The Empire Strikes Back

Written by Will Conway on Tuesday the 1st of February 2011

Today I found out about Darth Vader being caught for fare-dodging on the train. The chap had changed his name for charity in 1999 when Lucasarts released the Fandom Menace. Even his wife (Sue Vader) had taken his name so I joked that maybe they had a daughter called Fairy. My Sun-style pun was not well received by my colleagues, unsurprisingly. (Go-Ogle the story if you're really interested but there's not much more to it)

A conversation on fare-evading ensued and I remembered a sign I had seen on the train a while back which asked for fellow passengers to text a certain number if they suspected fare-dodging. Tickled by such a terrifyingly 'these-walls-have-ears' sentiment to be encouraged in people, I texted them to say that I had no intention of paying my fare and that I would be arriving at Liverpool street where I could meet them outside the Police station for my reprimand. Needless to say, except for an instant automated response, I never heard back from them.

Sadly this spying on your neighbours attitude appears to be encouraged everywhere, and not just with celebrity bin-rummaging or journalists' underhanded interview techniques.

On the buses it tells us to "report anything suspicious to the driver”. Since the drivers are now only allowed to communicate with their passengers through the reassuring tones of Emma Hignett,* I shudder to think how they would resolve an international terror incident.

This next part, however, is by far the worst in my mind. I saw an advert one or two years ago which has left a more lasting effect on me than any other advertisement, even Nicole in the old Clio ads.

The ad depicted a modern shopping precinct type square with a smiling, politically-correct, box-ticked demographic and boasted that they were all not blown to pieces because an upstanding citizen had reported someone studying the CCTV cameras a week before.

This horrified me and horrifies me still.

Days later I saw another advert showing a wheelie bin outside a suburban house which celebrated the nosey neighbours having reported suspicious canisters in their presumably foreign looking neighbours' bins thus averting an act of terrorism. Thank Allah!

The Anti-Terror hotline (0800 789 321) is there for all you good folks who see suspect behaviour (not to be confused with unfamiliar clothing and different social moeurs of course) and wish to do your civic duty and perhaps even save your town and maybe mankind.

I had to ring it of course. The reasoning behind it was purely as a concerned citizen finding out what the latest threat was.  I needed to know what the practical purpose was behind this ridiculous campaign.

After a few silly, childish calls (what can I say? it's in my nature) and threats of being arrested and a note-to-self to stop using my own mobile phone, I rang them on more than one occasion and spoke seriously to their very friendly staff. I reported something that I was suspicious of - following their advice to the letter - and was informed that I should ring the Police. I told them that I didn't want to get in trouble for wasting Police time and anyway they had said to ring the Anti-Terror hotline. I won't transcribe the conversation ad verbatim but it culminated with me asking what exactly the point of the hotline was if they cannot do anything when someone rings them.

I was hung up on.

Now we have exposed it as absolutely useless in any practical sense then we see it for what it is - pure scaremongering. Even if you were to argue that it is to assuage the fears of the less educated amongst us who harbour very real concerns about terrorism, surely the duty of these people would be to educate them about the reasons behind the anger and animosity and assure them that as long as they don't take part in activities that exacerbate matters then they are, by and large, safe.

So I went through a bit of a phase of ringing up drunkenly from East-end phone-boxes and posing questions that the poor, bewildered staff were ill-equipped to answer.

I feel no guilt, like I would if I prank-called the real emergency services, as I do not feel I am wasting anyone's useful time. My drunken justification had always been that if the reasonable, rational people of this country ridicule this preposterous illusion then it will go away and there will be more time and resources available to further our understanding of ourselves and each other and hopefully we can all move onto something better together. For legal reasons I had better 'express regret' for my 'thoughtless actions' just in case though.

I would encourage you all to ring the Anti-Terror hotline on 0800 789 321 and find out how they can help increase your safety. However, I will probably be sent to Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. But that is not the real reason I don't recommend calling them (on 0800 789 321). The real reason is because it will not make you any safer.

Will Conway

*That's the voice's name. Go-Ogle her too if you like
Tags for this post: antiterror, conway, will conway.

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