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Reasons not to be fearful

To impose some perspective: it would take 58 terrorist attacks with the mortality rate of the 7/7 attacks for the toll to reach 3221, which is the number of Britons killed on the roads in 2004. It would take many more terrorist attacks to approach the number killed in the Blitz.

Our jitters about boarding underground trains may obscure, but they do not remove, the fact that the ‘war on terrorism’ is for us a very low casualty operation when compared to, say, the great wars of the twentieth century. If 7/7 evoked the Blitz spirit, it did so with an ounce of the Blitz threat. Our leaders and parts of the media, then, proffer a fear of death that is far removed from the chances of us dying. If we understand that the enjoyment of life in a democratic society comes from our liberties, we should see any reduction in our rights not as a sacrifice to security but as a give-away to those obsessed with death.

— Ben Walford on Spiked.

How many 7/7s make a Blitz? Roughly 775.

Totting up the figures given by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, gives us the total murders achieved by the most sustained bombing campaign directed against any liberal state. Deaths since September 1993 (not counting the bombers): 855. Real wars kill more in a single air-raid. Israel has over 500 deaths in road accidents every year. Even there, you are in more danger from your car than a suicide bomber.

Me, I am taking the tube.

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28 comments to Reasons not to be fearful

  • Andy

    It’s quite obvious you’re not aware of the dangers posed by terrorism to our children. If we don’t check your bags as you get onto the subway (tube), read your emails, strip search you at the airport and tap your phone conversations, then we’ll never be safe! Won’t someone think of the children?

    (oh, and it’d take roughly 11-12 9/11’s to equal 1 year of traffic deaths in the US).

  • Jacob

    So terrorism is as inevitable as car accidents ?
    So terrorism offers some great benefits, like car travel, which make the risk worthwile ?

    I dont understand the urge of some people to trivialize an evil menace.

  • Kimmitt

    And did you know that you’re more likely to die in a car crash than be eaten by a fox? Puts things into perspective, don’t you think ?

  • MarkE

    Jacob

    This shouldn’t need spelling out, but as it does: the benefits of freedom make the very low risk from terrorism worth while. If we give up basic fredoms there is no point fighting terrorists.

    A society that surrenders its freedom to gain security deserves neither freedom nor security (quoted from memory, so apologies if not perfect)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am with Jacob on this one. While the statistical probability of dying in a terror attack may be comparable to dying or getting injured on the road, there is something wrong about comparing a massive, deliberate act of slaughter with the random tragedies on the highway. And I say that as one who is alive to the dangers of the State acquiring draconian powers to supposedly protect us from terror.

    Terror and road accidents are two very different things, and let’s not try to be faux-sophisticates about this.

  • pommygranate

    Alternatively wait until two hours before the EuroLotto draw tonight (top prize £125mm) so your odds of winning just nudge ahead of your odds of being killed by a falling coconut.

  • gravid

    Nice pommygranate.

    Northern Ireland anyone?
    Living under terrorism for decades and life as”normal”.

  • Effra

    Very sensible post. The fear of crime in general is wildly out of kilter with its incidence. But why? Why, for example, is so much of British people’s favourite TV drama the elaborate depiction of rare, extreme forms of criminality (e.g. serial killing) followed by a neat detection and retribution process?

    I suggest that it is a form of escapism, a purgative ritual. Biologically we are programmed for survival in a harsh, unpredictable environment: tuned up to sensing and averting threats, conditioned to expecting that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will regularly trample us. But we actually lead lives of unprecedented health, safety, comfort and dullness, cushioned by welfare and affluence. By even our near ancestors’s standards we do not live in ‘interesting times’, most of the time. So we gratify our instinct for danger and hardship by the surrogates of wilful risk-taking– addiction, dangerous sports, running up debts– or, less harnfully, by the ritual exorcism of largely imaginary threats in TV cop shows.

    Of course ‘terror’ is also a construct of leaders who wish to scare us into submission to their dictatorial tendencies, themselves the product of the biological urge– thankfully found only in a few– to smother their own emotional inadequacies by tyrannising others. ‘Terror’ as an abstract enemy does not keep many of us awake at night, however. So our chains have to be continually jerked by stunts, scares and pseudo-events into believing that a tiny handful of religious fanatics represents the same justification for buggering us about in our daily lives as Hitler or Stalin did.

    Some Samizdata folk, for all their professed libertarianism, have joined in this eldritch chorus of alarmists– unable or unwilling to see how much more is lost than gained.

    AMDG

  • guy herbert

    Jonathan,

    Terror and road accidents are two very different things…

    Indeed they are. But you will notice that I refer to murders, not ‘terror’. Terror is the result, not the act. It is terror which is the big danger here, offering politicians the occasion to remove our liberties in the name of safety.

    Deaths from road accidents are much the same thing as deaths from random murders from the point of view of the people who die (especially pedestrians). Leaving aside terror, the cost in freedom that we are prepared to accept to reduce such deaths (assuming the trade-off is real) ought to be comparable. And the Israeli example is after considerable cost in freedom to both Israelis and Palestinians. I offer it as a stabilised extreme example of a ‘western’ society genuinely under seige from the weak enemy that is the suicide-bomber.

    Walford’s point is about the relative risk-aversion of the political world in modern times compared with the past. My extension is an attempt to point out that we should not be mislead by emotional reaction to the intent (or perceived intent) behind a problem when evaluating it. Whether any particular loss of freedom can be justified ought to be measured by the degree of threat mitigated, not our horror of the cause.

  • GCooper

    Jacob writes:

    “I dont understand the urge of some people to trivialize an evil menace. ”

    The only explanation is that it shields an agenda. Usually some sort of purblind faith in the unalloyed delights of multi-culturalism though, no doubt, there are others.

    On the whole, I think Johnathan Pearce’s use of “faux-sophisticates” is quite apposite. It does seem a popular point of view among BBC-types.

  • GCooper

    guy herbert writes:

    “Whether any particular loss of freedom can be justified ought to be measured by the degree of threat mitigated, not our horror of the cause.”

    While I am wholly sympathetic to your campaign against the monstrous ID card and similar proposals, your mention of road traffic deaths raises a question. Are you as vociferous and active against unwarranted and draconian laws aimed at motorists? These, too, seem to limit freedom, yet are often nodded through as an inevitable component of ‘a civilised society’.

  • James

    Humans are prone to being scared by short, sharp events more than long, diffuse events. Hence we are scared of spiders, not cholesterol. Drawing pins, not RSI. Terrorists, not dual carriageways.

    Of course we should still try to stop terrorist attacks, car crashes and heart disease, but I am ashamed at the cowardice of my fellow Brits who run crying to Daddy whenever something bad happens, declare Something Must Be Done, and cash in our hard earned freedoms for some fleeting peace of mind.

    Terrorists demand that you be terrified. Shame on you for caving into their demands.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Effra does of course make a decent point that we live, at least in the West, in times of unprecedented prosperity and comfort, and no doubt the entertainment/media types like to get attention by making our flesh creep. All very true. But I don’t feel comfortable with treating terror purely as something invented by Bush or Blair. That is the sort of bs one expects from Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky.

  • pommygranate

    Guy

    I don’t know where you are coming from on this post. You can’t equate deaths from road accidents with terrorist killings. The former are an unfortunate consequence of a must-have technology. The latter are preventable.

    The second point to make is that it is just possible that the reason terror attacks are so low is precisely because of the daily infringements on our liberty.

  • GCooper

    pommygranate writes:

    “The former are an unfortunate consequence of a must-have technology. The latter are preventable.”

    Moreover, one set of victims dies by accident, the other, by a deliberate act of murder.

  • As to military deaths in the war on terror, the 1753 US combat deaths in Iraq in three years (the 2245 figure is overall deaths, including car accidents and suicides) should be compared to the over-2000 combat deaths in a single month in Vietnam. And that figure was exceeded in two particular months during the Vietnam War. So the War on Terror isn’t causing historically significant casualties even in Iraq.
    Asymmetrical warfare is an information problem. I think of Three Mile Island, the incident from which no one even took sick, much less died, but which destroyed the future of a clean, efficient technology we could really use about now.

  • Jacob

    And the Israeli example is after considerable cost in freedom to both Israelis and Palestinians. I offer it as a stabilised extreme example of a ‘western’ society genuinely under seige from the weak enemy that is the suicide-bomber.

    Israel manages to live a quasi normal life despite the concentrated Arab terrorism threat precisely because it does what needs to be done to protect itself. It does some of the very things you deplore as harming to liberty. The loss to liberty isn’t big, it’s perfectly tolerable, while the gain – leading a normal life – is huge.

    A society that surrenders its freedom to gain security deserves neither freedom nor security

    This is a nice and empty slogan. Applies in kukoo land. Here on earth you get trade-offs.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “Here on earth you get tradeoffs”

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. Of course there are trade offs. I have to buy locks on my door against burglars, which is a cost I’d rather not have. But much of the security measures the State insists upon have not made us one whit safer.

    It is actually worth taking a more positive line: that greater liberty can sometimes make us safer, by encouraging vigilance, and so forth. A self-reliant populace can be less vulnerable than one totally reliant on the State. It is an argument that libertarians ought to make more because we sometimes sound rather negative about all this sort of stuff. Thoughts?

  • It seeme reasonable to scale the terrorism murder numbers against other phases of reality.

    I am reminded of Prime Ministe Churchill’s comment during the blitz, to the effect “At the current rate, Herr Hitler will destroy half the buildings of London by the year 1990. After that, progress will of course be much slower.”

    (Going from memory, exact quote may differ.)

  • Great post. Yes, it’s easy to trivialise it but it does rather put into perspective the whole hysteria. In particular, in response to the commenter who said words to the effect of “so terrorism delivers the same benefits as cars does it?”, the simple answer is that enjoying the freedoms we used to at the same time as a very slight risk of attack does deliver similar benefits to me. Especially when all these “anti-terror” plans don’t even eliminate the risk of attack.

  • I am inclined to agree with Guy. I do not think he is trivialising the risk of terrorism, just giving some perspective that is sorely needed when our political masters tell us why we must live in a panoptic state.

  • One problem with comparing motor vehicle deaths with terror is that you can take reasonable precautions against dying on the road. Driving responsibly, wearing seatbelts, not driving drunk, etc. What precautions can the victims of terror take? Staying home? Statistics are meaningless when it happens to you or a loved one. As cold as statistics are, it seems equally cold to consider them only.

    I agree we should not live in fear. But we should take reasonable precautions also. It seems the disagreement is what constitutes reasonable.

  • guy herbert

    GCooper,

    Are you as vociferous and active against unwarranted and draconian laws aimed at motorists?

    No. I have only so much time and money. There are more numerous unwarranted and draconian laws than man can read, let alone campaign against. The ID control legislation is a line I cannot let the state cross because it would deliver a whole new order of power to the would-be regulators of our lives.

    pommygranate,

    You can’t equate deaths from road accidents with terrorist killings.

    I can and I do.

    Jacob,

    Israel manages to live a quasi normal life despite the concentrated Arab terrorism threat precisely because it does what needs to be done to protect itself. It does some of the very things you deplore as harming to liberty.

    I agree. Israel’s achievement in maintaining the rule of law at least within its own territories is admirable. (Though I do not find all of its policies so.) That Israel does such things in its unique situation, however, does not imply that Britain should do the same under a relatively trivial threat. The fortress-like security still does not eliminate bombings, but the road-death measure shows that it actually comes quite close, whih is why ordinary civilised life can continue.

    Jonathan,

    It is actually worth taking a more positive line: that greater liberty can sometimes make us safer, by encouraging vigilance, and so forth. A self-reliant populace can be less vulnerable than one totally reliant on the State.

    An excellent point. Much fear of crime and fear of criminals is actually part of a conditioned dependency of the population on officials to protect them and tell them what to do. Even as recently as the middle of the last century it was normal for western people to help each other out in the face of misbehaviour, rather than waiting insecure under the watching eyes for ‘them’ to do something.

    The reason the lone highwayman is an heroic figure of legend is he could not exist. A coachload of real C.18th people would overpower, and probably kill, one man armed with pistols in a moment. Dick Turpin’s gang was frequently 100 strong. People today do not lack the right to defend themselves, but they do lack the permission.

  • GCooper

    guy herbert writes:

    “pommygranate,

    You can’t equate deaths from road accidents with terrorist killings.

    I can and I do.”

    No doubt. But your failure to accept the essential difference between an accident and an act of murder makes your argument wholly unconvincing.

    It is no justification for the nonsense laws being imposed by the Bliar junta, I agree, but that does not give reasonable grounds for trivialising the risks we face from terrorism.

    Even were there some useful comparison to be drawn, figures based on the attacks we have suffered to date are no guide to what may happen in the future, as they are acts of volition. Road traffic accidents, on the other hand, are involuntary and quite consistent in number. Thus we more or less know the latter, but cannot estimate the former.

  • Julian Morrison

    That’s what I thought seeing the recent BBC fuss about the 100th British armed forces death in Iraq: in an actual war you’d lose that many just marching to the front. With no disrespect to the dead, the word “cakewalk” does spring to mind.

  • Dave

    I can’t agree with what you are saying, Guy.
    Yes we shouldn’t exaggerate the number of deaths, but it seems like you are trying to downplay the seriousness of what is going on here.

    The number of death on our roads is far too much, so its hardly a good benchmark.

    The issues are much bigger than the actual number of deaths, the copycat attacks 1 or was it 2 weeks after 7/7 could have killed a lot of people also but they failed.
    Yes its wrong to be paranoid but being concerned about actual attempted mass-murder is totally justified.

    And its totally different to the Blitz, back then we were a racially and culturally unified nation and being attacked brought the country closer together, now with our multi-culturalism the risk is that people will be pulled apart as they started to get suspicious of each other.
    The problems terrorists can cause are a hell of a lot more than just the number of deaths.

  • guy herbert

    And its totally different to the Blitz…

    Yes; about a million destroyed houses different in a much richer and better housed country.

    …now with our multi-culturalism the risk is that people will be pulled apart…

    There’s precious little sign of that. One of the objections to the official cult of multiculturalism is that it presupposes separation and mutual suspicion between arbitrarily-defined groups that has no reason to exist between individuals. But that is another reason not to be fearful, and not to give in to the other official cult of terror.

  • Jacob

    But your failure to accept the essential difference between an accident and an act of murder makes your argument wholly unconvincing.

    Yes! that’s it: the difference between and accident and a vile, ugly act of mass murder! An act deliberately and intentionally commited. An act which a religion (Islam) and a group of people (extremist Islamists) promote, and which therefore is liable to become more frequent and dangerous.

    We accept accidents as the inevitable consequence of driving fast cars. We accept the risks of accidents because we enjoy the benefits of driving. Do you wish to imply that terrorism is an inherent and inevitable risk? That we must accept that too ?