The real risk of terrorism

I caught the end of a thought-provoking radio programme about terrorism last night. It was an edition of Analysis on Radio 4 called Fear and Voting and looked rationally at the threat of terrorism. One of the arguments went that we are currently unable to correctly assess the risk of terrorism, and that this makes us unduly fearful. The risk of being hit by a bus is just as real and more likely than being killed or injured in an act of terrorism, but we are far more fearful of the terrorism. Why? Well, partly because we feel it is out of our control. The risks associated with road traffic accidents are known, and measured, and weighed against the gains of having traffic that flows at speed etc. Where is the risk assessment with terrorism? It seems to me that if we introduced such an approach, we could quickly assess whether infringements of civil liberties and the rule of law was justifiable.

Another factor is the personalising of terrorists by the media. If we instead thought of terrorists as unknown psychopaths, or criminals like the mafia, perhaps we could think about tackling them more sensibly.

This all seemed particularly relevant this week, as David Blunkett is trying to fast track identity cards. The arguments against the cards are, in my view, significantly more compelling than the ones in favour, and I am really curious to know why some people are so convinced by them. I wonder if the idea of them gives a nice sense of security; that we’ll somehow be able to know which of us are nuts and which of us are just going about our everyday life. I reckon it’ll take a lot more than some biometric data and a centralised database to make that clear.

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