Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, told BBC Radio 4 listeners today that the service could do with new surveillance powers to tackle the terrorist threat. That’s hardly surprising, according to the cynical view that you never let a good crisis go to waste. If necessary, you create one. We face a toxic combination. On the one hand, the consequences of an aggressively interventionist foreign policy pursued for the benefit of US interests, not ours. On the other, disaffected youth of south Asian heritage liable to identify strongly with at least some of the victims of that policy. The Government is working on plans for ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’, to target not so much terrorists as anyone who exercises their supposed right of free speech in ways that this Government – or any of its successors – decides it doesn’t like.
We won’t let counter-terrorism measures interfere with our lifestyle. Of course not: that would be letting the terrorists win. Even though that’s precisely what’s happening, as the threats continue to proliferate and so too does the apparatus supposedly designed to contain them. If we can feel that, on the outside of government, what’s the atmosphere like on the inside?
The Swiss Army has carried out two exercises in recent years related to migration and its consequences. The first dealt with a stream of migrants that was out of control. The second took things a step further. It assumed a breakdown of public order in France, the fragmentation of authority into local fiefdoms and a consequent need to resist looting expeditions onto Swiss territory.
Why France? France has a large population of North African and Middle Eastern extraction. Religion is deemed irrelevant. France’s secularism has moved on from being a policy to being a blindfold, so it doesn’t collect census information on religion. For a true picture, consider that France’s top Mahometan official recently offered to take over the country’s redundant Catholic churches to meet a demand for 5,000 new mosques. The problem facing the security services is not the proportion of his followers who may be terrorists. That proportion may well be unchanged, year on year. It’s that as the absolute number behind that proportion increases, so the strain on the security services also increases. It’s a statistical certainty that militants with potential or actual Jihadi sympathies are entering Europe every day. The security services now have far more potential Jihadis on French soil than they’re resourced to keep under surveillance. Managing that risk is, well, risky. It’s not polite to mention it, but it’s there nevertheless. A spectacular 9/11-style attack on France is now regarded by some experts as inevitable.
Government-by-advertising is starting to fail. The idea that well-placed words and pictures can get us out of the domain of reflection and into that of sentiment has worked in every previous crisis, but… An increasing number of people are now questioning whether their ruling elites are taking care of their best interests, and whether the taxes they collect are legitimate. Psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe described the legacy of the failed 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change as the realisation that our “leaders are not looking after us… we are not cared for at the level of our very survival”. No, you guessed right there and don’t sound so shocked. So do we want a State that from Brussels downwards regulates everything but the fundamentals, neglecting the real issues of movement and resources and ideology that underpin our security? A lot is written about the accumulating critical mass of terrorists in Europe but much less about the accumulating critical mass of ordinary folk who are asking such questions. Once it forms, things could get perhaps too interesting.
Military exercises cost money. Even if your priority is to spend the budget rather than ensure it’s spent well – and that’s an insider criticism of the Swiss military – you’ll still pick exercises that usefully focus minds over ones that don’t. So if the Swiss think a scenario in which France falls to pieces is worth considering, so should we. (It’s an off-the-shelf scenario, by the way, which anyone can read in Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age.) In which case, while we’ve been pondering the fate of boat people with names like Yusuf or Maryam, we may be failing to spot the longer-term possibility. Which is that communities on the south coast of Wessex should get ready for boat people with names like Joseph and Marie.