Simon Carr: Perhaps pointless programmes promote paranoia

The Sketch

Wednesday 25 March 2009 01:00

The counter-terror strategy has been updated. It's a series of Ps: Prevent. Pursue. Postpone. Prevaricate. Preposterise. We'll sleep well tonight.

The Prime Minister had unveiled the plan in the Sunday newspapers, and it didn't sound any better in the Commons. "Jacksi" Smith – the Home Secretary – told us that 60,000 security guards and shop managers were being given special training to prevent terrorism. The course takes three hours, "including the coffee break," Chris Grayling said. "That's half the time of a cycling proficiency programme."

Tory Patrick Mercer asked a question that put a ripple round the room. For all the apparatus of the anti-terror establishment, a well-known hate preacher in a high security jail was broadcasting incitements on the internet to congregations of jihadists. We all wanted to believe that.

Or not quite all. The man from the ministry said that Justice had put out a statement categorically denying the story. Mercer said afterwards that it'd be all over the papers in the morning.

Jacqui Smith takes what is called a measured tone. There are those who like it while others find it bland, monotonous, and lacking in personality. Personally I find it a mistake. We won't bore prospective terrorists into submission.

I once saw a Muslim radical talking at the Oxford Union and he was (I'm looking for the right word) terrific. Fast, funny, scathing, infuriating (imagine the shade of green I'd gone) – he spoke without notes, dealt with hecklers, engaged the interest and imagination of the (white, middle class) audience and, frankly, terrified me. If David Davis is right and MI5 is saying there is a 25 per cent year on year increase in young jihadists – this is the reason. They are exciting, they are lively in their love of death.

Had Jacqui been up there with her boring bromides about "shared values" and "vital work of local government partnership in the Prevent strand" she would have driven doubters into the arms of this charming and devilish young man.

John Reid glanced at the same point, asking how this load of boring, administrative crapola (I'm putting words in the doctor's mouth) would reach out to ordinary people and help them become more resilient. And Chris Huhne for the Lib Dems pointed out that there was a 90 per cent success rate in terror prosecutions – things are going well. So can't she withdraw the measures like 42 days' detention and control orders that are inflammatory and, from a security viewpoint, useless?

She said something which meant No. Why not? I'm afraid I can't help you there.

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