Who’s Afraid of the Internet?

Well, the big, bad Internet has come in for more stick this week, following the revelation that admitted nail bomber David Copeland (who came closer to blowing me up than I care to contemplate) used to find instructions on how to make his devices. Indeed, in an article whose irony was only invisible to the editor, the Daily Mirror published a step-by-step guide as to how you too could find out the same information. [1. Go to any half-decent search engine. 2. Type in “The Terrorist’s Handbook. 3. Filter out the inevitable porn sites which clutter up most searches these days.]

I rarely find myself in sympathy with Charlton Heston and the rest of the NRA, but at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious: the Internet doesn’t kill people, people do. I will happily admit to being someone whose bookshelves contain titles such as Improvised Explosives as well as the infamous Anarchist Cookbook – the latter, I should point out, was actually bought from that famed den of terrorism known as Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus. I have my doubts about that one, it has to be said, since rumour suggests there are enough errors (whether mere ignorance, or FBI-introduced) in it to make attempts at better living through its chemistry, rather short-lived. But it seems that words on a printed page are somehow less dangerous than precisely the same words on a computer screen. Had he bought his source material mail-order from the States, would there be calls to regulate the evils of the printing press?

If I may digress for a moment: actually, were it the Middle Ages, this probably would be the case, since this is largely just Ludditism at work: the fear of those in power that new technology will cause a loss of that power. This is especially true with regard to the Internet which presents perhaps the biggest threat to the established media corporations since the days of Gutenberg. It costs millions to set up a newspaper, tens of millions to start a TV station (and that’s once you’ve got a frequency), but anyone with a PC can create a web site for a few pounds, every bit as accessible to anyone in the world as a megacorp site. No wonder they’re squealing.

Anyway… Of course, you can make the case that no-one needs to know how to make pipe-bombs, and that’s true. But few people need to know how to solve quadratic equations, and that’s part of the national curriculum [Those who might counter that quadratic equations don’t kill people clearly didn’t have the same maths teachers I did] This guy was obviously a powder-keg waiting for a spark, and if it hadn’t been the Internet, it’d have been something else. He’s a loony, and you can’t legislate for them. I make absolutely no attempt to justify or condone his actions. But you can take the easy approach and blame the bogey-man of the Internet, or you can try to discover what made him such a sick, twisted individual, and work to prevent that instead. I know which approach is harder, but in the long run, it’s also infinitely superior.

Though I confess to some fellow-feeling: when I first moved down South, I lived and worked in Farnborough (indeed, my final home before coming into London was in Cove, the very same suburb where Copeland lived), and after a few months there, you aren’t left with a great deal of fellow-feeling for the rest of humanity. Even passing it on the train, as I did a couple of weeks back, you can sense its black soullessness sucking at you malevolently. It is indeed the sort of place where buying Ł1400 worth of fireworks in Spring would not raise any suspicions. And part of his rationale for bombing the Admiral Duncan pub was to piss off Tony Blair: justifiable homicide if ever I heard it. Indeed, this puts him more or less alongside the members of the Women’s Institute who jeered Blair earlier in the week. Truly does a dislike of Tone, strange bedfellows make…