Suspect it, report it

Get on the phone. You need to start shopping your neighbours tout suite — at least that seems to be the message of the government’s new anti terror ad campaign.

Launched yesterday, by a number of Police Forces in England, the national campaign is asking people to be on the look out for anything that looks vaguely suspicious. Absolutely anything.

So much about this campaign is wrong, starting with the tagline: “Terrorism. If you suspect it, report it”.

It has the feel of a war-time propaganda poster and you can almost hear someone involved in dreaming up this campaign whisper: “Careless talk costs lives”.

It has completely the wrong feel. It promotes not a feeling of security and safety, but instead a climate of fear.

The radio ads ask: “How d’you tell the difference between someone just videoing a crowded place and someone who’s checking it out for a terrorist attack?

“How can you tell if someone’s buying unusual quantities of stuff for a good reason or if they’re planning to make a bomb?”

The answer is that you can’t so what should you do? The campaign would have it that you report it.

That guy in the park with the camera? Phone him in.

Cleary the thinking behind this campaign was honest and well intentioned, and there is almost a good idea in this (something about we are all in this together, maybe) but its execution is poor. What it does, in rather an insidious way, is start to make everything look suspect.

We seem to have gone from being on the lookout for suspect packages, to being on the lookout for suspect people. What kind of precedent does that set?

We all know that terrorism is here. No one can ignore it. It is in the headlines everyday and London 7/7 is still fresh in most people’s memories, but this campaign sends out the wrong message.

It doesn’t say we are all in it together, but rather exacerbates a divisive us and them mentality. File under not helpful.