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Public Vigilance and Those Worrying Mixed Signals
Last uploaded : Tuesday 21st Jan 2003 at 13:50
Contributed by : The Editor



What exactly do they mean by ?public vigilance??

The other night an elderly friend and I were heading for our local Indian curry restaurant in a sleepy suburb of London. As we approached the restaurant we noticed a clapped-out old truck parked on the corner opposite my own street. The truck, painted a peculiar shade of orange and covered in graffiti, had no windows at the rear and sported the faded words ?Cookie Coach? painted on the front. Otherwise it was unmarked.

I have lived on that street for twenty-five years and know every vehicle and its local owner, commercial and otherwise. My friend, who can remember the days of the IRA, said we should ring the police, who had just discovered deadly ricin in a flat in nearby Wood Green.

I rang Scotland Yard. To my astonishment an aggressive voice began shouting at me before I could finish my first sentence.

?Excuse me, madam, but just what would make you telephone us as you?ve seen a vehicle sat out in the street??

I was nonplussed. Taking a deep breath -- and restraining myself from correcting her grammar --I explained that I had heard that the Bali bombers had used clapped-out old vans and that this was a classic case of an ?unfamiliar, unmarked vehicle? parked in a local street.

She then began to berate me for, in so many words, wasting police time (a criminal offence - in other words, I could end up in jail for alerting the police to a suspicious vehicle whilst London, and most particularly the Jewish community, is on Red Alert.)

I started again. In measured words I suggested that a group of terrorists ?

?Terorists? Terrorists?? she screamed. ?You think, madam, just because some van is stopped on your road that it belongs to terrorists??

At this point I was ready to ring off but I pressed on. I told her that my friend and I would not have stopped and taken the trouble to phone had we not thought it suspicious.

She ?harrumphed? and took down my details. That was the last I heard. Then yesterday I checked my messages on my mobile ?phone. There was one from some days ago from a police investigator asking me to phone him urgently. I rang back, and was told that the owner of the van had been tracked down and that they were not under suspicion. The officer who spoke to me said my vigilance, however, was appreciated and that the police welcome any call in the present climate. I told him how cross I had been. He told me the address details she had taken down about me and -- natch -- they were incorrect.

But that is not the end of the story. In light of the events of the past twenty-four hours in Britain in which the Finsbury Park Mosque has been raided by 150 officers of the law, I am reminded of the events of 1998, which I have related in these columns some while ago. In 1998 I was producing a documentary, ?Congregation,? about the religious life of the square mile around Lord?s Cricket Ground.

We filmed with great happiness at the local churches and synagogue but when it came time to film at the local mosque it took nine months for anyone to have the courtesy to answer our calls or letters. Finally when we were allowed to film my cameraman, a Libyan, warned me that I would be ?killed? if I came to the mosque on a Friday. He explained that ?the crazies come out in force? on Friday prayer day and that they would know I am ?from the Jewish?. He said that an international incident would result as I would surely be stabbed to death. This at a posh, ornate London mosque! This during a peaceful time in the Middle East !

Having spent time in Israel I know what ?vigilance? connotes and I know how much brutal, homicidal hatred there is for Jews and Americans amongst many groups. Just last week AN Wilson suggested in his poisonous column in ?The (London ) Evening Standard? that the West should be going after Israel and Sharon, not Saddam and Iraq.

The majority of Brits I speak to still believe, with a venomous passion that belies their usually restrained demeanour, that Israel is a far worse blight on the world than Islamic terrorists in London or Iraq.

One issue on which that the past two years of Intifadah , 9/11 and America-bashing have enlightened this former Left-winger is the awareness that Americans and Jews inspire hatred like nothing I have seen in my lifetime. The generosity and industriousness of both peoples is second to none. Yet we seem to engender a frightening malice that reminds me at times of the Fascism of the 1930s. I suspect that part of the unmitigated hostility I heard from the Scotland Yard telephonist may have stemmed from her perception of my American accent.

Well, as I now say to the hostile folk who jump at the chance to express to me their deep and abiding hatred of Yanks and Yids, (we of both ilk are now ?the inventors of modern terrorism,? by the way) there will come a time when we will shut our borders, and when they are crying for help from our brilliant scientists and military and academics, they may find they have to fend for themselves.

That may not be a lot of fun.


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