Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terrorism In Britain And The United States: Thoughts From a British Expat

In light of yesterday's terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the subject of terrorism - particularly as it pertains to Britain and the USA.

Allow me to start with a little perspective.

It is well known that in the Middle East, terrorist attacks occur at a far more frequent rate than in Britain and the U.S.. To that end, it is not uncommon to read the headline, "48 Iraqis Killed By Roadside Bomb." But even though so many innocent civilians die in these attacks, it is also not uncommon for we in the Western World to feel utterly indifferent to such headlines. Until it happens to us.


Within 5 years of the new millennium, both Britain and the United States had fallen victim to major terrorist attacks. In the immediate aftermath of both 9/11 and the July 7th bombings, people - Brits and Americans alike - could not help but turn on the news to discover... well, whatever it was they thought they would discover: resolution, drama, further brutality.
       
The thing is, it is human nature to feel a profound sense of vulnerability when something so appalling occurs on our own doorstep. The thought it could have been me or my kids runs through our minds. We stare with incredulity at images of streets - ones that we ourselves have walked down - covered in debris and blood. At once, we feel a very human desire to help those affected by the carnage and an equally human desire to get as far away as possible.

A terrorist attack is so instantaneously shocking. As soon as Sky News broke the story of the first Tube bombing in London, I vividly recall an immediate feeling of powerlessness (my brother lives in the capital). Holy shit, London's being bombed! Holy shit! 

The truth is, and I have slowly come to acknowledge this, we are all so incredibly unlikely to die from a terrorist attack. There have been - as of yesterday - only a relatively small amount of major incidents (depending on your definition) in the United States since August 2001. In that same time, almost 11 million Americans have died from cardiovascular disease. Eleven million!

Why do I make this distinction? Well, the point of terrorism is to inherently strike fear into humanity. The point of humanity is to overcome fear with understanding. So understand this: the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are roughly 1 in 20 million. In other words, as shocking as yesterday's events were and as tragic as it remains for the victims' families, the laws of probability determine that you should not be afraid. And you shouldn't.

Let us, instead, concentrate on being compassionate and remaining healthy as human beings: that way, both the terrorists and the cardiovascular disease have a much more paltry chance of success.

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