DON’T PANIC

By Rob Harding

First up, before we get into the piece, my condolences to the friends and family of those who were killed in Westminster and St Petersburg, and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured. If you personally know anyone hurt or killed in the incident, you might want to leave this article for a few days.

With that in mind, everyone else: what the fuck?

If you’d turned on the news at peak time, at around 6pm on the 22nd of March, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d just seen the aftermath of a Godzilla invasion. The internet was full of images of bodies on the pavement, people trying to help the injured or running away from Parliament, armed police swarming around central London. On the news, Nigel Farage was already calling to close the borders (because of course he fucking was, that parasitic little fuck has been waiting for one of these to happen since 2007). Every last tiny detail was drip-fed agonisingly slowly: the attacker was British-born, five people were dead (wrong), Parliament was in lock-down (a state of affairs that went on for so long that people started talking about it as though that was the real tragedy). Online, the perpetually awful comment sections of the world were already hysterical, within moments of the first breaking news alert. The only tiny hint of restraint coming when some outlets did not use the word ‘terrorist’ until around an hour after the event when it became apparent that this was in fact a terrorist attack.

The net result of all this? Well, DAESH wins. With Mosul steadily falling to the Iraqis, and Syria such a mess of different militias that the news has stopped covering it, the group’s image has been falling slowly but steadily into obscurity. With nothing but a single expendable convert, a car and a knife they’ve shown they’re still around.

The government wins, because now they get to look like they’re soldiering on in the face of danger (behind their anti-truck bomb barriers, the Ring of Steel, around 200 armed police, thick walls and one of the world’s tightest security perimeters), gaining them valuable credibility and granting them carte blanche to push ever more intrusive ‘security’ measures to harass British Muslims and invade people’s privacy.

And, of course, the cheerful racists of the Daily Mail General Bastardry Squadron win, because now we have to see Nigel Farage’s weird fucking face back in the papers and on the news for another tortuous month of ‘not-racist-but’ xenophobic wankery, now that there are scared idiots out there ready to listen.

While we’re panicking about some guy with a knife, the USAF continues a bombing campaign that DAESH could only dream of

These victories are all possible because, as a culture, we’re addicted to terrorism, and the way our media works makes us very vulnerable to it. The cycle goes something like this: terrorism is exciting news, because it’s rare and different, and it provides an enemy for people to project onto. When a terrorist event happens, people want to know what’s going on, so media outlets publish articles on it. These articles get lots of clicks, which feeds numbers and ad revenue, and sells lots of papers. All that money means more articles, which need more content to replace scarce details of the attack itself, shifting either towards speculation (dangerous during the event, pointless after it) or opinion (Usually anger and defiance, which have become the only acceptable responses). This in turn feeds prejudice against whichever group is seen to have committed the attack (unless they’re white men, of course), which pushes some of them into the waiting arms of other extremists, which in turn leads to further terrorist attacks and the cycle repeats. Worse still, it’s a feedback loop and it gets more intense every time. We’ve all seen the speed with which the media machine rolled into action and the almost immediate outpouring of bullshit that followed. Donald Trump Jr’s spat with Sadiq Khan is but one example.

These victories are all possible because, as a culture, we’re addicted to terrorism, and the way our media works makes us very vulnerable to it.

And this loop has consequences. I saw dozens of pictures and videos of wounded victims, all over the internet and the news, some with their comment threads full of journalists asking gleefully for permission to post them (where they didn’t just stick ‘em up anyway). Imagine popping to Twitter and finding out that your mum was bleeding-out on a pavement in Westminster because The Sun wanted to get the video up first so they could get some re-tweets from ‘Anonymous Twitter Egg’ of Tunbridge Wells.

Will there ever be any accountability for this? Fuck no. There’ll probably be another article next week called ‘I SAW MUM DYING ON PAVEMENT: WESTMINSTER TWITTER SHOCK.’ Less scrupulous journalists and pundits are already using this to call London a war-zone and talk about it being besieged by Muslims again (including Americans, blissfully ignoring the mass shooting in Wisconsin that happened on the same day). Grotesque, voyeuristic violence-porn articles are already popping up online.

Oh, and I realise that the ‘You don’t care about what our military is doing elsewhere’ argument has been done to death (not that it’s any less valid) but for fuck’s sake. While we’re panicking about some guy with a knife, the USAF continues a bombing campaign that DAESH could only dream of – a campaign our own military has supported. Nearly fifty people died in Al-Jina, and our society doesn’t even give enough of a shit to investigate, let alone call out the notoriously imprecise and unreliable US bombing campaigns in the Middle East.

This has been a rant, I know that. I know that this article has the potential to strike a raw nerve, coming fairly soon after the event, and I’m sorry. Call me out, if you want, in the comments or in person. But this, this media frenzy, this climate of fear – it needs to stop, and we need to stop supporting it.

Don’t be scared, because you’ve taken the time to think, to consciously resist a culture that’s screaming at you to panic.

Some of you will have friends and family living near Westminster – I certainly do, and it’s strange and unsettling to think that it could have been them, or you.  But it’s okay. It’s understandable to be scared, because we’re bombarded with a relentless culture of fear, from airport security theatre to media scaremongering to agenda-driven scapegoating.

The chances of your life being cut short by a terrorist attack are so tiny, and the response to potential terrorism so disproportionately huge and unpleasant.  So don’t be scared, and not just in the weak, staged, ‘all-in-this-together’ attempt at blitz spirit that drives tabloid headlines. Don’t be scared, because you’ve taken the time to think, to consciously resist a culture that’s screaming at you to panic.

Don’t treat terrorist attacks with some kind of vast reverence, elevating them beyond conversation or discussion, because that lets the people who are set to exploit them control the message right out of the gate. Terrorism is violence, rather than speech – so talk. Don’t demand reverence and mourning that you’d never offer to the latest atrocity in Syria or a bad car crash on the M25. And try not to feed the feedback loop. Don’t buy the papers, don’t read the articles, don’t follow the relentless barrage of live updates and tantalising scraps of footage that get drip-fed to you while an attack is progressing. Here’s some sage advice, passed down through the generations: ‘Don’t panic. Think.’

Because otherwise the terrorists win, and the terrorism industry wins along with them.

Featured image credit: The Guardian.

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