Missiles on the Blocks
This week we’ve heard that not only have the Olympics disrupted our transport system more than snow blizzards on top of autumn leaves, but that they also meant that our city is to be militarised, quite literally, out of the money this whole country, not just London, pays in tax. The Royal Navy have deployed their largest assault vessel, HMS Ocean, in Greenwich, Marines encircle our coast, in the city centre itself there will be 12,500 “Olympic Police, 13,500 armed services (2,000 of which fully armed), 5,000 specialist police, 1,000 in logistical support, not to mention the 7,500 private security forces roaming the street. A combined force of 23,700 security forces will restrict liberty for the “safety” of us all. Security on such a vast scale will be overseen by that beacon of democracy G4S, the private security company that has recently made inroads into schools, prisons and roads– big societing it up.
As if that wasn’t enough, Typhoon fighter jets and military helicopters will be in our skies, just to deter those terrorists that have no aerial power in their own countries, but of course have full capabilities to breach British aerospace. Add the cherry on top of the cake is of course the surface to air missiles that will be placed on top of residential blocks. While this may make that xenophobic, patriotic, Falkland war loving Brit feel safer at night, those with a little more sense and self-consciousness will move beyond inherited jingoism to feelings of caution, worry and dismay at the need to deploy such capacities for destruction to fight an enemy that at his worst operates using over the counter chemicals cooked in basements with crude equipment. The notion that such enemies can be fought with full military might is not only erroneous, as the Afghani resistance proves daily, it also evokes the great satire of Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stones scathing critique of over-militarised responses to terrorist threats.
The film starts with the destruction of Paris by American forces seeking to neutralise a jihadi with a suitcase. In response, missiles are fired and destruction is wrecked at comically disturbing levels. When I hear of the measures taken to keep London safe, all I can think of is that opening scene. Imagine a terrorist does make it through the net of GCHQ, Mi6, Mi5, Special Branch and the SO15’s intelligence. Does the aforementioned security infrastructure fortify London even slightly? I fail to see how. If I work on mainstream perceptions of this world, there’s some math that just doesn’t work.
Since 9/11, attacks upon Western power have come in numerous forms, but mainly suicide bombings. With the exception of car bombs, the only difference I can think of is the gunmen in Mumbai. Now, tell me how the jihadi at the gates can be taken out with a missile? I don’t think he can and I do not believe the measures of security that we will be subject to have been conceived with the quintessential “Islamist extremist” in mind. While some on the right will engage in fantasy and provide a long-list of conjecture over potential security threats that warrant such disturbing force, I think we must consider these measures as a message more than a response to need.
What we are witnessing is the normalisation of militarisation of our cities. We accept the surveillance infrastructure to keep us safe, we accept our actions being logged, so why not accept armaments on top of buildings? It’s not too far of a jump and has hardly been met with critical commentary. When such actions were taken in China, it was used as a stick to beat the central committee who were going mad with paranoia and continuing to “abuse human rights”. But instead of seeing this through the prism of state repression, we are made to feel that “our boys” provide us with comfort, their presence on our streets in the thousands embraced. And that’s the most troubling part – as we’ve seen countless times across this world, military deployments come quickly and are dismantled slowly. Imagine London is attacked – imagine the attackers breached security in a way that is sensationalised, imagine that the enemy at the gates was said to be upon us and knows more about the inner workings of our system than we thought. Imagine a world of suspicion. Imagine that as well as having your movements logged and your texts and emails read – you are also in the crosshairs of weaponry countless times a day. It is not the world we are living in, but it could be round the corner.
I do not believe this is the final stage in the building of the dystopia – it is merely a lunge towards it. The greatest threat London faces is embarrassment. With movement restricted around this city, an increased cost of living and a depletion of resources, the disenfranchised youth who were so combustible last summer will have powder kegs beneath them. The Olympics have long been a tool of dispossession and neo-liberalism and London’s 2012 is no exception. Public money has been pilfered into private hands and for generations the urban poor will be paying for their own displacement. Military deployments are about scaring the radical elements to make the elites feel safe. The Olympics is accelerating the processes by which London becomes a sanitised investors paradise, civil disruption would hurt the magnetising effect the Olympics would have on business with the Big Smoke. With the coalition’s austerity measures failing, they are reliant upon a lucrative Olympics to pull in the private businesses that their economic plan hinges upon. With recession being the consequence of their foray so far, there is very little room for complacency. London 2012 must generate money.
So, like the abusive father inviting friends over for dinner, certain punitive measures are put in place to ensure that once guests are in the house, everyone will act civilised – or will have hell to pay. That’s the message I take from the militarisation of my city – and like the petulant kid grown use to abuse from power – my response is this: go fuck yourselves.