Beneath the surface

Good journalism enables one to see beneath the surface of events. Two pieces did that for me this weekend. The first was Andrew Rawnsley’s column, which illuminated something that has puzzled me a lot, namely why UK government ministers are so obsessed by the terrorist ‘threat’. I mean to say, this is a political establishment that coped successfully for thirty years with IRA terrorism, and never really lost its cool. But now ministerial utterances are full of unstated dread. They speak as people who are privy to some terrible secret — so terrible that the rest of us mere mortals are not allowed to know it. After a time, we become sceptical, and conclude that they have just been browbeaten by spooks. Rawnsley sees it slightly differently — it’s about covering their asses. “Ministers speak frankly”, he writes,

” — well, at least in private they speak frankly — of their nightmares about a Madrid-style horror, and possibly something 10 times as cataclysmic, happening in Britain. It is the big and terrifying unpredictable about the time between now and election day. Public opinion might rally to the government. Or it might swing angrily against Ministers. No one knows. Not knowing petrifies them. This is driving a panic not to give anyone any reason to be able to point a finger of blame that the government didn’t prevent an avoidable atrocity.”

The second piece illuminated another puzzle, namely the strange behaviour of the US troops who shot the rescued Italian journalist-hostage and killed the Italian Intelligence officer who had negotiated her release. “What Iraq Checkpoints are like”, Annia Ciezadlo’s fine article in the Christian Science Monitor explained what it’s like on the ground in Iraq, and why road checkpoints are so ambiguous — and in the process explained how easy it is for either side to make mistakes.

As a result of reading these pieces, I feel that my ignorance has been reduced and my understanding increased. Wish more journalism had the same effect.