Sat, Apr 20, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Mass hysteria is terrorism’s second-best weapon

By Simon Jenkins  /  The Guardian, LONDON

The answer was no one would dare. British tycoon Richard Branson lacks the guts to stand down his scaremongerers. Scotland Yard’s Bernard Hogan-Howe lacks the guts to call off his Westminster Tonton Macoute.

Nothing will stop people setting off bombs. Anarchists, republicans, jihadists and fanatics have done so since the invention of dynamite. They are best countered by quiet espionage within dissident communities. Otherwise we must accept that living and moving in a free community involves risk, especially in nations such as Britain and the US, claiming the right to tell the world how it should be run.

The Chinese proverb bids us always to ask what the enemy most wants us to do. The terrorist craves us to give him publicity, reaction and retaliation. The media is his megaphone.

There is a world of difference between reporting a bombing and giving it blanket coverage. This week’s media has shown no inclination to deny terror the oxygen of publicity.

Asked what the significance of the Boston bomb was, the US terrorism expert Rick Nelson told the BBC: “The fact that here we are talking about it.”

The most sensible remark yesterday came from the White House, where US President Barack Obama refused even to use the word terrorism. Much good it did. The world cried Sept. 11, 2001, and that was that. After the bomb, mass hysteria is terrorism’s second-best weapon. It was loaded, cocked and fired. We now wait only for some deranged idiot to bless us with his message, which we will of course broadcast to the world.

On the day of Thatcher’s funeral, I recall the most courageous thing I ever saw a politician do.

Within hours of escaping an assassination attempt in 1984, and with friends dying round her, she refused to let security be her master. She changed her clothes, stalked into her conference hall and made a speech that barely mentioned what had happened. Terror was in its proper place. Thatcher set an example to the pusillanimous, cowering, overprotected, risk-averse politicians of today.

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