Flexibility, but zero tolerance

All’s well that ends well, but it was not purely by chance that Wednesday’s bus hijacking came to a happy end. In stark contrast to the amateurism shown in the first such incident five years ago, this time the police displayed high-level professionalism. In practice, little can be done to prevent such incidents. A bus hijacking can happen anywhere. The dilemma in these cases is always painful: On the one hand, innocent lives are at risk and public safety is a primary consideration. On the other hand, should the state yield to blackmail, it will only incubate future criminals. Without doubt, before launching an operation, the police must have exhausted all possibilities of freeing the hostages. They must also buy time so as to wear out the hostage-takers – psychologically as well as physically – and minimize risk. But these are the tactics on the ground. The main principle – that the state must never give in to blackmail – is one that needs to be adhered to at all costs. Being flexible is one thing; backing down is another. This is a crucial difference. Moreover, it is related to the transformation of such incidents into television spectacle. Had the media not been kept far from the site, the outcome would most likely have been different. The role of the special negotiators would have been undone. Notably, the latest bus hijacking once against showed the tendency of some hostages to identify themselves with the hostage-takers, prompting one of the victims to act more as a hijacker rather than as a captive. A similar situation in the 1999 bus hijack resulted in the killing of one of the hostages. Another hostage treated the gunman as a victim not as a victimizer. Unfortunately, some journalists seem to applaud such behavior. In fact, the more a hostage manages to remain unnoticed, the more chances he or she has of surviving.