The players have changed, but their methods remain the same: attack, destroy, confine, maim, rape. It has never been, and never will be, simply a case of attacking with guns and bombs; the fear of attack must also be sown; the constant worry that the streets are no longer safe; the realization that we, as a people, can do little or nothing to prevent them.
In Belgium the annual New Year Celebrations have been cancelled due to the fear of a terrorist attack. In New York thousands of police will guard the New Year Celebrations in Times Square. In Europe there are warnings that fireworks, fired off to celebrate the coming of 2016, may traumatize refugees, who carry the memories and fears of their own countries, their own wars with them. According to a recent poll, the majority of Americans now believe that the terrorists have won, or are winning.
It is the fear of attack, however, which is the greater problem, the fear of terrorism which has almost pushed the real and justified fear of being injured or killed by a gunman into second place. And it is a fear which, to a very great extent, is not justified.
Photo Source: Burns Library, Boston College – Creative Commons
The greatest danger remains firmly with those who are already citizens of a country, perhaps even in the third or fourth generation. Perhaps their family claims – with so many thousands of others – to have arrived with the Mayflower, or be able to trace their European roots back to the Romans. There is a far higher likelihood of people being killed or maimed by people who are not foreigners, people with legally held or legally acquired guns. The threat of terrorism, in contrast, is very small indeed.
The terrorists, though, have won the propaganda war. They have instilled such a level of fear in our minds that the commonplace, the everyday threat has receded. Their work has been aided and abetted by a strong contingent of local and national politicians, by news media and by a firm belief that ‘our people’ – be they American or European – would never do such a thing. We live, we tell ourselves, in a free and civilized country which no one in their right mind would wish to change.
A glance back to the world of Northern Ireland in the Seventies and Eighties shows how terrorism can be. The memories of those who lived through these times, in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere, are based on the reality of terrorism and not just a memory of the fear of terrorism. Compared to those times, the terrorists of today, threatening the United States or Europe, are nothing in comparison.
For the New Year we should reassess terrorism and the manner in which we deal with it. Banish the fear of an attack which is unlikely and look to breaking down the barriers erected to protect those who really do allow and propagate killings within our countries. We should reassess how we, on all levels, deal with foreign governments, with systems and religions different to our own, with international interference in the political and civil workings of other cultures, and concentrate on correcting the many errors within our own.
- Viktoria Michaelis.