Terror paranoia taking its toll…


GUY Fawkes and the gunpowder plot have captured our imaginations for centuries – so much so that back in the UK we celebrate his memory every year with Bonfire Night. We set fire to large piles of wood, with a stuffed ‘Guy’ on top and ensure countless maimings with explosive fireworks, to commemorate a terrorist.

For that is what Fawkes was, a terrorist who tried to blow up the House of Parliament, failed and paid with his life.

Should someone try to do the same today, he would be reviled, detained in breach of basic civil rights and (in the UK at least) tried and, if convicted, sent to prison for a very long time.

In the US, everything would probably be the same, though he would most probably be denied the fair trial – just locked away somewhere until the world forgot about him.

But my real point is that terrorism is not new, so why is it having such an impact today, why are we suddenly so afraid of a menace which has been with us for centuries?

US President George W Bush remarked just the other day that we were living in a dangerous world, but is it any more dangerous than it has always been?

Statistically, we are far more likely to get run over by a car, or die of a heart attack or cancer, than we are in a terrorist attack, despite the large numbers killed in the 9/11 atrocity.

So why are we so terrified of terrorists that we will allow governments to remove hard-won civil rights and to throw out even the rule of law, in the hope of keeping the evil at bay?

Why are we so frightened that we have sanctioned the likes of Guantanamo Bay and other secret camps, that we discuss the use of torture as if it were routine, that the merest suspicion is enough to strip someone of all their rights?

One reason is that we have so demonised the ‘enemy’ that we no longer see them as human. We see them as embodiments of evil and that triggers our darkest fears.

Another is the global propaganda campaign waged to promote the so-called war on terror.

It has been so relentless that half the “free world” is looking for terrorists under the bed, just as we were for “Reds” at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The tragic truth is not that the world is a very dangerous place, but that it always has been – and we haven’t made it any better.



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