Laughing in the face of Terror

With the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London over the past week or so, it’s fair to say that the UK’s resilience has been tested. With the General Election taking place tomorrow, and Theresa May promising to ‘rip up the Human Rights act’ to introduce sweeping restrictions on the Internet, and strengthen anti-terrorist legislation, it remains to be seem how things will pan out.

You can never completely overshadow the horrific consequences of fatal attacks where innocent people lose their lives, but through the dark fog of the events themselves, stories have emerged that show true humanity, rather than the bleak nihilism of the terrorists. Stories of people rushing to the defence and aid of others; fearlessly tackling armed attackers, and embracing strangers.

A couple of examples of this that have really stood out for me in particular demonstrate the best, and most ‘British’ response imaginable. In the first, a man seen ambling casually away from a pub where the attackers had struck was hailed as a spirit of defiance for taking his pint with him:

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Beer is so expensive in London mind you, that leaving a full pint behind would be the real madness.

And then, there was this guy… who when confronted with three knife wielding attackers screaming ‘This is for Allah!’, replied by rushing to fight them bare handed, shouting: ‘Fuck you, I’m Millwall!’, allowing others the chance to escape the scene. For those not familiar with Millwall football club, this sort of behaviour is perfectly normal.

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Speaking later after surviving multiple stab wounds all over his body, he said:

I thought, ‘I need to take the p*** out of these b******s’.

For me, this sums things up pretty beautifully. The point of these attacks is to make people afraid; to make nowhere feel safe… to withdraw in terror to an authoritarian regime that results in us turning on our neighbours and friends… but it’s tough to be afraid when you are laughing your ass off.

Those of us in Glasgow remember our own brush with ISIS well…

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These attacks are always heartbreaking, and we’ll mourn the people we lose, but we also need to turn things on their head, find the humour in any situation, and laugh. Laugh right in the face of those who think they can make us scared to go outside, or scared of our Muslim friends, because their attempts to destroy who we are are laughable – and if there’s one thing the British are good at, it’s taking the piss out of those who take themselves too seriously.

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Fighting Fear after the Paris attacks.

Seeing the news unfold from Paris that there had been yet another terrorist attack, I have to be honest: I didn’t feel too much at first.

Yes, it was awful, but the scenes played out on the screen like the plot of an action film: dramatic, but ultimately ones that we’ve seen time and time again. The world would get back to their feet, and life would continue as before.

Or at least, that’s how it should have went.

Eleven days on, when the frivolous debates over whether or not people should change their Facebook profile to a blue, white, and red tricoleur have subsided, and other humanitarian tragedies that were ignored by the Western media have been highlighted, the chaos and uncertainty remains.

That wasn’t meant to happen.

I don’t want to admit it, but I’m going to be honest: I am scared. The sort of fear that builds and grows based on over-exposure to one particular threat. I recognise that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is statistically lower than dying in a car crash, or even from being hit on the head by a coconut, but there is a deep, all-permeating fear that remains. This is something that isn’t helped by the fact I have to confront the issue daily at work: reviewing material such as the horrifying images of those lying dead in the Bataclan Theatre.

All of this is, of course, as many commentators pay lip service to: ‘what the terrorists want’. They want to ‘destroy our way of life’, and bring about greater divides between us and ‘the other’. It’s all very obvious and predictable.

The problem is though, that it is working.

This time, the symbolism of terrorism has captured both the imagination of the sensationalist media, and attracted the authoritarian arm of the so-called sovereign states.

The exaggerated press coverage, along with the equally disproportionate reaction of our governments from the UK to Russia gives the impression that we are trapped inside of an all consuming state of war, with danger omnipresent; gun-men just waiting for us to drop our guard to take their chance and blow us up. The BBC’s panorama report on the Paris attacks finished with an ominous statement about how the next attack could take place at any time, anywhere, and the US have issued a worldwide travel alert to its citizens to ‘be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places’… Brussels has been ‘locked down’, with armed police filling the streets. There is literally no escape from the perceived threat, and that isn’t because of ISIS – it’s because of how our own countries are reacting – suffocating us with the same issue 24/7.

I can’t help but think back to when I was younger; growing up with the consistent threat of the IRA targetting mainland Britain. We shrugged off the idea that we should avoid ‘crowded places’, because that could be literally anywhere, and the attacks had gone on for so many years it was impossible to do so. We used to laugh when Americans couldn’t understand why there was no bins in train stations: it was just part of life. Yes, the threat was real (and far more common in this part of the world than ISIS), but the level of panic and fear was completely different.

How quickly that all gets forgotten. It’s far easier to paint the brown skinned, Muslim folk as the enemy than the pale ginger Irish ones. Easier to demand new, unprecedented surveillance and security measures on the back of an enemy that can be hiding around any corner, clutching an AK47 and a Quran.

After Paris, it is easy to feel like ISIS are everywhere; all powerful… but they are not. To conquer that feeling, we first need to recognise it, and then fight back against it. Travel to Paris. Travel to Brussels. Welcome the refugees. Don’t accept the derogatory things that others say about them. Fight for greater civil liberties, not the restriction of them. Stand up against those who would have it otherwise. Refuse to give in to the fear that not only the terrorists, but your government wants you to feel.

This is me refusing to accept it.