It's been quite a weekend, planned London attacks were stopped by luck, not by intelligence but by a traffic warden going about doing their job. Whilst an attack at Glasgow Airport might have initially looked horrific, but quickly seemed a shambolic and far from sophisticated operation. The lack of loss of intended fatalities should be enough reason for religious people whatever their persuasion to thank their chosen God for the mercy on human life.
The sight of the burned out Cherokee Jeep at Glasgow Airport was a sobering wake up call that terrorist attacks don't just happen in capital cities like London and Madrid or financial capitals like NYC. If they can happen in Scotland, they can happen anywhere. What has become clear is that the authorities in charge of public safety have to be diligent in their duties and remain vigilant, aware and focused that a threat can come from anywhere at any time.
What we should not do, however, is jump to immediate conclusions that the attempts to bomb central London and now Glasgow Airport were part of a wider al Qaeda-Islamist attack on Britain. If there is a connection, the forensic material taken from the two cars in London and the burned out Cherokee Jeep at Glasgow airport will prove that link.
There will inevitably be calls for revenge, but where has that ever got us? After the 9/11 attacks it might have been the right thing to do to go after Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan but when he was still running around free it was naive to extend the fight to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Did it make the world a safer place? I'd argue it didn't.
There will be others who will call for increased powers for those whose job it is is to find a link between what the attempted attacks in London and Glasgow and al-Qaeda. There is always a temptation when we are perceived as being under attack to seek a greater degree of security by isolating strangers. There are some in the government that will say its time that suspects of terrorism should be held for 90 days without charge so that a case may be successfully brought against them. That's despite the fact that in recent years pre-charge detention has already been increased from 14 to 28 days. Provided suspects are picked up and arrested of course I would argue that a time period of 14 days should be ample time for our police, with all its resources, to find some sort of evidence that link suspects to a crime in which to charge them. Two weeks is a long time to not be charged with a crime and yet be subjected to suspicion and jailed, a month may be required in extremely complex cases but if you cannot find evidence in that time can you really expect to find the evidence after 3 months?
We have to remember that Britain is not exactly a new target for terrorists. The religion of today's terrorists may be different to those who threatened this country 20 years ago but the threat itself isn't any greater than what we endured back then. If the laws that we had for dealing with self proclaimed Irish freedom fighters were suitable to keep us as safe as we could expect, when people wanted to harm us then those same laws should still be workable today.
People determined to do harm or kill, do so whatever laws are in place, they have no respect for law. They don't stop to think 'wait, how am I going to be treated if I am caught'. Changing the law of how we deal with the perpetrators won't make a slight bit of difference to our safety but laws are in place to protect us all from miscarriages of justice. We have to wait till we learn more of what went on in both the London car attacks and in the attack in Glasgow before we reach for solutions that may ultimately prove ineffective, but which come with a heavy price in terms of eroded civil liberties. If you or I looked like someone who had committed a horrible crime and were mistakenly arrested we would expect the law to be our ally so that we could receive a fair trial and the truth be heard. Laws by themselves do not prevent criminal acts, they are there not for our security but for our freedom.
The men who drove the Cherokee Jeep at Glasgow Airport were as angry as they were ill-prepared. They could have quite simply walked through the terminal doors and threw petrol bombs inside the main building? What would have happened then? Were there security measures in place to stop them entering the building in that manner? Those are the real questions that need to be answered. How do we prevent terrorists carrying out their acts of destruction? We don't know if the next threat is going to be a well thought out detailed plan executed by determined extremists or a simple quickly thrown together idea by a solo nutter but the truth is either outcome can be just as damaging if the act itself isn't prevented.
Back in the 70s and 80s when it was the IRA that was bombing London, Manchester and Birmingham there were a number of miscarriages of justice, innocent men spent years in jail despite the fact that the police had the manpower and resources that should have prevented mistakes from happening. Back then the length of time that a person could be held without charge was far shorter than the 2 weeks it is today and yet innocent men confessed to acts of terrorism that they could not possibly have done and were locked up for many years before being set free. It is only a matter of time before someone who is psychologically suggestible confesses to a crime to escape their legal limbo. The length of that time will be different for everyone but the longer the time that a person can be held without charge the greater the likelihood that the numbers of false confessions will increase.
Reconciling the tension between freedom and security is difficult. On the one hand every country has an obligation to protect the security of its citizens but it should not do so at the expense of democracy. Laws can all too easily undermine or destroy democracy under the guise of defending it. We would do well to remember that some of today's terrorists do not like our freedoms and are eager to destroy them. We cannot always prevent the mad extremist who spontaneously decides to take human life from succeeding in their goal but we should be able to protect our freedoms and liberties that the terrorists hate so much.