Leading article: The humdrum return of normality


We are a jittery nation in the wake of last week's attacks on London. So there was something inevitable about the events in Birmingham on Saturday night, when police ordered the evacuation of some 20,000 people from the city centre on account of what turned out to be a false alarm. There was also a less dramatic alert in Manchester.

After the awful events in London, no one is going to criticise the police for acting as they did. In a climate of intense public anxiety, they have little option but to react to intelligence threats, even if, as in Birmingham, the reaction proved to be somewhat overblown. The police are well aware of the consequences of the failure to act on sound evidence.

What this underlines, however, is a pressing need to get the country back to normal. There has been too much clichéd talk of Blitz spirit, of typical British stoicism, when in reality there is an air of nervousness and tension. At its most extreme expression, it can lead to the sort of racial hatred that is already leading to attacks on innocent people.

At its lesser edges, this nervousness makes people worry about going on the Underground, or letting their children travel by bus. But life must go on. And like it or not, most of us are going to have to get used to using, and sharing, our trains and buses as much as we did before the bombs went off. Schools in the capital return today, and businesses will expect to see their staff back. The troubled retail sector will be hoping that shoppers return. And, of course, there was a sense of defiance in the huge turnout in the Mall yesterday to pay tribute to war veterans and mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

There is another reason to strongly encourage a mood of business as usual. This is not the usual one of "defying the terrorists", whom we strongly suspect do not care much about our resilience. Our concern is that a mood of public jumpiness plays into the hands of a government whose instincts are authoritarian. It has already shown its appetite for nibbling away at our civil liberties. Many people look on the detention of terrorism suspects without trial, and on the plans to introduce ID cards, as moves that are typical of a government that reacts to any perceived threat with new repressive laws.

It is as vital to avoid any sense of defeatism as it is to avoid the kind of hysteria that prevailed in the United States after 11 September, which gave rise to the sinister-sounding Department of Homeland Security and leading to critics of the administration's actions being denounced in almost McCarthyite fashion as traitors and friends of terrorists.

This is why our humdrum normality must return as soon as possible, and why we must banish the fear factor from our minds.

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