Sunday, 26 March 2017

Keep calm and carry on

'Keep calm and carry on' seems to be the consensus view on how to react to the recent atrocity at Westminster. And I'm going to start my comments north of the border as this seems to be as good a place as any.

Bearing the 'keep calm and carry on' theme in mind, initially I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea to suspend the referendum debate in Holyrood. My view had nothing to do with the importance of the debate or its subject matter. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of any sympathy or feeling for those who were bleeding and dying on the streets of London. It was simply because I felt, and continue to feel, that governments should strive to do all they can to ensure that the influence and effects of terrorist outrages should always be as limited and contained as possible. They should 'keep calm and carry on'. The greater the contagion into the rest of our democracy, the greater the impact and effect that an evil individual with evil intent can have. When institutions and organisations which were not directly targeted close down, it amplifies and spreads the ability of terrorism to disrupt our democracy and destroy the peace.

Let's face it, one of the greatest threats to our civil liberties isn’t terrorism: it’s the response that governments make to terrorism. When the effects of terrorism are magnified and spread to a greater extent than is necessary to ensure public safety and to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis involving those directly affected, it increases the impact that terrorism has on everyone’s lives. It makes it easier for governments to introduce repressive and anti-democratic measures in response. Then we all lose. We become a society which is shaped, or more accurately deformed, by a terrorist threat, when there are other threats which we blithely ignore or shrug off which extract a far greater toll in terms of suffering and death.

Threats like, for example, air pollution, domestic violence and abuse, or road deaths, all of which kill many more people in the UK than terrorism does. They get far less attention, far less concern from those in the seats of power. We are blinded by the bloody spectacle of terrorism, leading us as a society to prioritise it over threats which, in terms of the numbers of lives they destroy, are far more lethal and have a far greater death toll. Don't get me wrong, I do not diminish or downplay the suffering of those caught up in last week's tragedy. Their pain is real. Their blood is real. Their deaths were real. Their deaths were a tragedy. We should all mourn for them. We should all offer our sympathy and compassion. But as a society we must be careful to avoid allowing the attention grabbing barbarity of a terrorist attack to define our democracy. 

But it’s only human that legislators in Holyrood were concerned and worried about their friends and colleagues in the other parliament. It’s only human that they’d find it difficult to concentrate on the topic at hand while people lay bleeding and broken on a London street, people who for all they knew could have been their friends and associates. So I don’t have a problem with the fact that the proceedings at Holyrood were suspended. Humanity and compassion should always trump any points of principle or politics.

I did get, and still am, very angry at social media in the immediate aftermath of the attack. I got angry with people, both individuals and news organisations which really ought to have known better, publishing photos showing dead and dying people. Can you imagine the pain of discovering that a friend or relative had been killed in a terrorist attack because you happened to chance across a photo of their bloody end on Twitter or Facebook? It treats death as spectacle and display. It reduces suffering to social media content. It’s the parasitic search for attention (and, in the case of the press, revenue) from the blood of the dying. If your immediate reaction on seeing a person bleeding and dying on a bridge is to reach for your camera and not to rush to give aid, your own humanity is bleeding and dying too.

I got angry with those who sought to score political points on the back of the dying. People like Nigel Farage finger pointing and trying to use the tragedy as a stick which which to beat up the immigrants and Johnny Foreigner.

I got angry at many things. Keep calm, Parsons, and carry on. 

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