Imagine, if you can, yourself feeling alienated, inadequate and worthless in society, taking quantities of drugs, with an extremely violent criminal streak, waking up one morning feeling that there’s little point in going on with your failure of a life. Terminally resentful against the world, you get into your car, drive to your local town, drive on the pavement deliberately injuring people you don’t know, and then attack police officers (or traffic wardens) with a kitchen knife. How would the mass media describe your actions?
Well, it’s obvious. You’re a terrorist.
And the closer your actions took place to the town hall or police station the more this is a given.
It’s no longer enough to call such actions what they are – a crime. A violent crime. Anything such, not instantly explicable to the press, cannot now be anything so banal as “just” a crime. It has to be blessed with the Mantle of Terrorism. Otherwise papers won’t sell, reporters will pass time sharpening pencils, columnists will sit idly vacant, newsrooms will stagnate.
“Today”, “World at One”, “ITV News” chew, chew and re-chew for hours day after day exactly the same parts of the Westminster Incident until all flavour is gone and the odour of terrorism satisfactorily fills the studio. Pedestrians near Westminster Bridge, people who had no inkling of what was happening on the other side, are interviewed on television in an endless vox pop designed to keep the news nicely on the bubble and to make sure the people are never far from worry about terrorists. School contemporaries of this criminal are always amazed – “ He was a quiet boy. Seemed nice enough. Ink monitor for two years on the bounce. Terrorist? I can’t understand it”.
And it’s mirrored in the reactions of the government. Far from Mrs May’s “We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.”, COBRA’s summons has been trumpeted and the security services have flooded into and around Parliament seemingly with three armed officers per MP.
Political anxiety is rampant, despite the fact that this criminal didn’t get within a country mile of denting even the first security ring, with most of his killing done on a bridge just up the road. “This happened near Parliament. Ergo, he was a terrorist, obviously. Hide under the green benches. Bring in the army”.
It’s clearly impossible henceforth to break any law in the vicinity of the Commons without terrorism being the source of its occurrence. If you’re in Parliament Square you’ll now probably be arrested at gun point by the Fuzz as a jihadist if you drop a fag-end, or jaywalk. And then pieces will be written and uttered by the Meejah delving into your background for explanation, and looking for any link between you and Islam, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, approval of burqahs, teetotalism.
This is symptomatic of how terrified the government and security services are beneath their blank exterior. Terrorism, Yesterday’s terrorism, the Real Terrorism, was always defined by the implicit pursuit of political aims. This has perforce been extended to include religious aims, the often-mouthed and equally often ill-described “jihad” of this decade. What it doesn’t and never has included, is the murderous actions of some inadequate warped little man who commits what is, at the end, just an ordinary squalid violent crime because he’s pissed off with his life and society. Adrian Elms was life’s pathetic failure. He was a criminal. He took drugs. He had a poorly paid job. He was violent. He took on a Muslim name because anything’s better than Adrian Elms; probably listened to radical Islamist words solely because their irrational anger mirrored his own. But he’d no more of a clue about political aims than Fozzy Bear, no more religious impulse than the average tin of lentils.
Still, that’s not enough for our press, for our government. Too dull. Ordinary evil, so so mundane, my dear. We must constantly be on the alert for Them. In the 50s it was Reds Under the Bed. Now it’s Terrorists on the Terrace. Every blesséd biggish crime, even this pathetic piece of mindless murdering vandalism, must almost by imperial decree be seen as an attack on the State Proper. As terrorism. There is here Hannah Arendt’s “dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them“. Such a deed as Elms’s baffles us. So, if you can’t explain it give it presence. Big it up with a scary title. Even though, a few days later, the Met are redfacedly mumbling they’ve not a clue what motivated these killings, but it sure as hell wasn’t I.S or any of that bunch of jackasses.
“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,” the great French philosopher and activist Simone Weil wrote 80 years ago.
And so you have to ask – why are this government and the Media so anxious that we should all be so anxious?
(I write this blog to air, for good or ill, my own opinions and views. I already had some idea of the tenor of this piece before I read Simon Jenkins’ superb column in the Grauniad. It would be churlish not to offer you the chance to read my views but far more eloquently expressed. In fairness, he’s had a bit more practice..)