Two weeks ago this magazine called for an end to the use of the phrase ‘War on Terror’, an appeal for which we were denounced by the neocon tendency in this country and in America. It is all the more gratifying, therefore, that the Bush administration has responded speedily, and announced that the slogan is to be quietly shelved in favour of the ‘struggle against violent extremism’, a formulation that is admittedly duller, but has the virtue of being less moronic. As we have argued, to call this a war is to dignify terrorists and criminals with the status of warriors, and was a mistake this country never made throughout the period of IRA bombings.
To call this war may send a surge of adrenalin through the neocon bloodstream, since it seems to offer a military solution to the clash of civilisations in which they so fervently believe; it may provoke a cocaine rush of excitement in the systems of bored evangelical Christians, for whom the notion of a war of faiths is less unappealing than it ought to be; but the worst single consequence of allowing governments to prosecute a great nebulous ‘war on terror’, at home and abroad, is that it encourages them to think that they may behave like all governments in time of war, not just by eroding the liberty of the citizenry, but also by lying to them. It will be much more difficult, in the current climate, for politicians to oppose the ID Cards Bill, to say nothing of the new Control Orders, which do away with the principle of habeas corpus, and the various erosions of free speech now proceeding towards the statute book.
It is also increasingly difficult, it would seem, for us to insist that the government tells us the truth. It is absurd of Mr Blair to keep up the pretence that ‘there is no link’ between the London bombings and the war in Iraq. Of course it is foolish to contend — in the manner of Robin Cook — that the war was the sole and sufficient cause of the latest outbreak of terror. As we argued two weeks ago, the virus of Islamic terror has been incubating in Western democracies long before the Iraq war. But when 24,000 Iraqi civilians have died since their liberation, not a few of them at the hands of Americans, it is just dunderheaded to continue to say that this disaster has nothing to do with the bombings, since Iraq has plainly equipped the terrorists and their sponsors with their number one pretext. Repeated denial of this, from the mouth of the Prime Minister, undermines our confidence in the willingness of the authorities to be straight, and that confidence has been scarcely bolstered by their handling of recent events.
It was just about forgivable that for much of the morning of 7 July the authorities stuck with the line that the Tube had experienced ‘power surges’. It was clearly important that the travelling public should not panic. Much less understandable was the flagrantly mendacious briefing about the shooting of Mr Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician. The streets of London are still dotted with out-of-date hoardings announcing that a bomber was shot on the Tube, when he was of course nothing of the kind. For 24 hours after they shot an innocent man seven times in the head, the ‘security services’ continued to tell journalists that he was ‘directly linked’ to anti-terror operations. Why? Why not just tell us the truth, that they weren’t sure what they had done, or whom they had shot? Why not just keep silent until all the facts could be established? The Prime Minister has excused the officers’ actions by asking us to imagine the difficulties in making a ‘split-second’ decision. But the police did not have a split second to deal with Mr Menezes; they had followed him for two miles. Why, if they suspected he was a suicide bomber, did they allow him to board a bus to get to Stockwell station? Why did they not block the entrance to the station instead of allowing him to vault the ticket barrier and reach a train?
But that was not the end to the government’s willingness to dissimulate. On Monday the BBC reported — apparently quoting ‘security sources’ — that Mr Menezes had been an illegal immigrant. Even if this claim had not turned out to be wrong, it would be quite obnoxious for this to be presented as a kind of excuse for the shooting. We do not have the death penalty in Britain even for murder, let alone for allegedly overstaying a student visa.
The dreadful paradox is that Mr de Menezes was here innocently and legally, and wanted nothing more in life than to work, to be an electrician, to pay taxes and to be a useful part of society. He receives eight bullets to the head. And then there are thousands of Islamist terrorists and nutters who we have welcomed to this country over the past 15 years, who contribute nothing but hatred, who live off our benefits, and whom we continually fail to remove from our shores. Rather than wage a cretinous ‘war’, and allow the state to lie, we should demand an immediate reform of our immigration system, to welcome men like de Menezes, and kick out those who are ultimately responsible for his death.