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

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?