Leading article: More phlegm and less hyperbole, please

Share

The last thing that really alarming news needs is an alarmist response. The British population is disturbed enough to hear that Islamist fanatics are hatching a plot to blow up nine transatlantic aircraft. What it does not need is to add to that a lot of hype - of the type much in evidence at the weekend - about "campus terrorists" and "moral blackmail".

Government ministers reacted with exasperation yesterday to the open letter signed by prominent Muslim MPs, peers and community leaders suggesting British foreign policy is placing British citizens in increased danger at home and abroad. To say that, ministers riposted, is tantamount to saying: "bomb us and we'll change our policy". That is true. Yet our Muslim leaders have come to the right conclusion, even if for the wrong reasons. British foreign policy should change, not from fear of terrorist reprisals, but because that policy is, in so many ways, wrong.

But the response of the Muslim community underscores a wider problem. Scepticism over what we have been told about the airport terror alert goes considerably wider than the Muslim community. It has not helped that the story, and the backroom briefing, has shifted. First we were told that the arrest of terrorist suspects was prompted by the imminence of the threat: the men had booked seats on US airlines for next Wednesday. Then it was claimed that the timing of the swoops was prompted by the arrest of one of the suspects in Pakistan. First we were told by the Home Secretary, John Reid, that all of the main players in the plot had been gathered in; next that a number of suspects remain at large. First that the Attorney General was concerned that Mr Reid's announcement had undermined the possibility of a fair trial; then that he was not.

So it went on. It has raised as many questions as it has answered. If police have been monitoring the plot for some time, how was it that the increased security arrangements at British airports were so hand-to-mouth? Blaming the incompetence of the airport authorities is no answer. The Prime Minister's decision to proceed with his holiday only deepens the mystery. Further suspicions were raised yesterday when Mr Reid revealed that the security services had foiled four other major plots since 7/7 - and an earlier one, in Birmingham, a year before 9/11 - and then used the opportunity to press once again for powers to detain terrorist suspects without trial to 90 days, a proposal which the House of Commons has recently, rightly, rejected.

The big question which sceptics are asking is who benefits from the current alarm. Messrs Blair and Bush do; they can now gesticulate to yet another point in their dot-to-dot arc of terrorism. Mr Reid does; already the bookies have shortened the odds on him standing against Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. Mr Brown does too; the Treasury's decision to freeze the accounts of the arrested and publicise their names, underscores the Chancellor's tough-on-terrorism credentials.

Once the British public did not raise such a quizzical eyebrow. They took the view that their politicians were a phlegmatic bunch who routinely and unsensationally acted in the best interests of their citizens. But such goodwill has been spent by the dodgy dossier, the weapons of mass destruction ready in 45 minutes, the tanks at Heathrow, the innocent man shot dead on the London Tube, the Forest Gate fiasco and so forth.

It may well be that the plot to blow nine aircraft out of the sky was as well-advanced as has been suggested. If so we should, of course, be disturbed. But it is also alarming that, as things stand, so many people are not alarmed. The Government's previous cries of "Wolf" echo too loudly in the public's ears.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk