Perspectives on terrorism

Crikey yesterday said that the likelihood of a Westerner dying from jihadist violence is around 0.0001%, while the annual probability of an Australian dying of smoking-related causes is 0.1% and Americans are almost nine times more likely to die falling off a ladder than in a terrorist attack.

Hence they lambast the media for having headlines such as “Stockpile of chemicals found in shopping mall”.

I think Crikey fundamentally misses the point. Terrorism has never ever just been about death tolls. It is inane to use that as a focus. Terrorism is about how it affects society and human behaviour. Two bombings in Bali, and that place is now a pariah for many tourists for years to come.

To somehow suggest that the media should not give more prominence to an alleged plot to kill as many people as possible, perhaps by blowing up a local nuclear power plant, than they do to the road toll is ridiculous.

The Press has a good editorial on the issue today. They remind us that the police role in terrorism is dramatically different to traditional crime. Traditionally police apprehend perpetrators after the crime. When it comes to terrorism the challenge is prevent the crime in the first place. Especially when it is 95% likely the perpetrators will be dead themselves. And yes that is why we do need to give the Police and intelligence agencies more powers (but not unlimited – the 90 days detention without trial Blair wanted was too much). Because if we don’t, their role will simply be to tell us afterwards how it happened.

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