The common denominator amongst all terrorists, regardless of their ideology, is that they want people to be afraid of them. However, no one can make you afraid without your permission. Worry is a totally wasted emotion – simply anxiety about something that might happen in the future. It should be replaced with positive action in the present.
How history defines the events of 15 March 2019 and beyond must be determined by the people. It isn’t in the Kiwi character to be cowered by anything or anyone. We have a proud history of stubbornness and individuality. It is up to us to ensure that the collective memory of this event is in keeping with how we see ourselves and wish to live our lives.
T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) understood this and wrote about redefining victory during the Arab Revolt in the latter half of World War I. He knew that his Arab force was ultimately no match for the forces of the Ottoman Empire. So he set out to change the meaning of events rather than the events themselves. Rather than claim that he could defeat the Turks, he emphasised the message that the Turks couldn’t protect their own outposts and towns from his hit and run tactics. Public confidence in the Ottomans fell.
He called this semantic warfare diathetics, a phrase borrowed from the Greek philosopher Xenophon. It’s a battle for the stories people will tell and for the public consciousness that emerges out of those stories. A struggle for meaning.
When terrorists strike, their first aim is to provoke a massive over-reaction. The larger goal is to reorient the behaviour of the enemy. To alter the mindset to a state of despair and counterproductive reaction. 9/11 is a classic modern example when President Bush declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This need by politicians and officials to be seen to be in control is a tool flourished by the attacker. In the American example, even the soundbite was flawed. War is a violent, geopolitical undertaking. Terrorism is a tactic. It’s as ridiculous a concept as declaring a ‘War on Ambushing.’ Nearly two decades, trillions of dollars and most importantly thousands of lives later what has been achieved? A less stable Middle East and Afghanistan and a fractured and polarised American society.
Surely that’s not what we want for New Zealand? It’s of concern that we are seeing the signs of the over-reaction and what it evokes in overwise law-abiding citizens. When I hear sensible, mature duck shooters calling BS on the intent to make their sporting weapons illegal and their intent not to comply, I know the government has got the weapons law changes wrong.
When I hear of ANZAC Day commemorations and student graduation marches being cancelled on advice of Police, I see a society’s confidence being undermined. If the message being put about is that staying indoors equals safety unless an armed Police Officer is nearby, then we have already lost the diathetical struggle. Curiously, this makes us more of a target for another attack, not less, as other would-be terrorists of any persuasion become emboldened.
When I measure the semantics of what is currently taking place, I apply a summary of the 9 principles of modern policing commonly attributed to Sr Robert Peel:
- Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public to be able to secure and maintain their respect and confidence
- Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that reflects that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which every citizen has in the interests of community welfare.
- Police should concentrate on enforcing the law and never appear to usurp the powers of the Courts.
I’ll leave readers to make their own assessment based on these principles.
Under the tongue-in-cheek title ‘War on Semantics’, what messages should we be putting out there? How do we want historians to record the national reaction to a single terrorist act? Here are some suggestions:
- We will not cower in the face of violence but neither will we surrender hard-won civil liberties on the off-chance that it prevents another attack.
- We will meet any threat standing and face-to-face, not hiding in fear at home.
- We will remain vigilant and take personal responsibility for our own day-to-day safety.
- We will vote for a government who guarantees these freedoms and choices and remove any government that doesn’t.
I’m writing this on Easter Sunday – a day of resurrection for some and too much chocolate for others. I hope we can all rise together for the cause of New Zealand and the freedom that is a quintessential part of the Kiwi way of life.
I don’t believe any curtailing of ANZAC Day commemorations is founded. It merely builds fear when public unity is called for. For this reason, Heather Roy and I launched a petition recently (which has about 1800 signatures to date): Resist ANZAC Day Restrictions. Attend and March. You can also find more information on the Facebook page.
Blatant Advertising Bit: Have you read my short story trilogy “A Poke in the Fifth Eye”? It’s available in Kindle format for only 99c. A ripping good yarn about dirty bomb drone swarms in Wellington New Zealand, a couple of destroyed spy bases, an air force base on fire and only a hastily assembled bunch of Kiwi reservists standing between the terrorists and their ultimate goal.