AUGUST 14, 2006
If President Bush would like us to take these Terror Alerts seriously—re the alleged air terror plot in England—he should stop making political capital out of them.
Do we really need yet another reminder that:
This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation. Link
Well, no we don't, but he and the Republicans do. So, too, does Tony Blair who must face a back-bench revolt over his position over Israel and Lebanon when he returns from his vacation in the Bahamas. And Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, no doubt would like his mind taken off his rapidly diminishing credibility.
Above all, this terrible trio would appreciate anything that diverts attention from the grotesque spectacle of the Anglo-Israeli-American destruction of Lebanon.
What Bush, Olmert, and Blair share is their cavalier use of "terrorist" to refer to those who dare to oppose them. The label was slapped on Hizbollah, in an attempt to cloak the legitimizing "war on terror" over what most independent-minded observers saw as the murder of close to a thousand women and children.
In this case, the "Islamic fascists" the good President has in mind
come from suburban England and they are accused on conspiring to
blow-up aeroplanes bound from England to the United States.
It was no surprise, then, to learn that Bush wants us to believe that Hizbollah shares the same "totalitarian ideology" as those arrested in the suspected plot.
It's arrant nonsense about Hizbollah. It's most likely arrant nonsense about these suspected terrorists too.
Bush forgets that in England, if not the United States, prosecutors must prove their case in a court of law. In the United States, a person is convicted of terrorism solely on the President's say-so.
President Bush speaks as if these suspects are guilty by association ("they're Muslims, aren't they?"). Meanwhile, the British Home Secretary, John Reid, and Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, fear suspects could be denied a fair trial. Link They ought to have a word with the President.
Robert Fisk, long-time and much-respected Middle East correspondent for The Independent, notes:
I'm sure Independent readers will join me in watching how many of the suspects … are still in custody in a couple of weeks’ time. Link
Fisk's scepticism reflects the now widespread and open belief that the Bush administration quite consciously uses "terror alerts" to instill fear in the American population in the hope that they will rally round the President.
That this indeed goes on is now so well documented as to scarcely warrant discussion. See, in this blog, The Politics of Fear.
Nearly all of these shadowy threats prove to have been either exaggerated or non-existent, and they fade away.
A fair more sensible approach is advocated in an article by John Mueller "A False Sense of Insecurity?" in Regulation, Fall, 2004. Mueller holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at the Mershon Center at Ohio State University.
Download A false_sense_of_insecurity.pdf
If the aim of terrorism is to terrify, he notes, "terrorists can be defeated simply by not becoming terrified—that is, anything that enhances fear effectively gives in to them".
Part of the reaction to terror:
should include an effort by politicians, officials, and the media to inform the public reasonably and realistically about the terrorist context instead of playing into the hands of terrorists by frightening the public.
What is needed:
is some sort of convincing, coherent, informed, and nuanced answer to a central question: 'How worried should I be?’ Instead, the message the nation has received so far is, as a Homeland Security official put (or caricatured) it, "Be scared; be very, very scared—go on with your lives". Such messages have led many people to develop what Leif Wenar of the University of Sheffield has aptly labeled 'a false sense of insecurity’.
If these were genuine terror alerts, that is what Bush and Blair would be doing—informing the public "reasonably and realistically" about the context of any threat. As Ronald Bailey argues in ReasonOnline, that would reveal that:
your risk of dying in a
plausible terrorist attack is much lower than your risk of dying in a car
accident, by walking across the street, by drowning, in a fire, by falling,
or by being murdered. Link
Instead they are frightening the public. This is how they are doing it:
- MI5 and MI6 pass on information to the CIA.
- The CIA leaks information to the U.S. news media (which are little more than public relations organs of the American State).
- This is then picked up and reported in the British media.
See Richard Norton-Taylor, We seem to have learned more of the story behind yesterday's arrests from the US than from Britain. Why? Guardian Unlimited. August 11, 2006.
Most of the information is unattributed. This is typical:
"U.S. officials said"
"two American law enforcement officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Britain asked that no information be released". So why was it?
"ABC News reported that authorities were urgently hunting five more suspects, quoting unidentified U.S. sources who had been briefed on the plot."
A particular gem is this U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff:
We want to make sure that there are no remaining threats out there, and we also want to take steps to prevent any would-be copycats who may be inspired to similar conduct.
There would be no danger of "copycats" if there was none of this fear-mongering.
But if most of these terror alerts are bogus, this does not mean, that all of them are. That's the problem with crying "Wolf!" so often.
The expression comes from Aesop’s fable—The Boy Who Cried Wolf—about a boy shepherd who fakes wolf attacks.
When the villagers saw no wolf they sternly said, "Save your frightened
song for when there is really something wrong! Don't cry 'wolf' when
there is NO wolf!"
When there is a real wolf attack, no one believes the boy. The fable concludes:
Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!
This is the President's problem. It is also, unfortunately, ours.
In this analogy, we like to think we are the villagers who no longer respond to the cry. But, actually, we are the sheep.
And what happens to the sheep when the boy cries "Wolf!
They scatter in fright.
We are just weeks away from September 11. Expect more cries of "Wolf!"
But always look for the evidence—and do not be afraid.