Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A plague on both your houses


For every one of these attacks we see coming to fruition, many will have been thwarted. Some will just slip the net. You cannot put CCTV cameras inside the human mind.

In place of this we have a sophisticated intelligence service, fed by informants, and civil and military surveillance technology, from wiretaps to RC135 aircraft. We cast a net over Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Our watch list has proven to be accurate a number of times. We are looking in all the right places. Sometimes it doesn't work.

In this there is a balance to be struck between surveillance and civil liberties and much of our politics is defining the line between security, privacy and liberty. As much as we would like to define hard and fast rules, there are none. Only dogmatists can provide unequivocal replies - but not all replies are answers. Where that line begins and ends is contingent on politics and the level of public participation.

The fact of the matter is that open and liberal societies will always be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We could shut the borders and monitor every phone call and check every incoming lorry, but the economic and social costs would be huge. More to the point, we would be no safer. Chances are, a more illiberal society in this regard would make us more prone to terrorist attack.

That today's attack happened at an airport is something of a surprise given that is where the focus of anti-terror measures are. If there have been procedural failings, we will find out and there will be questions to answer. I suspect any enquiry will prove what we already know. Extra security may make us feel safer, but there is no stopping this.

And so what does this have to do with Brexit? The answer... absolutely nothing. Leaving the EU will not make us less vulnerable. Leaving the EU will not make us more vulnerable. Both Hugo Dixon and James Delingpole pontificating over it while the bodies are still warm is sickening. We don't even have all the facts yet.

What we do know is that should we leave the EU we will maintain full cooperation with Europol and Interpol on more or less the same basis. We will share intelligence on more or less the same basis. We will cooperate and coordinate at every level from NATO down to the district police station.

The one time we do not have to doubt the sincerity of our politicians is when they say everything will be done within the realms of the possible to detect and prevent this kind of attack. We just shouldn't be surprised when they fail. It will happen.

It may be that Europol needs a change of approach and this is an institutional failing - but nobody is interested in ending such cooperation. All I would say is that EU membership is not contingent on making international organisations work. It is neither here nor there.

What we can say is that the enemy does not care for governments or political structures. It is who and what we are they want to destroy. If they are of a mind to let bombs go off in London, a thing like border controls isn't going to stop them. EU membership will not be a factor either way.

Some might note that the terrorists we see are homegrown. The answer is to engineer a more inclusive, more prosperous society - but even then, evil always finds an excuse.

Some say it's because Muslims are not integrating. I don't think that's true. Go stand on the rail platform in Bradford Interchange on a Saturday lunchtime and watch the kids going about their day, out on shopping trips to Leeds. If anything, they are more integrated than white working class kids who are consigned to a life of welfare, drugs, alcohol and zero social mobility. If joining them on the dole queue is integrating then let us be glad they they don't.

What we need right now is a close and careful analysis of the data. We need to examine the facts. It is not a time for scapegoating the EU or pointing the finger at foreigners. Nor is it a springboard to say that a European Utopian ideal is the answer. Neither is true.

The fact is, we have a number of small wars on Europe's doorstep. Terrorism is always a byproduct. It is difficult to detect, difficult to prevent and only a resolution to those wars will reduce the threats. In this there are questions to ask about Western foreign policy and our feeble response in assisting our allies and neighbours with the fallout.

We can slam the EU for its glacial response and its propensity for sticking plasters in place of policy reform. We can even show that it is unlikely to ever be reformed. But what we cannot say is Brexit is a silver bullet, nor can we say the problems of our neighbours are not our concern.

Yes, we need to have a serious debate about this, and it is an ongoing debate. But to make this a feature of the Brexit debate on this of all days, without the slightest regard to the details - before we even have an idea what really happened, is a new low for all concerned. A plague on both your houses. You couldn't even wait a day could you? Good going, dickheads.

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