of us as vulnerable members of a community of suffering, in the hope that the nation that weeps together will keep together.
What on earth was the Archbishop of Canterbury on about, preaching that grief and pain is a powerful weapon against terrorism, as if being a victim was a virtue? And there was Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, declaring that our one universal language is ‘the language of tears’ – less a battle cry than an invitation to have a good cry. The whole affair smacked of helplessness and defeatism.
These people need reminding that it was the contemporary cult of the victim that helped to breed the self-righteous sense of grievance in those suicide bombers in the first place. Of course we should treat real victims with respect and compassion, but not with reverence. Politicians should also stop using them as human shields, trying to exploit their grief to bolster the case for the Government’s anti-terror laws or the argument against the Iraq war.
Many victims and their relatives expressed a hope that events such as the memorial service would help to bring ‘closure’, but our ceaseless harping on the horrors of July 7 may keep them psychologically trapped down those tunnels. The rest of us should leave them to come to terms with things privately, while we carry on ignoring the ‘Were you affected by the bombings?’ helpline posters on the Tube. As the psychiatrist Simon Wessely said at the time: the bombs made more than enough victims, let’s not make any more.
- One striking memory of July 7 is how shocked the experts and authorities were that ‘ordinary people’ did not panic in the streets.
Despite official expectations that public disorder would follow terrorist attacks, people calmly pulled together and London went about its business. This lesson appears to have been lost on the authorities, however, who have now produced paramilitary plans to cope with ‘panicking crowds’ in the event of an avian flu pandemic. Apparently police will be stationed at NHS clinics and doctors’ surgeries, deployed to enforce quarantine zones and empowered to suppress the ‘outbursts of public disorder’ that are predicted if football matches are banned and public transport shut down. This display of organised paranoia suggests that, if anybody is suffering from headless chicken syndrome, it is not the public. What our misanthropic masters appear to fear is not sick birds, but raging people.
- As one whom the former Home Secretary might consider an airy-fairy libertarian, I can think of many reasons why David Blunkett should have been removed from the Government.
But failing to ask some bureaucrat’s permission to invest his own money in a legitimate company would not be one of them. More debate and less whining about sleaze, please. Governments and ministers should be judged at the ballot box, not by accountants and standards committees. It is the declining standards of democratic accountability that we ought to be worrying about.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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