Alex Massie

So you think civil liberties are important, eh? That’s why you’re a terrorist.

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Alas so, even though on the great Toner Cartridge Plot, Dan Drezner gets it right:

Al Qaeda failed… again. Seriously, if al Qaeda is ostensibly the New York Yankees of terrorism, the Steinbrenners would have fired the GM and coach years ago.


That doesn't mean there isn't a threat but it is posssible to be both wary of the security lobby and recognise that the security services have a tough but vital job. Contrary to what Melanie Phillips suggests, I don't know many libertarians who think there's no terrorist threat. That plots are foiled evidently often owes much to police and security efforts; that doesn't mean that every security "precaution" is justified.

So this Matthew D'Ancona piece in the Evening Standard is very odd. It seems that, if I read him correctly, the terrorists win when they mount a successful attack and they win even if their attacks are foiled. Presumably the more failed attacks there are, the worse it must be for us and the more surely terrorism is prevailing. Right?

Needless to say d'Ancona's article has been given the headline "This Campaign for Civil Liberties is a Gift to al-Qaeda". I think it's pretty clear who the extremists are here: those who equate liberty with defeat, arguing that insisting upon the former is aiding and comforting the enemy.

Control Orders  - an unhappy but tricky problem - are a distraction and much less pressing than the question of how long the authorities may hold a Briton before charging him or her with any offence. The present limit - 28 days - remains grotesque and even 14 days is not much better. It will be interesting to see, however, how many of those who condemned the Labour government's approach to these matters suddenly find themselves persuaded, now that the "right" people are in government, that Labour had a point.

No-one - or at least no-one serious - is suggesting we abandon counter-terrorism nor that al-Qaeda are likely to retire from the game any time soon. But it's hard to take seriously any claim that they are winning (no matter how you choose to define victory). That will still be the case when, as must eventually happen alas, they actually manage a successful attack or two.

Unless we lose our minds, we can take it. Right? Thats not an invitation to complacency, but nor should be we live in fear of people who, whatever their ambitions, appear little closer to achieving their stated goals than they were a decade ago.

D'Ancona concludes:

Meanwhile, in Yemen, Somalia, and the border territories of Pakistan, the enemy plots its next move, its eye focused only on the long haul and the big picture. Which is why, when it comes to the battle that really counts — the battle of wills — they are winning, and we are losing.

[Hat-tip: Ben Chu]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationalterrorism