Fake solutions and real ones
Before I return to East Asian matters I wanted to write something a bit more editorial on the recent bombings in London. I don't really want to address the bombings themselves or the complex issue of the factors that lay behind them as I think this has been done better than I could ever do by some of the commentators I have linked to in previous posts (especially Gary Younge). So I thought I would look briefly at one slightly tangential aspect that interests me.
The issue is one that I've mentioned here before: ID cards. Until the bombings the government's plans to bring in ID cards were definitely on the slippery slope, suffering from spiralling projected costs, rapidly waning public support and about to become victim to a concerted effort by the opposition parties to upset the (much weakened) Labour government's new legislative programme. It will be interesting to see how things pan out, but I suspect that it will be much harder to defeat them now and the government has already moved to use the bombings as justification for ID cards (among a number of other 'necessary measures'). Funnily enough, though, even Home Secretary Charles Clarke in his post-bombing advocacy for ID cards has admitted that they would not have stopped the attacks. He argues rather that "on balance they would help rather than hinder" the investigation of terrorist attacks like this one. This seems like an incredibly weak justification from a government minister who is supposed to be pushing for ID cards. (And it should be noted that it would have been completely irrelevant in the current case as the attackers seem to have been totally unconcerned about concealing their identities and were carrying documents from which the police have been able to identify them easily).
However, I think in a strange way Clarke is actually being considerably more honest that much of the media rhetoric around that repeatedly uses the old cliche about how such bombings are "almost impossible to prevent in a free society like ours." The problems with such a statement are almost too many to unpack. First, it implies that technocratic solutions would be helpful and perhaps even prevent terrorism, but that we cannot implement them as we value our freedoms too much. But this government (like those before it during the 'troubles') has introduced a number of measures already that reduce our freedoms considerably and yet terrorism only seems to have become more likely. More broadly, I think the correlation between the degree of freedom granted to citizens in a particular society and its vulnerability to terrorism is a highly dubious one. In fact I think the correlation could almost be reversed: it seems highly repressive states are particularly good at breeding terrorism against themselves and there really is no way that a population can be 'locked down' to the extent that some people will not be able to commit acts of violence should they have the desire to do so. This is especially true of countries that are brutally occupying a another country - Russia and Israel come to mind straight away, but any number of other cases could be cited. Israel has opted for the ultimate technocratic measure: a massive concrete wall with watchtowers turning the West Bank into a prison, but I doubt that even this can be entirely effective in protecting Israelis.
Of course governments love technocratic solutions (even when they are honest enough to admit that they won't work) because they cannot commit themselves to the real solutions (and technocratic solutions have useful spin-offs too). In a rare moment of clarity, Blair said the other day that we have to tackle the 'roots of terrorism', but we all know that the reality is that he is completely incapable of doing this, tied as he is to Bush's disastrous 'war on terror'. While it goes without saying that security, prevention and (hopefully) justice are necessary when dealing with terrorism, here are a few suggestions for political rather than technocratic solutions to the problem: