The politics of fear

Whether or not those nine arrested as terrorist suspects are found to be justified, the continuing damage to community relations is deeply serious. Fear is being engendered as no one, particularly Muslims, can go about their lives free from worry. After the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes (not a Muslim, but first taken for Asian although he turned out to be South American) and the failure to find evidence in Walthamstow has made many sceptical. It has strengthened belief that the Muslim community, in particular, and black people in general are fair targets.
That the rot has set in is shown by the way that Muslim officers in the army and in the police force believe themselves to be at risk. Fear is being fuelled. Whether this is deliberate or not, it needs to be addressed urgently. The police have been handing out leaflets to try to reassure. Is there evidence that it does? President Bush has clearly used the politics of fear to gain advantage and Blair uses similar tactics whether its the fear of terrorism in foreign policy or criminal gangs at home. Fear is a well tried and effective political tool: that this has been written about and exposed seems to make little difference.

As for the police the question arises whether they are under control. David Blunkett, not someone I have grown to admire, talked about the theatricality in the way that government officers were approached. When I represented part of Handsworth as a councillor I approached the police on the way they dealt with a suspected burglary. They hammered down the security gate of an elderly pensioner who lived alone. Twice. The first time I pursuaded them to cough up for the damage caused, but the next time they refused. They said they had run out of funds.
I do not believe that community policing can ever be effective if loss of confidence is the result of policing methods. I am not saying that I think policing is easy and that there will be a need to be tough with someone carrying out a criminal act. It is the sense that battering down doors early in the morning to deal with people who are not violent but possible vulnerable is not, it seems to me, necessary. It seriously undermines confidence in the police and authority generally. I’d like to think that they cared about that.
Tail piece “Please spare me the word ‘terrorist’ ” Robert Fisk, Independent 3/2/2007.

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