Our Wednesday story “The threat of terrorism – not all it’s cracked up to be” – and Alan Anderson’s response yesterday – have sparked a debate over whether reaction to the recent terror threats is proportionate to the real danger:

Bob Pritchard writes:

Alan Anderson’s fatuous fumbling on “The Threat of Terrorism” should not go unchallenged. Clearly he does not understand – or wilfully misinterprets – how policy is shaped. And his assertion that death by car accidents and smoking “are a cost of the way we live our everyday lives” while death by terrorism is not, is simply absurd. We elected a Government that chose on our behalf to participate in the invasion of Iraq. Most experts agree that increased the risk of retaliation in the form of terrorist acts occurring against Australian citizens and on Australian soil. Thus we chose to live our lives with increased risk in return for certain guarantees or promises the Government gave us for future benefits. Acknowledging the suddenly increased – albeit minuscule – risk of death by terrorist act … the Government rightly looked at the policy and law adjustments needed to attempt to minimise that risk. Alan has conflated risk with fear – and fear is what is being peddled now by media and politicians as a way of selling very tough risk control measures. We fear death by bomb because it is new and unknown. We fear death by car accident but to a far lesser degree because we accept that, as far as is practical for the way we want to live our lives, the risk is acceptable.

Michael Shapiro writes:
While your point that the newspapers and other media outlets have exaggerated the threat of terrorism (in Australia and in the States where I am) is a valid one, there is a bit more than just the effect on immigration policy and the cultural divide between Muslims and secularists that you’ve overlooked in the recent editorial. The recent spate of terrorist attacks have been directed at lives, but also key infrastructure. The 9/11 crashes destroyed blocks of lower Manhattan, the Bali bombings intimidated tourists, and the London bombings wrecked two major underground stations. All of the bombings (Madrid included) put immense stress on public transportation systems. When infrastructure is factored in, the cost to a society from a terrorist act is in every case much greater than the cost from falling-off-the-ladder or other hazard-caused deaths.

Mark Duffett writes:
Stick to your statistical guns, Crikey. Many of the statements made by your critics (‘watching the twin towers collapse was scarier than all the anti-smoking ads in the world’, ‘masses of people are traumatised’, ‘economies, jobs, freedoms are jeopardised’) actually serve to reinforce the point that it is fear of terrorism, not the terrorist acts themselves, that are the greater threat to our society. Alan Anderson in particular seems mainly concerned with the effect of terrorism on our state of mind, so it is mystifying that he criticises efforts to mute terrorism hysteria through examination of the statistical risk. Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

John Carmody writes:
Alan Anderson’s arguments are not very strong. He seems perilously close to the old view: “One Briton is worth five Germans, 10 Frenchmen….” and so on. A death is a death; a needless death is still a waste, however it is caused. And to suggest that a victim of a road accident is partly to blame: well, as the parent of a child who was, at the age of 8, killed by a speeding motorist, I find that comment grotesque and deeply offensive. Besides, neither Crikey nor Ross Gittins was – so far as I can recall – talking morality. They were discussing relative risk. Mr Anderson’s disposition to argue both falsely and on a different topic might serve him well in the law, but it’s no basis for the formulation of public policy.

Gary Price writes:
The suggestion that terrorism leads to a feeling we have a dark future is right, but it is not a reason to go over the top on terrorism. There are several areas where there is a large body of opinion that we might well have a dark future, and those areas are largely suppressed in the mainstream media. They are population growth, peak oil, climate change and pandemics. Compared with these things, terrorism is a negligible threat. If people want to feel good about the future they could put the effort that is going into terrorism into dealing with responses to these problems. Doing that might actually help remove the root cause of terrorism as well. But no. Terrorism suits the new world-wide search by governments of all persuasions for a readily identifiable threat they can use to keep themselves in office, and the empire-building zeal of law enforcement agencies. Stand by for more of the same.

Paul Harders writes:
I read with interest your readers’ reactions to the terrorism stats story. I am continually surprised to hear intelligent Australians regurgitating the Bush regime mantra that “…radical Islamists seek to destroy our way of life.” Is this a convenient line to remember for people who don’t wish to confront the underlying issues that have made Australia a terrorist target? It is a successful communication technique for the enemies of evil to continually reinforce a (mythical?) relationship between two concepts, in this case terrorism and “our way of life” or “freedom” etc. It is a technique used to good effect in the last Federal election. “ALP = 20% interest rates”; “Coalition = trust”. Vox pops and poll results (and your readers) prove that the technique works, so I wonder to what extreme the idea could be taken? “Crikey = Australia’s most trusted media outlet”?

Dr Russell Darroch writes:
Thank you for yesterday’s cooler headed assessment of the terrorism bogey. It was a very good thing to do and people who don’t “get it” will probably never get it…but we are at risk far more from Howard, Ruddock and Downer than we are from a very small number of terrorists in terms of who is going to do the most damage to our society.

Gerard McEwen writes:
Alan Anderson’s frothing at the mouth over the suggestion that the media coverage of terrorism might be disproportionate to the risk is sadly predictable. As industrial relations is all the go, where does he rate the death or maiming of decent working Australians as a result of employer negligence? For Mr Anderson’s benefit, there is a far greater risk of death in a workplace mishap than in a traffic accident which is infinitely higher than as a result of terrorist activity. Who is worse, the political ideologue who kills people in order to further his or her quest (however misguided or downright wrong) for a better world or the greedy boss who doesn’t care how many employees are killed or maimed in pursuit of his or her personal wealth?

Ray Leung writes:
I agree with Crikey’s original premise. The government is 100% guilty of using hot button issues as an excuse to change laws, appropriate funds and curtail fundamental rights. I would be more outraged to die: a) On a notoriously unsafe stretch of road that the Federal or State government had failed to fix; b) Or in an underfunded hospital than because of an unpredictable terrorist attack. It stuns me that people are willing to overlook basic, everyday concerns such as these, and prioritise less likely scenarios. Of course one simple way to minimize terrorist threats to Australian citizens would be to simply pull the troops out of Iraq.

Graham Long writes:
I just want to thank you for the regular brain food and for the recent spotlight on the neurotic and unhelpful peddling of fear that seems to pass largely unnoticed in recent times. The articles in the Daily Telegraph are just an example of the absurdity to which they are being carried. I was listening to Alan Jones (there are days when you have an appetite for the absurd) on the radio yesterday. He actually implied that the Arabs are taking over our society from in the inside by taking key places in the public service. The same man often makes the point that the public service couldn’t organise a chook raffle in a pub – I would have thought that the public service might be the best place for known terrorist sympathisers. I would have phoned Jones but I am well aware of the futility of trying to make a point of balance with such bully as he.

Barb Dennis writes:
I’m fully in support of Julian Burnside and his plea for some logic to be brought to the terror issue. But public servants speak of assessing a hazard (the logical bit) AND then multiplying it by outrage (the irrational, emotional, win-an-election-at any-cost bit). With terror the hazard is very low but the outrage is enormous and so the government response is even bigger. Likewise with shark attacks. On the other hand a car crash is higher hazard but very low outrage. Likewise carbon emissions, water use, obesity……

Charles Coulton writes:
Is it possible, too, that terrorism is a cost of the way we choose to live our lives? We have declared war after all, and all along it was said to be pre-emptive, so who threw the first punch in this fight? The mass media maintains our fears at patriotic highs as they would during a war while all the excuses for our overseas violence (WMDs, evil regimes) have evaporated leaving pure economic interest as the cause. We seem to have a great imperative to maintain our standard of living at the cost of millions of other lives.

Kevin Hartley writes:
I’m with the Crikey crew when it comes to their views about the hysteria being whipped up over terrorism (and bird flu too for that matter)… As a society we have developed a rabid passion for talking about protecting and preserving a future world for our children whilst ignoring the continuing decline in our genuine quality of life. It’s one thing to still have a Polar bear in 100 years time but not much use if you’re too scared to go to the highly fortified zoo to see it. Being the founder of a charity that works with victims of childhood sexual abuse, I see everyday the legacy of a society with serious moral issues. How about we stop worrying about the remote possibility of getting done over by a terrorist and instead put our efforts toward eliminating the thousands of unseen terrorists in our midst who are gutting our future.

Grant Giachin writes
This is just a quick message of support for your story about the over the top reporting & scare-mongering about terrorism. So far we have not had any deaths on Australian soil due to terrorism, but we already have vastly increased hostility to immigration & unrest between Muslim & non-Muslim Australians. I don’t know if you saw 60 Minutes last Sunday, but that was the most disgusting sensationalist racist piece of television I have seen. They were basically calling for the deportation of Muslims because of the rioting in France. Well, if they want to take that sort of line, a lot of those Muslims were also black. Given that we had the riots in Redfern, should we be deporting all black people as well. I believe all reporting of criminal cases should be kept to a minimum until the court case begins and the facts can then be reported after they have been presented to the court. This would guarantee factual reporting, not sensationalist tripe, as well as proper justice to not only the defendants but the community as a whole.