The major report from London this morning (BBC headline: 'Airlines terror plot' disrupted) is still unfolding. But it raises some questions for people like us who have experienced terrorism and think about it a great deal.
- The words "militants" or "activists" appear nowhere in any report. "Terror" or "terrorist" or "terrorism" feature prominently in all reports. Appropriate for us to remind our friends at the BBC and the British media not to lose sight of the BBC's guidelines, online here, which provide: "TERROR: We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution. We should let other people characterise while we report the facts as we know them."
- If you're watching BBC World on television right now, you'll get the message immediately. No matter what the BBC's guidelines say, on screen right now and for the past hour, in gigantic white letters on a bright scarey red background are the words TERROR PLOT. And rest assured, the word TERROR is not in quote marks. (And neither should it be.)
- If the plot was thwarted - a word that is being endlessly repeated in the British television reports on our screens this morning - why has the security alert level in the UK been pushed up just now to its highest possible setting - "critical" meaning an attack is expected imminently, according to the BBC. Suggested interpretation: when it's being done to you and your family, you don't take chances. We absolutely agree that if there is an imminent threat of something awful, every possible security measure has to be taken. But then stop claiming it was thwarted. At best, it was discovered, and the real work is still ahead. You're at war.
- On the other hand, there has not been a single victim at this stage. Not one person wounded unless the police 'inquiries' led to some bruises or breaks among the suspects. Not one person killed. So we sincerely hope the British don't over-react. Or, Heaven forfend, react, disproportionately.
- The images of thousands of innocent people at Heathrow, lining up to go nowhere, make us wonder whether the authorities are taking the right approach to security. Profiling is a way of pre-selecting people who, by their behaviour or appearance or background, represent a larger potential risk. At Ben Gurion airport, where some of the most effective flight security in the world is done, 'selectors' (that's the Hebrew word) interrogate travelers and watch their reactions and body-language before opening or checking a single bag. There may be some lessons which Israel's experience with terrorism can offer the rest of the world.
- The media are repeating how successful this uncovering of a plot is, how the investigations have been going on for a long time, how good the intelligence work was. But if so, why is the entire British airline system now in total chaos with no plan for the immediate future. We're not blaming anyone other than those trying to claim this is a victory. Terrorism is going on almost everywhere, all the time, and the terrorists are way ahead.
- All the attention is on the airports, specifically Heathrow. And there are suggestions of liquid explosives are at the heart of the plot. So... why does anyone assume only aircraft, and only Heathrow, and only the UK are at risk? Why not trains, subways, buses, schools, hospitals, water supply sources?
- The most useful quoted statement we have heard in all the noise of this morning is a British policeman saying that this is about "mass murder on an unimaginable scale". The sad truth is that terror is always about the unimaginable, and always will be, no matter how creative our imaginations.
- The British TV news programs are also emphasizing in the past hour the massive disruption to ordinary life, especially to the tens of thousands of people now stuck in the airports or on board planes that have not been unable to unload. This will not continue for more than a matter of hours - unlike the acute security situation here where it has gone on for a month or more, as has been the case for hundreds of thousands of Israelis in northern communities, and for millions throughout the rest of Israel. Some Brits are likely to be in a much better position now or soon to understand why Israelis are demanding of their leaders to take out the militants, the activists, the terrorists, the mass murderers.
- We note that the words "Islamic" and "Moslem" have not been mentioned in any of the reports. This is good, right and proper. What possible connection would anyone imagine there might be between Moslems and a massive threat of terror? The last thing on anyone's mind.
The war against the terrorists is a real war, as real as the Battle of Britain was, as real as the Hezbollah War is, as real as the Arafat War (some call it the Second Intifadeh) is. In war, you do what you need to do to win. When it is not happening to you, you can engage in silly rhetoric and superficial phraseology. When it is happening to you, your children, your home, your society, you do what you need to do. The terrorists understand that better than the rest of us.
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