Thursday, August 10, 2006

Can't Fight The Fearing Anymore....

Chertoff, Reid: hit it, boys!

Details are still emerging about the foiled (alleged) plot to attack airliners en route from the UK to the US, and one would of course be loath to doubt the utterances of politicians or those with a dog in the security hunt on such a serious matter. That said, is meaningless, vague, and unquantifiable hyperbole really the best contribution to national security and the public psyche? One violent death is a tragedy in and of itself. Any increase in the order of magnitude of death is horrific. So why the compulsion to describe every foiled attack as if it were deserving of its own macabre place in the Guinness Book of Records?

Lets go to the blog equivalent of the video tape and I'll try and show you what I mean. Roll VT, Errol.

"A plot to blow up planes in flight from the UK to the US and commit 'mass murder on an unimaginable scale' has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said" (BBC, 8/10/06)

"(British Home Secretary John) Reid said had the attack gone ahead it would have caused a loss of life of 'unprecedented scale'."(BBC, 8/10/06)

"Mass murder on an unimaginable scale". Really? 2,976 people died on 9/11. The standard maximum passenger load on the Boeing 747 set up to accomodate three service classes is 416. (And the 747 is the largest airliner in service; many Transatlantic passengers are carried on the smaller Airbus and Boeing variants with many fewer passengers.) "Loss of life of 'unprecedented scale'": unfortunately, the death of around 3,000 people in a single incident on September 11 set the precedent for our western terror attack upper limit. To achieve this level of carnage this time the alleged terrorists would have had to have downed 7 airliners. And if 3,000 is imaginable, what is unimaginable or unprecedented? 6,000 (14 airliners)? 9,000 (21 airliners)?

"Mass murder on an unimaginable scale". I assume the police are talking about in a single incident, as opposed to systematic campaigns like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, or the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Reid's "Unprecedented scale" probably uses the same frame of reference. So no recollection then of the third attempted reason to justify the invasion of Iraq, Saddam's mistreatment of his subjects, specifically the poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja? 5,000 killed immediately, 7,000 died of the effects afterwards; total death toll around 12,000 from one attack. 28, almost 29 airliners. Is that what we are talking about here?

"Mass murder on an unimaginable scale". Staying with the single incident limitation, I suppose no consideration was given to Syria's crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982. Amnesty International has calculated that the Syrian government killed 25,000 of its own citizens in one day. 60 airliners. Are we really talking about simultaneous explosions on 60 airliners?

And so on, and so on. I'm not trying to be factitious or pedantic here, but I think public offficals and politicians have a duty to either provide full context for their remarks or to avoid meaningless and emotive terms while people are trying to come to terms with the latest disruption in their lives.

I'm sure the threat is very real, and that this plot if undiscovered could have caused the death of many. I honestly applaud the police for having prevented these attacks, and understand that flying is going to be even more of a pain in the ass from now on. And there is an outside chance that this foiled attack would have been as serious as has been implied, although tragically the only places where death tolls exceed initial claims seem to be in the developing world rather than the west (remember the 20,000 projected dead on 9/11? The "hundreds" presumed killed in the Tube attacks on London last year?).

Of course, If I was feeling cynical I could point out that by having the news dutifully cover airline passengers fretting about hair gel and bottled water is an unexpected bonus for politicians eager to see the carnage in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan off domestic TV screens. And no doubt the British police acted in the nick of time, foiling the plot on the cusp of its execution, rather than stiking today to provide an exclamation point to Home Secretary Reid's chilling speech yesterday in which he declared "We may have to modify some of our freedoms in the short-term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy our freedoms and values in the long-term". But there's no way that this could be a combination of well-expolited coincidence and stage-managed politicking, is there? I mean that would take a level of breath-taking, even "unprecedented" and "unimaginable" cynicism on the part of our governments, wouldn't it?

(PS: My semi-educated guess is the plotters will turn out to be British born east Indian muslims, centered in western suburbs and commuter belt of London, the Midlands, and maybe West Yorkshire, under 30, with perhaps a sub-saharan African or middle eastern quartermaster providing the sole link to "official" Al Qadea. Again, just a guess.)
UPDATE: One of the suspects was apparently arrested in Walthamstow, where my dad was born and grew up. Cor, back in the day it were a luverly neighbourhood; everyone left their doors unlocked and they were in and out of each others houses all the time, nicking the silver.... etc, etc.


Anonymous said...

read my blog entry written August 7 (I think). I'm not so paranoid now huh?

Anonymous said...

Auguat 8th

weasel said...

Nah, you are still paranoid :) Why would Al Qadea inspire Stephen Wright to attack a flight to Puerto Rico?

Although iced milk can truly screw up a plane's avionics.

MsDee aside (who I know is more sensible), why do so many people in the west think Al Qadea is trying to kill them personally?

country mouse said...

Unimaginable scale - 61 years later -"Yo Blair, does Hiroshima ring any bells?"

Anonymous said...

Because people of the west think too much of themselves.

I don't think I'm personally being attacked as you pointed out, I am more sensible than that but every once in awhile I tend to think being at close range from people from the west can get me in trouble or put me in danger. Just because they/we tend to be too cocky

ms.bri said...

First of all, have you been working on this blog title, saving it up for a rainy, terror-filled day? Cause it's that good.

As one of the masses worrying about her water bottle, I am here to say... um, don't take my water!

Whatever. Something gonna happen eventually. Good going that they stopped this one. I've grown awfully fatalistic about everything in my old age.

Listmaker said...

i'm pissed that my bag full of dirty laundry was checked on my fight from cambodia to laos today. damn media.

weasel said...

Listo, some people pay good money to have Cambodians in shiny boots rummage through their laundry. Gary Glitter, for one.

I was wondering about water you buy at Hudson News airside of the security gate. Is that now a potential bomb? Have they shut down food service in case one of the cooks at "La Fourchette et Couteau Plastique" smuggles in explosives in the beer kegs or gravy? And if you have to demonstrate the efficacy of all liquid and gel medications before they let you board, how do you show them that your Preparation H is truly working and you are not just faking relief?

Broad solutions to narrow problems: everyone inconvenienced and panicked. They really don't even need to set the bombs off any more, do they?

Anonymous said...

Weasel, I am so jealous of your ability to comment with such intelligent humor. Many times I think "I should have said that, that was funny."

RPS said...

My semi-educated guess is the plotters will turn out to be British born east Indian muslims....

And once again, the neighbors are shocked: In East London, residents were shocked to learn that one of their neighbors, Ibrahim Savant, was named as one of the would-be suicide bombers.

Savant was another convert to Islam who was previously known as Oliver, Paul Kleinman, a firefighter who lives next door to Savant's parent's home, told Reuters. "He loved football and used to play the trumpet when he was small. All of a sudden he started to put these white robes on," Kleinman said.

Poor confused Oliver... from football to fanaticism. But then again, I really think it's the white robes that cause all the trouble. Perhaps we should allow everyone to keep their water and/or makeup, but ban robes?

weasel said...

Its obviously the trumpet. Two converts, and the rest Anglo-Pakistanis and Anglo-Bangladeshis it seems.

As for Oliver, he's the Walthamstow lad: Forest Road, about a mile from Wood Street and Greenway Ave, my grandparent's old home turf. Cor, if I wasn't such a horrible sceptical old atheist who can't play the trumpet it could have been me.... *psssbbbp*.