Friday, 5 November 2010

Songs of the Day

Boom, Boom, Boom.

Bombs go boom.

It's been a week in which news headlines have been dominated by bombs.

Apparently the printer bomb sent by cargo plane from Yemen and destined never to reach their intended recipients at Jewish institutions in Chicago was defused with only 17 minutes to spare and the implications for the air freight industry has got(ten) the international media wound up with excitement.

In such circumstances intelligence - and especially the calmness to use it when under pressure - comes at a premium and a balance must be struck between the twin imperatives of security and liberty to continue business as usual.

However industry body IATA has warned that this will have a major impact which they won't be able to compress alone.

Unsurprisingly questions have been raised about efficacy of scanning machines - none more eloquently than by the delightfully-if-unfortunately-appropriately-named Geneva airport spokesman, Bertrand Stämpfli, who said without any trace of world-weariness, "Every time there is a crisis we get an incredible number of calls from lobby groups all trying to sell the best possible detection machine," although I'm less confident of his assertion that "Everyone is suspicious of 'the magic detection machine'."

Nevertheless I completely agree with Swiss aviation expert Sepp Moser's comment, "There is no absolute security and it can never be achieved."

Meanwhile 14 parcel bombs have been sent to various embassies and political offices across Europe this week - there's nothing like priming a pump to make sure your story detonates with sufficient resonance.

Well, Al-Jazeera is equally right to show balance by pointing out that Europe is under constant threat of internal terrorism in order to show that the phenomena can't simply be written off as the fundamentalist extremism of outsiders - the West does have some very real problems which won't just go away if we ignore them... the rest of the world can't ignore them - just like any powerful expansion the vacuum it grows to fill is only relative.

Anyway in this excursion into the explosive world of medialand I found this fantastic article by Nicola Simpson in which she details how the establishment of 'a successful equilibrium' comes from recognising that one side simply cannot exist without the other as it is in fact defined by the other.

Ms Simpson quotes Franklin's inalienable 'essential liberty' and remarks on Montesquieu's argument that the general political reality has a marked influence on specific individual conceptions of where the balance will be struck.

She suggests complacency about security "will inevitably mean a seismic shift in our attitudes concerning what liberty or liberties we might consider essential."

The big modern example cited is 9/11. And clearly this event informs both the Yemeni ink-jet bomber and Al-Jazeera's giving weight to a campaign of anti-establishment anarchists sending bombs through the post to Berlusconi, Sarkozy and Merkel.

But more interestingly she notes another notorious instance where an unbalanced media enabled the political swing to be pushed: The Reichstag fire in 1933.

It occurred only 4 weeks after the new Chancellor took office and was used as an example of exactly the sort of threat which government should intervene to prevent.

It is easy to compare the conspiracy theories which grew into the information gap in both 1933 and 2001 as examples of apparent coincidence mounted up, but to do so would require a final judgement on the precise details of the full events and this is something we should refrain from as history has a habit of letting the facts speak for themself.

For me at least the lesson is that we can't neglect the potential for distortions in hindsight even when we assume we have 20/20 vision, and the only reliable method to maintain as close an approximation is to seek the widest balance possible.

Although I reject the accusation that I'm a conspiracy theorist I do find it an ironic coincidence to recall the first weeks of the previous Prime Minister's tenure, when a pathetically incompetent series of bombers lined up to undermine the new regime - first there was the Tiger, Tiger incident and then there was a gas bomb attack on Glasgow Airport which resulted in fingers being pointed at an active cell linked to Al-Qaeda.

Bombs are tediously predictable if you've ever seen one explode. They are designed with a single purpose in mind. To cause sufficient impact to make a breakthrough.

All the way back to the original fireworks night when Guido Fawkes (no, not that one) attempted to blow up the pomposity of parliament (yes, the very same one) the results are the same: bombs do not and never have changed the underlying requirement to ensure the essence of liberty is maintained through regularised parameters of behaviour. Bombs are beyond the bounds. They are evidence of an argument backed by force at the expense of right.

So ignore the convenience of a shocking bombing campaign launched during Halloween week and forget who could be trying to manipulate the agenda.

Oh, did I mention 28-day control orders are under consideration?

As Bagehot wraps up, it's an issue which unites LibDems - a curate's egg at the best of times, least of all while being scapegoated for sweetening the economic medicine in straightened times.

But as Andrew Rawnsley points out in his usual muscular editorial voice, this partisan unity is not only a glue which keeps the internal coalition locked within the government coalition, but it is also the charge which is driving the government forwards.

Boom, boom, pow.


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