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by Nina Webb,
In the wake of the Paris attacks, security has been tightened across Europe. A place particularly hard hit was Belgium, where the suspected gunman from the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, remains at large. Brussels was essentially in lockdown last week, with the alert level being at four (the highest level possible) for much of the week. The Metro and most of public transport were closed, as were most schools. Some 300 policemen patrolled outside school gates when they reopened, and soldiers paraded through stations and shopping centres. Many public places such as shops, bars and cinemas shut their doors – with many employers using their own initiative (and fear) and telling their employees to stay at home.
But are these measures really the right ones to take? Yes, times are difficult. Fear is commonplace amongst many, particularly those living in capital cities – living in London, I can’t say I’ve managed to put those fears to bed very easily. But is taking these measures sending the right message to ISIS? It was Barack Obama himself who said that the most powerful tool to fight the Islamic State was to say that “we are not afraid”. Defiance in these times may be difficult, but it is a necessity. For many, the events following Paris with the Parisian flag being projected onto world monuments and the French national anthem being played at many public events (whilst perhaps a bit excessive) were acts of defiance, as well as solidarity. A lot of the work of ISIS is done through propaganda. Word is spread through the media and online platforms. Specific people are targeted. ISIS attempts to recruit through conversion to the Jihad; altering their very mind-set in convincing them to believe in the necessity of the so-called Holy War for Islam. Therefore, what better act of defiance can there be than refusing to give in mentally to a group who very much lives and thrives on altering the mind-set of its recruits?
To many, the measures in Belgium have been seen as excessive. Nadine Rosa-Rossa, a schoolteacher in the Molenbeek district where the anti-terror operation is focused, told the BBC’s Newsday programme, “It’s like we are in a war… It’s not a good thing for the teachers, for everybody.” Here she points out another valid issue in terms of security: to what extent are all of these security measures furthering the public fear, rather than quietening it as they are supposed to? The US embassy in Brussels urged citizens to “shelter in place and remain at home”. Next, they will be encouraging the building of underground bunkers to hide out in. The media and the government make it seem as if we are under imminent threat of World War Three. Is scaring the public, rather than serving to protect it, really the right approach for our government?
An even more worrying aspect of the current ‘security’ crisis is Cameron’s decision to bomb Syria, supposedly to make our citizens feel more safe and secure that the threat of ISIS is being dealt with. It truly is a scary thought that, as emerged last Friday, David Cameron now has enough Tory support to pass a motion allowing him to bomb targets in Syria, without the need to rely on Labour support, as dozens of previous Tory rebels made a U-turn on their previous opinions in order to support Cameron’s policy. Firstly, ISIS’s attacks on Paris came after its most prominent involvement in the air strike campaign against Syria. If Cameron goes ahead with this plan, is London next? Secondly, what will these bombings really achieve? Since the enemy shifted from the Assad regime to ISIS, seemingly we don’t like anyone in Syria, so our government has simply decided to bomb them all. Regardless of claims that ISIS strongholds will be targeted, our government has seemingly forgotten that this does not prevent the deaths of civilians. Only last week, at least five children were killed as an air strike hit a Syrian school. So far, according to UN estimates, 220,000 Syrians have perished overall in the civil war: 73,000 of whom were civilians. The air strikes by the US, France, Russia and numerous other regimes have achieved nothing so far except incurring the deaths of innocent people. So what will Britain joining the campaign achieve – except making us more of a target?
Therefore, whilst security is a prominent issue in current times, it must not become a symptom of moral panic. No matter how many headlines in the papers proclaim the onset of the ‘war on terror’, we should not make our civilians feel as if they are in an actual one. And least of all should civilians, whether Syrian or European, have to suffer for the mistakes of their governments.