Operation Shoot All The Palefaces

We’ve had Operation Desert Storm. Then, Operation Infinite Justice, closely followed by the sequel, Operation Enduring Freedom. I am waiting for Operation Eternal Flame of Burning Truth, Justice And The American Way. But for now we have “Operation Shoot Anyone Vaguely Dusky”. At least that’s what satirist John O’Farrell called the raid at Forest Gate on Have I Got News For You (BBC2), last week. His comment elicited a lot of laughs, but it also drew a few disapproving “ooh”s of the ‘that was funny but he’s gone too far’ variety.

Last week the two brothers involved in the incident (where one of them was shot and both were later released without charge) gave their first press conference detailing their experiences during the raid and their feelings afterwards. It was intense stuff, making the O’Farrell comment all the funnier for it’s transgressive quality and the point he made all the more poignant. Two men have been shot in anti-terror operations over the last year. One of them (Jean Charles De Menezes) was killed, shot several times in the head. Neither man turned out to be a suicide bomber. While it is simplistic and facetious to suggest that they were shot because they were not white, one has to notice that neither of these men were pale-faced anglo-saxons. And one has to ask the question, had they been white-boys from the upper middle class, would police have been quite as worried about potential bombs under the suspects’ clothing and thus as likely to use lethal force? Had the home in Forest Gate belonged to a white family of merchant bankers, would the police-issue gloves been quite as thick and clumsy? I have my doubts.

But I also doubt that the shootings were malicious, intentional or motivated by personal racism. But it seems to me that looking like you’re from the middle east these days is the easiest way to get stopped before boarding a plane, viewed with suspicion on the underground or have your entire family handcuffed and frog-marched out of your home, one of them bleeding. And I hear your cries of objection. These measures may be tough and yes, innocent people may get hurt, but it is worth it to protect our way of life. But is it? It is a little too easy to say “it’s worth it” when it’s not you, your son or your brother being shot by police. It is a little too easy as a white Christian for me to say that civil liberties should be curtailed for the sake of public safety knowing full well that I am unlikely to be imprisoned for 90 days or sent for an indefinite holiday to Guantanamo Bay for “questioning”.

So should we scapegoat the bad intelligence that precipitated Forest Gate? Surely if police had failed to find a bomb people would be just as angry as they are now? Perhaps they would, but they would be wrong. Any individual with access to the internet can build a bomb. Anyone angry enough can have the will to use it. Police can’t be expected to be psychic any more than they can be expected not to make any mistakes. And we cannot with one breath moan about eroding civil liberties and privacy and with the next one castigate security agencies for their inability to know what is going to happen.

“But isn’t it fair enough for Muslims to be targeted,” you ask me with tears in your eyes, “after all, there are no Christian terrorists.” Well, I remember the Oklahoma City bombing. I regularly hear of right-wing crazies who are my brothers and sisters in Christ inciting violence and hate in the public arena. And I have yet to be strip-searched at an airport. The fact is that many of us, myself included, could be accused of being bible-thumping reactionaries just for our evangelical theology. It wouldn’t take much to make us public enemies too, with our extremist views and our fanatical devotion to our Saviour. And then we’d probably want to be more circumspect about security strategies that involve shooting people.

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