Saturday, 25 August 2007

Constant State of Suspicious Alertness

It's tough for the Singaporean Government to get the populace excited about terrorism. Basically, there isn't any. It's true that their political alliances with mainstream Western states might make them a soft target for Indonesian Muslim extremists - it just doesn't feel likely. Even the story of the local lawyer trying to go to a training camp in Pakistan was shocking as much for its strangeness than the threat.

So the problem facing the Government is how to create a constant state of suspicious alertness without actually alarming anyone. Their approach is one of straight shock-value.

For example, the extremely graphic videos shown on MRT platforms complete with a dodgy character leaving a bag on the train, getting off and then punching numbers into a mobile phone followed by an explosion superimposed over a train going into a tunnel. Then montages of the Madrid and London attacks. Really, it's X-rated stuff.

Signs around the MRT stations proudly proclaim the number of CCTV cameras in operation. Many stations have TVs at the turnstiles showing the CCTV feed (good for spotting receding hairlines). They've deployed retired Indian guys with clipboards at the turnstiles to question anyone coming though with bulky luggage. My security check proceeding like this when he approached mumbling something and gesturing at my pull-along suitcase:

Me: Sorry?
Man: Luggage?
Me: Yes, luggage
Man: Okay

I believe that's called passenger profiling. I suspect this form of awareness campaign has the unintended consequence of making Singaporeans more fearful of traveling (and working!) abroad. And that hurts the national business plan.