Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Read the Economist and leave your iPod at home...

...if you don’t want to be labelled a terrorist by stupidly overscared members of the public.

Marcus, who says his family are Greek-Cypriot, has devised a strategy to avoid “odd looks” on the Tube (which he attributes to his Mediterranean appearance).

To make himself seem non-threatening, he now wears a Make Poverty History wristband and makes a point of reading the Economist.

“Whilst this sounds ridiculous it does reassure people around me. Of course, the whole thing is ridiculous but these are ridiculous times we are living in,” he writes.

An Asian reader says fears about what people are thinking have stopped him carrying a rucksack.

“I do not take my rucksack to work anymore, which had my lunch and work shirt. I would rather wear a dirty shirt left at work than be looked at suspiciously. I also wear a T-shirt to work now, as I am afraid to wear too much, after the shooting,” he writes.

There are also people who have stopped wearing their MP3 players or iPods because of worries about trailing wires or not hearing orders from the police.

Sean Coughlan’s BBC piece makes me feel exasperated at the silly but (I suppose) understandable lengths to which fallible human beings will go when consumed by irrational fears. The fear of the visibly non-caucasian person who actually knows that they really are being silently judged as a possible mass murderer. The fear of the white person who sees someone with dark skin and whose mind kicks in hours after their instinct does.

So although at first it seems more outrageous when we hear of people deliberately changing trains to avoid such encounters, it is actually more true to the currently twisted mass psychology of fear. However, it is when white people prefer not to sit next to a woman in traditional Muslim dress that they display something less than fear, and worse than it: bigotry.

Next time I’m on a tube train in London, which hopefully won’t be too far in the future, I intend to sit next to one of these supposed murderers. A gay man and a dark-skinned heathen: we’d both get strange glances.

The only difference is, the police stopped killing gay men a long time ago.

Now, don’t think that I’m having a dig at the armed officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes eight times in the head. On the face of all the issues in play at the time, if I’d’ve been one of the officers, I probably would have done the same thing. That is the point though — I would have made a knee-jerk reaction leading from a strong suspicion and no evidence. And when a group of armed human beings decides to make that kind of choice, fear of the unknown becomes deadly and begets yet more fear and anger.

Tis happens in spite of our Prime Minister’s calls for us to unite against terror. He doesn’t realise that lack of thought and information is fertile ground for terror. The only way to starve the roots of that sinister plant is to educate ourselves and be as humanistic as we can.

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