The recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Cambills and Turku in Finland provide a constant reminder of how vulnerable we all are to becoming victims of terrorism. Driving van or cars into people or stabbing them at random on busy city streets is the ‘softest’ of all ‘soft targets.”
Although all attacks perpetrated by groups carrying out terrorist attacks have always had the potential to kill or massacre civilians, our age is now characterised by groups like ISIS who deliberately target and aim for mass civilian murders.
And, in truth, there is very little, the authorities or ourselves can do to stop these attacks, except by good intelligence. We live in an open society and if we were to try to minimise the possibilities of a terrorist attack in our towns and cities, our way of life which we are so accustomed to in terms of travel, leisure and activities would become so restricted and subject to such stringent regulation that our lives would become unrecognizable and make a mockery of the term ‘open society’. And if that were to happen, then the terrorists would have won.
So, it is vital that we put terrorism in perspective. The most horrific terrorist attack thus far was, of course, 9/11 when over 3,000 people perished. Since then there have been a series of further mass attacks such as those in Madrid, London, Paris and most recently in Barcelona. These attacks claimed many lives, but far less than 9/11. And while the car/van and stabbing attacks have been horrific and catastrophic for those affected, the numbers of affected, mercifully, have been relatively small.
Now every terrorist attack, every loss of life, is dreadful. And while a terrorist acquisition of a ‘dirty bomb’ or some other weapon of mass attack would be devastating and cause carnage on an unprecedented scale, thus far (touch wood) this hasn’t happened. And that has largely been due to good, preventative intelligence work.
So, it is important to put terrorism in perspective. During the same week that the Barcelona, Cambrils and Turku attacks took place, nearly a thousand-people died in mudslides and floods in Sierra Leone, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. These were reported on in the British media, but got nowhere near the same level of coverage as the terrorist attacks with much less loss of life.
On an average week, far more people in Britain will die because of car accidents, illness, disease and homicide than the total number killed by terrorist activity in all of Europe so far this year. Yet, except in the immediate aftermath of a murder or tragic accident, we don’t dwell on these events with anywhere the same level of attention as we do with terrorist attacks. And that is because, rightly, we know that in a modern society like ours, the chances of being a victim of any one of these is rare.
The same with terrorism. The chances of any one of us being caught up in a terrorist attack is slim. So, while we must be on our guard against terrorism and condemn the perpetrators of terrorist acts in the strongest terms, from whatever hue and ideology they profess to come from, we can’t let the threat of them envelope us in paranoia and fear.
And up against the big beasts of climate change, world poverty, and the threat of war, terrorism is small beer. Most of us take a wary but cautious approach to those big issues without succumbing to hysteria. Why don’t we do the same with terrorism?
The best answer to terrorism was to be seen in the crowds of people walking up and down the Las Ramblas in Barcelona a day after the attack. That was the finest message to give to the fanatics and ideologues: Two fingers up to you and you won’t change our way of life.