Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Our paranoia is a victory for the terrorists

A group of outraged Londoners is challenging in law the Government's idea to place surface-to-air missiles on the rooftops of their buildings. Meanwhile, a warship has appeared on the Thames to terrify terrorists, apparently.

On the M6, last week, a worried coach passenger thought a fellow traveller had a ticking bomb in a "smoking" rucksack and called the police. The motorway was closed, passengers were interrogated, had guns pointed at them and sniffer dogs were brought out. TV crews geared up for high drama. Which never came.

It was an electric ciggie wot made the smoke wot was not smoke. We were told the operation was a triumph for the services, ready for any emergency. Or none. How much did it all cost?

In the middle of the kerfuffle, I had an email from somebody called BD: "The only solution is the internment of London Muslims until the Olympics are over like the Americans did to their Japs in the war. That way no one gets hurt". I felt a jackboot kicking my heart but could sense BD was really afraid. So am I. I am paranoid about excessive vigilance and the zealotry of police, intelligence agencies and politicians. And I am even more paranoid that BD's paranoia will be justified by violent Islamicists. They must see this as a perfect time for a spectacular blow-up, a chance to destroy international collaboration, rupture human bonds. Police are investigating a group of Muslims whose car had hidden weapons and another has been caught allegedly scouting the Olympics area. Please God, don't let them cause mayhem. The recent BBC programme on the families of those killed by the London bombers brought it all back and left me sleepless for days.

So a part of me wants to believe in the Supermen, who promise to keep us safe. But another part is suspicious of the authorities who have a vested interest in inflating anxiety. The powerful always want more control. Populations will hand in their liberties if persuaded that it is in their interests, and expect the state to actively breach the rights of those marked as the enemies within. Since al-Qa'ida began its global guerrilla war, that suspicion falls on Muslims. Innumerable Muslims are rounded up for questioning. Few are ever charged, fewer still convicted and no explanations are ever offered. If they are guilty, they deserve all they get. But it does sometimes seem as if being a Muslim now is a crime in Britain.

Islamicists bombed London the day after it was chosen to host the Olympics and couldn't then break the city's spirit. Unspoken terror is still within us and around us and will be throughout the Games. Unfortunately, state overreaction and public mistrust only make it worse. Will the panic ever recede? Yes, but not yet. We will enjoy the most thrilling moments but from inside a fortress. It is a kind of internment to keep us safe and happy. Just as BD wants.

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