We're All Terrorists Now
|In this day and age, we are now all terror suspects, all the time, everywhere. Get used to walking with your hands up in the air.|
The initial British response to the subway bombings was measured. Unlike George Bush, who brought a cocky Texas swagger in his public response to 9/11, revving up public anger, Prime Minister Tony Blair was remarkably restrained in the aftermath of 7/7.
The 56 people killed in the four coordinated bombings on July 7 in London’s Underground are only a tiny fraction of the almost 2,700 victims of the incendiary terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. But the impact of the London blasts could be more far reaching for immigrants living in the West.
The initial British response to the subway bombings was measured. Unlike George Bush, who brought a cocky Texas swagger in his public response to 9/11, revving up public anger, Prime Minister Tony Blair was remarkably restrained in the aftermath of 7/7. He, expressed bewliderment that the terrorists were homegrown British – not British Muslims, just British. Londoners responded stoically, going about their daily business the following day. In marked contrast to the United States, the broad public consensus held firm that the country should resist surrendering its cherished civil liberties at the altar of security.
But that public sentiment changed dramatically after a second series of failed bombing attempts on the subway two weeks later on July 21. Riders are increasingly wary and the police added to their anxiety the following day when they fatally shot an innocent man five times in the head as he crouched terrified on the train floor.
The London police have since expressed “deep regrets” and accepted “full responsibility” for the killing, although they have pointedly hrefused to apologize. Indeed the city’s police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is preparing Londoners for future mistakes under the new shoot-to-kill policy aimed at deterring potential suicide bombers: “It wasn’t just a random event, and the most important thing to realize is that it is still happening out there. Somebody else could be shot.”
The police shooting is puzzling. The victim, a Brazilian national, Jean Carles de Menezes, apparently aroused police suspicions after he emerged from a building under surveillance. Those suspicions were hightened because Menezes was wearing a bulk jacket in the steamy summer weather. When they surrounded him near a subway station, Menezes panicked, jumped a turnstile and fled into a train.
Whatever the explanations, a whole new world has arrived for immigrants in the West. We may have gotten used to our repeated “random” selection for intrusive body searches at airports. Annoying as that has been, it has been limited to airline travel, a relatively infrequent activity. Now we raise suspicion anytime and anywhere and can stir alarm in the most innocent of actions.
In New York, one the city’s busiest train stations was briefly evacuated July 24 after a seemingly drugged and irritated passenger taunted a ticket agent that he had a bomb in his bag. A few hours earlier, police handcuffed and lined up five South Asian passengers on a tourist bus on their knees on a public sidewalk after a supervisor with the bus company reported that they were carrying “suspicious backpacks” and had “stuffed pockets.”
Police cordoned off traffic for 90 minutes near Times Square, one of the New York’s leading tourist attractions, and ordered all 60 passengers off the bus with their hands raised. The five innocent “suspects” were determined not to have any backpacks after all and released. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly apologized for the incident and rebuked the bus company for overreacting, urging New Yorkers, “Please don’t embellish what the facts are.”
His warning is likely to follow on deaf ears, however. In this day and age we are now all terror suspects, all the time, everywhere.
Get used to walking with your hands up in the air.