Media,  Terrorism

An irrational response to 7/7

One genuinely hesitates to intrude on a mother’s grief, which understandably is an emotional response to tragedy, not an analytical one. One’s instinct is to humour this response, not contradict it. It is for this very reason that society entrusts judges with deciding a criminal’s punishment and not the relatives of the victim of a crime.

Nevertheless, the media – in particular – favours exploiting the often dramatic responses those close to the victim of a crime or atrocity will reasonably have – even if the response itself isn’t always entirely reasonable.

It is for this reason that we must have the courage to patiently say to Marie Fatayi-Williams whose son died in the 7/7 terrorist attacks that – as much as we wish it were otherwise – the attacks were not “preventable”.

Mrs Fatayi-Williams told the BBC: “Anthony’s life was cut short in a needless, totally unnecessary and preventable attack on London.

She is right that her son’s life was cut short needlessly and unnecessarily. But she is entirely wrong to say with such certainty that the attack could have been prevented in a way other than the terrorists themselves deciding not to go through with their callous act. It is true that the state can and does spy on groups it suspects of planning acts of terror and in some cases can make preemptive arrests. But it is not always able to do so. What’s more, giving the police and security services the powers to guarantee success would certainly have undesirable effects on our civil liberties.

She says:

“His family continues to miss him sorely, even after these five years. We, his parents, continue to wonder if his death could have been prevented, or even the attacks foreseen by the relevant authorities.”

Only someone as heartless as the terrorists themselves would wish to see the family’s agony and grief prolonged any longer by this misguided and unreasonable speculation. There is no “relevant authority” that can be all-seeing, all-knowing and wide-reaching that no criminal or terrorist conspirators ever succeed in their awful plans.

It serves no purpose to the victim’s family or to wider society either to pretend that the state can infallibly protect us or that we should seek to blame our own government, police, or emergency services, or other “authorities” for the vicious acts of terrorist committed by religious fundamentalists.

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