Terrorism Kills Fewer Than Iain Duncan Smith
I like to pig out on a Friday night. Wind down after the stress of the week with a few beers, maybe a curry and the best part of a grab bag of crisps. And last Friday was like any other, I returned from a wet and dreary Scotland under 21’s match in Paisley and was gorging myself in front of the TV. Unlike most Friday nights it wasn’t the junk food that was to make me feel queasy. As the reports flooded in of the travesty in Paris I became transfixed on the rolling news with a mixture of disgust, fear and empathy. “That could have been me”, I thought, as I was just in a crowd at a football stadium. And for those few hours I was feeling the way the terrorists want me to feel. Thinking about it now though, the fear element was misplaced. The poor diet and booze I was blissfully enjoying before the news broke is far more likely to bring my life to an abrupt and painful end than an act of terrorism.
There have been 57 deaths in the UK deemed to have been caused by terrorists since since 2000. These were the 56 people who were murdered during the 7/7 attack and the also the vicious assault on soldier, Lee Rigby. I think we can all agree that those 57 deaths are 57 too many. Although, if you average it out over the 15 years since the turn of the century, on average less than four people a year have been killed in terrorist incidents. To put that in perspective, looking at last year’s mortality figures from the ONS which only cover England and Wales, four people were killed by hornets, wasps and bees, four were waylaid by poisonous plants, four expired after being bitten or struck by a dog and four pedestrians died after being run over by cyclists.
However, terror is so visceral and voyeuristic. We love to watch and read about it in the same way we turn towards a car accident as we drive past. At least we love to watch and read about it when it is perpetrated on those that we can easily relate to. It is tribal, it brings us together, it affirms our superiority over the barbarous psychopaths who perpetrate the slaughter. Although we don’t show the same empathy or concern when it happens in Nigeria or Lebanon. We need to see it happen to people like us on streets we have trodden on. And the 24 hour news media knows and benefits from this. It is much better for business than covering humdrum, but significantly more dangerous issues like climate change and TTIP; and like great horror directors the news will supply us with just enough fear, gore, resolve and pathos to keep us tuned in.
And as a response to the Paris attacks the Prime Minister has announced we will be spending an extra £2 billion on defence in order to defeat ISIS. He is going to direct significantly more resources to strengthen cyber security and he is also agitating for British Air strikes in Syria. I am not sure there has been a cost/benefit analysis carried out here. Seems a lot of money to spend which could be of more use elsewhere. I doubt we will see similar amounts spent to fly pre-emptive drone strikes on sleeper cells of radicalised wasp nests, detain suspicious looking dogs for months without charge and put bicycle cafes on proscribed lists after the slightest whiff of anti pedestrian hate speech.
If the prime motivation of government action was keeping the population safe it would be Iain Duncan Smith we would be water-boarding. According to recent figures, over 2300 people have died in the UK during a two year period shortly after being declared fit for work. An extra 590 suicides since 2008 have been linked to Fit For Work tests, which makes being told you are healthy by a bored civil servant significantly more ominous than having a fatwa issued upon you by a lunatic hate preacher. And while we stick an extra £2 billion into the fight against terror there is a further £12 billion of benefit cuts in the pipeline.
The government may argue that there are so few attacks because of all the extra measures they have enacted to keep us safe, but think how many more successful terrorist attacks there would need to be to elevate the risk to that of booze or obesity.
And many of the government’s reactions increase the risk.
Don’t trust me on this, trust the famous pinko leftie, Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, who advised the Chilcot inquiry the threat was raised substantially by the Iraq War in terms of;
numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved.
The government care about self preservation, not your preservation. And our overblown fear lets our government enact policies that are damaging to our safety, interfere with the freedom of the internet and erode our civil liberties. Policies that reinforce their hegemony. Maybe their primary motive is to protect us but is it wrong to be suspicious that so many of them have ties to oil firms? That they are cosy with the arms industry? That they fear and want to curtail the power of the internet as they can see that people are able to more easily organise themselves, and that traditional power structures are in danger of becoming obsolete?
Fear is a great tool to use in order to maintain the status quo. And it only works if we allow ourselves to misunderstand the risk. By doing so we not only let the terrorists win but we also allow the balance of power between citizen and state to move in the wrong direction.
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