Last week saw police in the UK foil an apparent plot by Muslim extremists of British extraction to blow up several airliners en-route from Britain to the US. And though scant detail has so far been released about the alleged attackers, terrorism "experts" and the media have been quick to make the by now all-too-familiar link between the attackers and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.
The threatened attacks may have been real, but many in the UK are becoming increasingly skeptical over the way events like these are being handled, and see last week's terror alert as the latest episode in a campaign by the authorities to keep the population enveloped in a blanket of fear. Such fear allows the British government to continue pursuing its hawkish foreign policy in countries like Iraq and Lebanon while pushing through draconian security measures that curtail civil liberties at home such as biometric ID cards.
In 2003, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair was facing unprecedented pressure from the public before a parliamentary vote over his decision to go to war in Iraq, tanks and troops suddenly appeared at Heathrow Airport in response to a "security threat" of which few details were ever released. Occasions like this and their questionable timing have been instrumental in creating doubts in the public mind.
But when it comes to employing the tactics of fear, the UK government is a virtual novice.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the administration of US President George W. Bush has used the threat of al-Qaeda and possible attacks to cow US citizens into grudgingly accepting legislation that has taken away many of their constitutional rights and freedoms.
Instead of using these terrible attacks as impetus for finding solutions to the Middle East problem and tackling the root causes of Muslim extremism in a bid to prevent future attacks, the Bush administration, backed by Blair, launched the "war on terror."
The fear generated by this "war" and the subsequent hatred of the West that coalition behavior in Iraq has spawned have been used by Bush to keep the vast majority of people from questioning policy decisions like the invasion of Iraq, which would otherwise have been unmasked as the folly it turned out to be.
Bush also used fear to win re-election in 2004. His campaign team preyed successfully on the perceived inability of Democratic Senator John Kerry to fight the "war on terror" and protect the US homeland.
But both the UK and the US pale in comparison when one looks at China, where the ever-present threat of "social instability" keeps millions of people stricken by poverty, wronged by corrupt officials and subjected to incompetent government from rising up together and challenging the established hierarchy. The Chinese Communist Party leadership uses the threat of "chaos" to brutally crackdown on any group -- religious, political or otherwise -- that it deems a threat to its five decades of uninterrupted rule.
However, China is unique in that it also uses fear to cow people in another country -- Taiwan.
China employs the twin threats of invasion and more than 800 ballistic missiles to prevent the people of Taiwan from making a free and democratic choice about their future.
Whether the Taiwanese people would actually choose independence given the chance is irrelevant, because until the climate of fear is lifted, any referendum would produce a false result.