Terrorism Paranoia?

Yet another person seems to have been charged with terrorism with little reason. The BBC reports that the terrorism charges against an alleged ringleader of the summer Heathrow airliner plot have been dropped in Pakistan. Other criminal charges like forgery remain but the report says…

Pakistan has presented Mr Rauf as one of the ringleaders behind the alleged plan to blow up flights

But an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi found no evidence that he had been involved in terrorist activities or that he belonged to a terrorist organisation.

There have been quite a few cases where the authorities seem to be jumping to premature conclusions. Not long ago someone described as Britain’s most dangerous terrorist was sentenced to forty years in prison. But as the Economist says:

Yet there is something a little strange about the case. Although a mass of data was discovered on computer hard drives, no weapons or explosives were found… And not once in his ten years as a terrorist did he ever carry out an attack. But he has just been given one of the toughest sentences, save for the very worst murders, handed down in modern times by a British court.

In ten years as an alleged terrorist, all he had done was write up grandiose plans on his laptop, and make the odd video of a target, making childish “boom” noises. But he had not taken a single step to implement any of these plans, had not gotten any of the materials needed, and as far as could be told, didn’t have the money to get them.

Perhaps more a fantasist than a terrorist?

And there are plenty of other examples… the Forest Gate incident, the alleged plot to attack a football match… The latter alarm appears to have been triggered because some Muslims were overheard discussing plans to go to Old Trafford. After much hysteria and dire warnings for all football matches, it turned out that there were indeed Muslims with such plans – because they were avid Manchester United supporters.

A journal article recently – unfortunately I can’t remember which one – pointed out that since 9/11 there has not been a single attack in the US. It argued that there is no doubt that al-Qaeda would love to carry out such an attack, and the obvious conclusion which no-one has drawn is that they haven’t done it because they have little capability to carry out another attack. Probably, the article suggested, they have few members left in the US, and it’s now not easy for any would-be attackers to enter.

No doubt there is a real threat as 9/11 and 7/7 show.

But it seems the paranoia is way out of proportion to the threat. Even in the week of 7/7, more people died in the UK in road traffic accidents than from the terrorist attack.

There are shades of the “intelligence” about WMD in Iraq. No intelligence agency in the world doubted that Saddam had them, and they were all wrong.

Often, we all see what we expect to see, especially when there is no clear information, and such sources as exist are murky and unreliable. Especially if you are already jumpy and saying to yourself “it might mean many things, but we need to be prepared for the worst”.

It’s not true that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But the fear and paranoia may be far more dangerous to us than the threat gave rise to it.

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4 Responses to Terrorism Paranoia?

  1. Belladonna says:

    When I was in Cairo I had a facinating conversation with my Muslim guide about perception and stereotype. He talked about how many westerners seem to assume any middle eastern man speaking Arabic is a potential terrorist, and what that feels like for them when they travel. He also stated that his countryment have plenty of false perceptions and sterotypes of their own. For many people in Egypt, for instance, their main impressions of what Americans are like come from watching “The Bold and the Beautiful” or “The Jerry Springer Show” on their Satellite tv. So they are predispossed to think we are all self indulgent, vain, immoral, greedy etc etc.

    What I like best about international travel is getting to know people in other lands so we can burst those wacky assumptions on BOTH sides of the fence!

  2. torchwolf says:

    Yes, I think the degree to which people have a seriously distorted picture of others is a really major issue in the background to a lot of what goes badly in the world.

    And it’s not just between people of different countries it happens either.

  3. Jettboy says:

    Have you ever thought that terrorists haven’t been attacking for two reasons? One, we are fighting them OVER THERE so they don’t have as much opportunity to attack in the West. Second, taking it to extremes that if you plan an attack it is the same as attacking has saved lives and made it harder. After all, who is to say that the fantasist doesn’t become a terrorist? The point is to not allow them to get to the point they can buy the deadly equipment. Yelling fire when there isn’t one, at least in the U.S., is considered illegal. That is because of what it can do and not for what it has done.

  4. torchwolf says:

    The fantasist should certainly be locked up.

    But if that’s the worst we had to fear, we’ve been getting steamed up about very little.

    Remember, people killed in the UK in 2006 by terrorism: Zero.

    People killed in road traffic accidents: Three thousand.

    There is a threat, but we need to keep a sense of proportion about it.

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