Despite living and working in London I didn’t find out about what took place on London Bridge and the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday from a news outlet but rather from a message my mum sent my fiance asking if we were okay. Soon after that two friends from Madrid got in touch to me make sure everything was alright. Then people started “marking themselves as safe” on Facebook. Finally, my dad, who lives in the US, sent me an email to “touch base” as they say. At this point a clear pattern had formed.
The fear that emanated from so many people I love and who clearly love me made me a little bit angry but mostly upset. An incident I was miles away from and knew nothing about was widely reported around the world and as a result they had all feared for my safety.
When you consider that millions of people in London very likely went through a similar experience, you start to get an idea of the fear that surrounds us all now.
I was angry and upset because the fear they all felt was mostly our own making. After more than fifteen years of fighting terror in the name of freedom, we’ve been left chasing shadows and trusting no one.
Despite the UK Government Headquarters (GCHQ) having “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy”, the recent passing of The Investigatory Powers Act, the militarisation of our police force and countless other measures, individuals, if they are so inclined, can still get into a car, drive along the pavement and attack people.
In short, no amount of preventative measures will ever make us totally “safe” from harm. In fact, all that many of these legislative changes have done is hand over power to the state and encourage it to go far beyond its already wide remit:
In October, the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court that hears complaints against MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, ruled that they had been unlawfully collecting massive volumes of confidential personal data without proper oversight for 17 years.
All this has taken place whilst the British public, and most of the rest of the world, have been told time and again that they must always be on the lookout for suspicious packages, suspicious behaviour and suspicious individuals.
The constant barrage of government advertisements, TV shows, Hollywood movies and so on has had an affect on us all and that effect was clearly manifested Wednesday through the fear so many people felt.
As millions of Londoners headed into work yesterday and today did they feel any less secure than the day before the attack? Did they pay any more attention to anything out of the ordinary? Were they more suspicious of suspect individuals? We’ll never really know but there can be no denying that the state has done its utmost to take advantage of the situation and expand its powers.
Of course, the people most afraid are the ones who are always falsely associated with the crimes committed. It’s not for no reason that attacks on people of colour and more specifically followers of Islam have risen to unprecedented levels since the Brexit vote – having already been steadily rising since the attacks on the twin towers in New York.
We have grown up being told, overtly and subtly, that The Other, and in particular Muslims and those that look Muslim (read Arab), hate everything we stand for, be it our supposed freedom, our liberal democracies or even our fading Christian faith.
Yet the state that we pay for, work in and vote out has done more to create a climate of fear than any terrorist attack ever could; after spending billions of pounds, killing hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, to name just a few locations, and propagating hate filled visceral, who feels any safer?