Coping with terror - A balanced response to threats

The terror attacks on New York almost 12 years ago hardened attitudes on security in a way that very often jars with the expectations of those happy to live in, or visit, a free, tolerant and open society.

The 9/11 atrocities also meant new, far more stringent protocols at airports, especially those with direct services to America. It would be dishonest to pretend that these measures, no matter how unavoidable, have not made air travel even more trying than heretofore. These impositions, like it or not, are victories for terrorism. Nevertheless, they are a small price to pay for living in an inclusive democracy where an individual’s beliefs are not seen as a reason to persecute or murder them.

The Madrid train bombings two years and six months later, blamed on radical Islamists by the Spanish government, accelerated the intensification of security in countries that might be loosely described as members of the western alliance of democracies. Those al-Qaeda-inspired explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800.

A year later, the July 7 suicide attacks on London — four bombers and 52 civilians killed — brought a new security awareness to these islands, though cultural differences between Europe and America meant that they were far less obtrusive on this side of the Atlantic.

That it has been a almost a decade since the last atrocity of this grand scale in America or Europe must mean that these measures are succeeding to one degree or another. They are, however, in stark contrast to the routine bloodbaths inflicted on the persecuted populations of the Middle East. Even at this remove, it is hard not to wonder how a normal life is possible in these bitterly divided societies. Neither is it difficult to see how so many people from these countries become so aggressively radical.

We cannot allow ourselves be smug about the fatal fantasies of radicals — or “dissidents” as they style themselves. In a little over two weeks, relatives of the dead and injured — 29 murdered and 220 injured — will mark the 15th anniversary of the Omagh bombing. Though this was one of the most appalling and shaming acts during three decades of terror, the anti-democratic groups responsible still enjoy some support.

These murderous attacks were all rooted in political or religious zealotry turned to terrorism and as the West’s commitment to tolerance and pluralism increasingly contrasts with vehemently religious regimes this fault line seems set to deepen.

Whole swathes of the world’s population face the consequences of criminal terrorism too. Some of the atrocities perpetuated in Mexico’s drug wars are beyond even the fevered imaginings of Hollywood.

Against this background, it is essential, if unfortunate, that warnings from Europol that Europe faces a new threat as newly-radicalised combatants return to Europe from bloody conflicts in Syria or North Africa be taken seriously. Warnings about Mexican drug cartels’ European ambitions must cause concern too.

It is just over 80 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt warned that “the only thing we have to fear is... fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”. Those words are as true today as they were in March 1933, and they should inform any response to the terrorist threats faced by the world today.


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