Friday, March 26, 2004

Safety in numbers

Winning the war? I think we know we're not. The world seems to most of us more dangerous, and the figures show we're less safe. Of course, America itself has not been attacked. And it has conquered Iraq and emplaced military bases in several central Asian nations. Maybe that's the kind of victory we were after all along.

We feel here in the UK, I think, that we're next. Of course, we never were really targets for Islamist terrorism before 9/11, because our government tacitly allowed the shelter of Islamists here in the UK. Some of the guys we now have locked up in Belmarsh, or suspect we ought to have, came here because they are relatively safe here from the security services of their home nations. The likes of Abu Qatada certainly aren't here for the cricket and warm beer.

After 9/11, we pretty much marked our own card. I'm not saying we shouldn't have done. I think the solidarity we show with the US is to some extent something our nation cannot avoid. Of course, I think we've gone way beyond solidarity and tumbled headlong into craven arsekissing, but even so, that doesn't mean we shouldn't express our fellow feeling for America. Even if we feel that America's imperialism creates discontent, and that it is in some measure understandable that there will be those who hate the US and will want to hurt it, that's a long way from saying that the citizens of New York deserved to be slaughtered.

But that fellow feeling has pretty much been milked dry because we are beginning to be overwhelmed by the feeling that we are going to be dying for someone else's crusade, like peasants caught up in a dynast's wars. We cannot help wondering whether the aggression we might have supported (against those who would harm us) has entirely been channelled in ways we certainly do not (against people who, no matter that they are unpleasant, do not interfere with us or our lives). Far from feeling safer, we have come to feel not safe at all.

We are not even terrified. We have become fatalistic. We simply hope it is not us. We are like townsfolk in a Western -- we know that we could be caught in the crossfire but aside from bolting our doors we don't know how we could avoid it. It's not frightening, it's rather banal.


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