The world is what it is

The British defence ministry’s dilemma over Olympics security is genuine. In the present times, there can be no Games without high velocity missiles.

columns Updated: Jul 22, 2012 23:15 IST
Farrukh Dhondy
Farrukh Dhondy
Hindustan Times

An Englishman’s home is his castle. Or was! A recent judgement in a British court has turned the Englishman’s castle, with its presumption of protective walls, into a military base, not for the Englishman himself but for the protection from terror of the great 2012 Olympics.

Allow me to explain. All is ready, or nearly ready for the events to take place starting this week and going through August. Athletes will arrive in their thousands and spectators in their millions. The airports will strain to put the queues through security and immigration. The roads will groan with traffic.

Recently, driving through East London, a good 15 miles from the Olympic stadium and village itself, I found myself passing over paintings of looped white rings on the lanes of the roads. These are marked ‘Olympic Lane’ and, though they are not yet in use, will soon be prohibited to all but designated traffic with passes to convey VIPs from one part of London to the other.

I get the feeling that this little scheme transgresses my human rights in so far as my ability to freely move about the capital have been severely curtailed, but I am equally sure that the shutting down of these roadways to the general public in favour of those deemed important or privileged enough to traverse them is perfectly legal. Come back Magna Carta, all is forgiven!

Why am I so certain that any challenge to this shutting down of roadways will meet with a blown raspberry from the high chairs of a court? Because the 117 resident householders of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone, a little distance from the Olympic stadiums in the East End of London, have been told by a judge that the ministry of defence is perfectly within its rights to deploy a battery of high velocity missiles (HVMs) on the terrace of their house.

The missiles are being deployed to deter or to combat any terrorist attack by light aircraft or helicopter on the Olympic stadium or its environments. There are now 11 such designated sites from which missiles will be ready to launch.

Further afield, in several concentric protective rings, military aircraft, helicopters and artillery have been placed to enforce a no-fly zone over central and east London.

The navy’s helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, will be moored in the River Thames, RAF Typhoon fighter bombers have been deployed to RAF Northolt in west London, and Puma helicopters will be based at a Territorial Army centre in Ilford.

Some may feel these are sensible precautions given that there exists a network of declared terrorists dedicated to symbolic rather than strategic acts of terror. These few deluded believe against all common sense that demolishing buildings in New York or killing people on trains in London furthers some obscure religious cause. I can’t see that any of these random acts of murder brings the Universal Caliphate a fraction of a second closer to being realised or indeed clarifies to anyone the ideological underpinnings of mass murder. They are the symbolic acts of The Deluded and what better symbolic universal target than the Olympic event to be held in the heart of the great ex-coloniser and latter-day Lesser Satan: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Nevertheless, even acknowledging that the deployment of helicopter gunships and HVMs is a necessary precaution, the residents of Fred Wigg Tower don’t want the HVMs (or for that matter the ship carrying helicopters) on their terrace as these, they contend, will themselves attract terrorist attacks.

One can see their point. If a terrorist wanted to launch or hijack a small aircraft and direct a kamikaze attack on the 400 metre relay, he might send a team out first to blow up the missiles on Fred Wigg Tower block. Not being able to get to the terrace of the tower block without risking being shot down by the aforesaid missiles, he might deploy a truck filled with explosives and a suicidal driver to crash into the building on the ground. The possibilities, though not endless, are imaginable. The judge in the case which some of the residents brought against the ministry of defence, didn’t think so. He threw the case out.

One factor in the strategy of the ministry is indeed puzzling. What happens if one of The Deluded flies an aircraft, which he or she has managed to launch or to hijack, towards the Olympiad and is shot down by one of the Fred Wigg Tower missiles? The wreck of the plane, its fuel and the body of the attacking missile will have to land in flames and explosions somewhere in east London. It is possible that this will not be in the Thames, out at sea or in some quiet unpopulated park or meadow. It’s quite likely to fall in a crowded housing district or street of London, claiming the lives not of the javelin throwers in the stadium or the VIPs riding in their exclusive lanes but innocents who want nothing to do with the Olympics or couldn’t afford the tickets.

The dilemma is nothing if not genuine. In our world as it is, the ministry of defence is bound to take the threat seriously. It would be a gross exaggeration to say, as some commentators are beginning to, that London is going to be turned into an armed camp in order to celebrate what is the largest, non-aggressive, friendly test of rivalry and competition between the nations of the world.

“The world,” as VS Naipaul says in the first sentence of A Bend in the River, “is what it is”. No Olympics in it without HVMs. And no Olympics, it would seem, without the sponsorship amounting to billions of dollars of firms such as McDonalds and Coca Cola whose products are not the best examples of sustenance for the mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body) that physical contests such as the Olympics traditionally celebrate.

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writerand columnist based in LondonThe views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Jul 22, 2012 23:11 IST