Sunday 23 October 2016

Don't panic: keep calm and carry on

Why are we giving these random lone-wolf killers so much of our attention, wonders Carol Hunt

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Why indeed: French police with the truck that drove into a crowd in Nice, killing 77 people. Photo: Reuters
Why indeed: French police with the truck that drove into a crowd in Nice, killing 77 people. Photo: Reuters

Stop. Step back. Take a deep breath… and think. You are still far more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a terrorist in Munich today as you were yesterday.

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The same goes for Paris, Brussels or any European city. President Francois Hollande's claim last week that "this is undoubtedly a terrorist attack; the whole of France is under the threat of an Islamic terror attack", was not just dangerous, it was downright wrong. So was John McCain's comment after the San Bernardino shooting, that "this is the war of our time".

We are not at war. This is a series of terror attacks carried out by disturbed and dangerous people for a multiplicity of reasons. "Motive unknown", is the phrase that was repeated by Munich police in the aftermath of the killings last Friday evening.

'Warum?' - which translates as 'why?' - is written on a sign close to where Friday evening's atrocities took place.

Why, indeed?

Refugees have nothing to do with it, nor does Western foreign policy. Whether we allow US aircraft to continue to use Shannon Airport matters not one jot to people like the Nice or Munich killers. And yet from both Right and Left, we will hear dangerous, knee-jerk reactions to recent atrocities in Europe; that we must close our borders to refugees fleeing the horrors of civil war; we must silence critics of Islam; we must strengthen our actions in Syria and Iraq; we must immediately pull out of Syria and Iraq; we must ally ourselves with US foreign policy; we must move away from the US on foreign policy.

Do we really believe that any of the above measures would have prevented 18-year-old Ali Sonboly [the Munich killer] from murdering innocents?

In truth, we shouldn't, but we have a desperate need to rationalise such attacks, to be able to say, if we do A, B or C, these random killings will cease. We see people like Anders Breivik [the Norwegian killer] or Lahouaiej Bouhlel [the Nice killer] committing atrocities against innocent people and wonder what we have done to deserve this?

And whereas they have little if nothing in common with each other, our reaction to their crimes is becoming all too similar. We panic. Despite the odds of any of us being caught up in a terrorist attack being extremely low, the rhetoric and response of authority - and consequently our own understanding of the threat to ourselves - makes it feel as if we are all in imminent danger from forces we cannot control.

But this isn't true. In January, Professor Laurence M Krauss wrote an article in the New Yorker called 'Thinking rationally about terrorism'. In it, he calmly "runs the numbers" as he asks "how much more dangerous has terrorism made our lives?", and concludes that the chance of most of us falling prey to terrorism is "microscopically small".

So why do many of us feel we are constantly under attack? I think author Kenan Malik has a point when he suggests: "Terrorists often claim a political motive for their acts. Commentators often try to rationalise such acts, suggesting that they are the inevitable result of a sense of injustice created by Western foreign policy or by anti-Muslim attitudes in the West.

"Yet most attacks have not been on political targets, but on cafes or trains or mosques. Such attacks are not about making a political point or achieving a political goal - as were, for instance, IRA bombings in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s - but are expression of nihilistic savagery, the aim of which is solely to create fear."

In effect, every madman or random killer out there can now jump on the "fashionable" bandwagon of identity grievances and insist that they are killing in the name of Islam or against it.

And so, if a disaffected, angry or mentally disordered person wants to feel as if he has a cause, a motive for his murderous rage; being for or against radical Islam is the theme of this century.

The Nice murderer chose Islamism, the Munich killer was influenced by Breivik whose slaughter of innocents was, according to himself, a "wake-up call" to the "war with Islam". Even deranged people, hell-bent on destruction, want to believe that they belong to a greater cause.

But that doesn't mean that they are, or that we should let our fear of them rule how we live our lives.

So let's step back. Stay calm. What we all need now is not panicked or rash statements about being at war or under attack, but some rational perspective on the facts.


Sunday Independent

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