September 01, 2005
Allah's Red Herring

Oh yeah, I posted a couple of entries about the terrorist scare last week in Hamburg, after somebody heard some guys with a backpack talking in Arabic about being "heroes before Allah". So I might as well follow up to add that, as I hoped and suspected, the whole thing was a false alarm. The police found and questioned the three Chechnyan guys who were overheard at the bus stop and concluded that, whatever they might have been talking about, they weren't planning to blow stuff up. So now the whole thing has blown over, almost entirely out of Hamburg's consciousness just a week later. The police and media seem to have overreacted completely, and maybe I did too, to be honest.

If you think about it, it seems pretty obvious that Al Qaeda, at least, is not interested in blowing stuff up in Hamburg. If they were, then Mohammed Atta and co. wouldn't have gone to all that trouble a few years ago to get into the US and hijack planes; they could have just hopped onto a couple of buses with some backpacks right here in town.

Nevertheless, I think that this episode was a peculiar sign of the peculiar times we live in. As the police have admitted, they wouldn't have set off a large-scale dragnet like this a few years ago based on such a vague tip, but after September 11th and the Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, and so soon after the bombings in London, they're not taking any chances. An interesting detail in the Reuters story was that the police have about 200 suspected Islamist radicals under surveillance in Hamburg, including a core of about 20 who are considered dangerous. So one could argue that it made sense for them to do something.

But how often is this kinda thing gonna happen? Is Talking About Allah in Arabic While Looking Foreign and Carrying a Backpack, or TAAWLFACAB, now an offense worthy of police intervention in Hamburg, like DWB in the US? The Spiegel has quoted a "Middle East expert" -- he's a favored talking head in TV news shows about the Middle East -- as saying that the police action was "grotesque" and "hysterical". I would guess that most people here are more or less satisfied if the police err on the side of excessive caution, but then how many of these red herrings will the public tolerate? According to the news reports, 1,000 police were at it in Hamburg for 18 hours last Thursday and Friday, and they searched 255 people; all because of somebody's idle chatter about Allah, as it turns out. If the cops cry wolf like this a few more times, they'll start to look ridiculous, and the population will lose all of its patience. But then again, what if they decide to ignore a tip as being too vague next time, when in fact the evil shit really is getting ready to happen?

I'm afraid I have only questions and no answers. I don't want anyone to get blown up, but I don't feel like living in a city where the cops are searching everyone all the time either. It seems that most of us are just hoping that it all goes away, this whole era of history with the scare of September 11th and all of the racial and religious conflicts igniting around the world. But if it doesn't, what are we supposed to do?

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