Exaggerating the danger is a mistake—for three reasonsby Richard English / March 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
There is an entirely understandable pattern of public and political reaction to atrocities such as this week’s Westminster attack. The merciless nature of the violence, the terrible suffering of the victims, the jolting shock of such an unpredictable assault—all of these elements provoke an instinct towards reading the threat of such acts as being a high-level one.
But exaggerating the danger involved in such terrorism is in fact a profound and dangerous mistake, for three main reasons.
First, it tends not to be terrorism which most significantly changes history, but state and public reactions to terrorism. And if we exaggerate the level of danger then there emerges a much greater risk of over-reacting to terrorism and actually worsening the situation. After the 9/11 attacks, there was an exaggeration of the scale of the threat posed to the west by al-Qaida, and this facilitated an overly militaristic counter-terrorism response. What was the result? The number of terrorist attacks and of terrorist-generated fatalities globally rose during the War on Terror, rather than falling. Moreover, the chaos in Iraq after the invasion of 2003 (an invasion which was partly legitimated politically by claims that it was essential for effective counter-terrorism) in fact contributed to the sequence of events which created IS.
The long history of terrorism and counter-terrorism strongly suggests that calm, intelligence-led police work, rather than heavily militarised or only dubiously legal responses, offers the best route to countering terrorism. What happened at Westminster was shocki…