The threat of terror has seen the rise of the military state. If we believe a solution to security lies in soldiers on the streets, then we are much mistaken. A solution to our security needs to come from society itself.
If you believe the chap over there with the gun hoisted high on his hip, the man who has an improbably high kill-to-death ratio online, is going to avert the next terrorist catastrophe, you’re not living in the real world. The idea of a tank outside a railway station or someone’s son sitting silently with that gun, playing the ‘hero’ and stopping the next suicide bomber is simple fantasy. The stuff of Messrs Bean, Bourne or Bond. Farce.
Perhaps a realist stance dictates that the necessary response to such acts of terror – as we have witnessed in Paris and Brussels over the past few months – is to put soldiers on the streets of our cities. But this response is viewing security through the sights of a gun. A gun trained on its next victim. And that could be you or me.
I am not trying to stoke terror in the minds of the Durham student population. Don’t worry, I cannot disclose an impending IS attack on the Bailey. Sadly, neither can our secret services. A situation that leaves the security forces trailing the terrorists in a never ending charade of cat and mouse.
Only this mouse has a sting. The unpredictability of terrorist attacks makes an increase in security a simple display of force; a self-reflective show of strength to satiate the mania of the masses (not to mention the media). Armed police and military are the shop window of security. They are not a preventative, nor prohibitive, ploy, they are merely actors in a play of which we find ourselves protagonists.
Enter the star of our show. Arriving by plane at Brussels-Charleroi, just a day after the March attacks, I soon realised the plain vanity of the situation. On departing through Arrivals or arriving through Departures (I always get those muddled), I was promptly funnelled through an armed police cordon, before being spat out of the station. (Airport seems a little hyperbolic for those not familiar with Charleroi: ‘Plane Station’ seems more apt.) Shivering in the unseasonably cold air, it was not the warm welcome to which I had grown accustomed on arrival in Belgium.
Waiting at the bus stop for my transportation to arrive, the urge for a relief break suddenly sprung with the utmost urgency. Fortunately, there was an international airport lurking just behind. Here was the problem. Charleroi is perfectly well-serviced, with modern, flushable toilets. But there was a man in blue in front of the loo. And he had a gun.
Standing between me and the facilities was a six foot three soldier. I approached the revolving door of truth. A smirk? A smile? No. I was met by a pained grimace on the face of my adversary. With nature calling, I naturally called, “Excuse me sir, would you mind awfully moving aside and allowing me to use the lavatory?” Silence. Pause for effect. “ID?” He uttered in a French tinged accent that betrayed Walloon roots. I hastily presented my documentation, feeling things were fast becoming a little too Grand Budapest Hotel for my liking.
The passport seemed agreeable. Admittedly, I do have a rather dashing self-portrait contained within. Next, there lay a boarding pass sized obstacle. “Boarding pass?” I shake and fumble, but within the tardis of my trousers, no Ryanair Boarding Pass reveals itself. Like Klute on a Friday night, this bouncer denies me entry. The only thing bouncing now is my bladder. Back to the bus stop. Inside, the glittering main hall of the airport is empty. A few sleepers await early morning flights. Soldiers stroke their arms in a sadistic fashion. And there was me. Left outside, alienated and all alone.
The bus arrived. I didn’t wet myself. I got to Ghent. But the question remains, why did I have to undergo this paramilitary experience? As a white, middle-class Durham student, I appreciate the necessity of airport security. I often faintly enjoy being felt up at security and the cries of anguish as another bottle of Verve Clicqout is confiscated from my hand luggage of champagne socialism. But why did I need to be denied entry to the terminal to use the facilities? I have no qualm with the soldier’s performance in this article, this was no dereliction of duty, he was just doing his job. But his duty was one piece in the giant jigsaw that has been our collective failure to respond adequately to the attacks.
As students, ‘overreaction’ is one of our favourite words. We might be constantly stressed, tired and hungry, but we still love to have our say. Just look at the discussion this article has provoked trending under #readpalatinate. That’s the problem. We can make something as small and meaningless as this article matter in an instant. The article represents a terrorist attack in the city of twitter. Suddenly, in response to Brussels, Cameron calls for 10,000 troops to be placed on standby. A further 1,000 armed police for London. £143m for counter terrorism. Overreaction worthy of any Durham undergraduate. If security has become a commodity, we are its capitalist consumer.
All so we can fall softly asleep with Cameron cosily coddling us in his cot of security. £143m might buy us a few NHS beds, but such idle concerns are lost when we are reassured and dreaming deep of Arabian nights and Syrian summers. They are long distant realities that do not even drift into our thoughts. The nightmare of reality shocks. The only solution to the terrorists threatening our slumber lies in a conclusion to the Syrian Civil War. Unspeakably, this calls for a settlement with a triptych of terror that haunts Europe. Will Messrs Putin, Erdogan and al-Assad please stand up?
Photograph: Charles Clegg, Flickr