Don't forget to pack your machine gun
Rod Liddle looks at a new magazine dedicated, perhaps a little hysterically, to security matters How resilient are you feeling, right now? One would hope that you're feeling very resilient, despite or maybe because of The Threat. Certainly the government wishes you to be resilient and it is quite clear what it wishes you to be resilient about: Arabs.
There are fanatical Arabs everywhere. Arabs on the rooftops, Arabs on the tiles, Arabs with their arseholes wreathed in smiles. Arabs. Arabs, everywhere and not a drop to drink.
A new glossy magazine has just hit the
news-stands. It's called, naturally, Resilience. On the front cover is a photograph of a city type, maybe a broker or a lawyer or some corporate consultant, standing at the entrance to Canary Wharf station, looking very, veryresilient. You can tell he's resilient because aside from the determined expression on his face and the mobile phone and the umbrella tucked under his Gieves & Hawkes suit, he's carrying a bloody big machine gun. 'Resilience,' says the magazine; 'Predicting the threat, ensuring continuity. London on the front line.' Just for a moment, this photograph made me mildly sympathetic to al-Qa'eda — but this was a juvenile response, 1 suppose. It is, in the end, merely an arresting image designed to sell the magazine. But it is also the image the government wishes us to have of this country, and government ministers have been anxious to help the magazine propagate such an image, as even a cursory flick through the pages will attest.
Inside you will find statements such as this: 'The first line of protection against terrorism is an effective deterrence and governmental deterrence can only come from draconian laws.' There is a need, the same article states, to convince the people that there has been a 'change in paradigm' and thus make the Civil Contingencies Bill even harsher than it is now. The Civil Contingencies Bill is there to curtail civil liberty in the event of a 'disaster'. Apart from anything else it will 'forbid assembly of people at specified times' and 'allow requisition, confiscation or destruction of property and animal and plant life with or without compensation'. It will also 'prohibit travel', 'prohibit, or enforce, people to move into a certain area' and 'allow the deployment of armed forces'. The magazine, which is produced in Esher by the Surrey House publishing group, seems aghast that the Civil Contingencies Bill is not rather more contingent. But then people have to be persuaded, the article contends. At the moment they just don't get it. Arabs, Arabs, everywhere.
All of this would scarcely be worthy of comment if this were simply an independent magazine designed to flog anti-terrorist devices to a nervous business community and, indeed, its insurers. Which is, I guess, what the editors and publishers of Resilience would tell you it was. Certainly there are plenty of exciting ads for lightweight chemical and biological protective clothing, digital-imaging systems, pager-sized chemical warfare agent detectors and other paraphernalia referred to, throughout, as 'risk management'. At which point we may begin to ask ourselves 'what, exactly, is the risk?' Should we get kitted out now in our DuPont Tychemo suits and practise hunkering down in a foetal position for when the sarin shells burst over our heads? Or should we dismiss it all as hysterical rubbish and grow angry that we are being sold a pup? 'Our purpose is to provide a worthwhile tool to help you prepare and survive any attack on your business,' the magazine states in its cheery editorial. Which is fine, but what does the government think?
One answer comes with the interviews. On page 11 there's Dr Keith Potter of the business continuity unit at the Ministry of Defence, which is largely concerned about chemical-biological agents being released within a business and an analysis of the potential effectiveness of the disaster recovery committee and answering questions like 'Could you really handle several al-Qa'eda attacks or a single dirty bomb?' On page 20 there's an interview with the City of London's police commissioner, James Hart; and on page 24 with the minister for local and regional government — our bulwark against the forthcoming chemical, biological and, hell, maybe even nuclear, Islamic apocalypse — er, Nick Raynsford, MP.
Nick urges 'eternal vigilance' upon us. And he adds: 'Resilience is a task that continues 24 hours a day, 12 months a year, year on year. There is no let up; it's continuing hard work to ensure that we are as well prepared as we can be.'
So, resilience, then, has become an official word for how we should all be. There is a 'London Resilience Forum' and a 'London Resilience Team' and a hierarchy of regional Resilience Forums 'bringing together local authorities, emergency services, government departments and agencies with a regional presence, to provide strategic focus for co-ordinated planning.'
Elsewhere, though, Nick quantifies the threat to us all. 'Everyone knows that events such as Bali have been happening. Everyone is aware of what happened in Istanbul . . . in my view the public don't expect detailed information; they do expect to be told honestly and effectively if there is a serious and imminent threat.'
The scale and likelihood of the threat to us all is contained in an article by the former Ministry of Defence employee — and editor of Resilience — Paul Moorcraft, speaking about the way in which Islamic fundamentalists are able to circumvent the traditional capitalistic banking systems through the informal hawala system: 'Thanks to modern technology and the multinational allure of the jihad, it is very difficult to deter such a hydra-headed monster. Since 9/11 constant worldwide attacks — though not in Western Europe or the USA — have demonstrated the resilience of al-Qa'eda. It is only a matter of time before spectaculars are repeated in London or the USA.'
Is it, now? Are we sure about that? By Mr Moorcraft's own admission, Western Europe and the USA have been spared any such 'spectaculars' for the best part of three years. Perhaps he and Nick Raynsford would have us believe that this is down to our resilience and our preparedness and our 'eternal vigilance', and perhaps it is, but it may also be down to the fact that we have greatly overestimated the power and effectiveness of our adversaries, al-Qa'eda.
There is a certain glee to be found on the pages of Resilience, a weird ambivalence towards the notion of catastrophe (a word which crops up, by the way, on almost every page). And, concomitantly, a frequently stated desire for more control, for more order, for greater powers. Part of me wonders if the job of the government, given this compelling paranoia, might not be to reassure us that we're perfectly safe and that the threat, such as it is, might have been overstated in certain quarters.