The police have often acknowledged that fear of crime is out
of proportion to the risk of crime for most people in this country.
The same is no doubt true of terrorism. According to the MIPT
terrorism knowledge base, the total number of US and UK (including
Northern Ireland) fatalities caused by terrorism in the five years
after 9/11 was 74, compared to 69 in the five years before. The
corresponding totals for Iraq are 15,787 and 12, respectively.
That should put fear of terrorism into perspective for UK and
Unfortunately, as Michael Bond reports in New Scientist,
people base their fears more on the vividness of events than on
the probability of them reoccurring. And since television presents
very vivid coverage of any attack (or foiled attack, rumoured
attack, etc) on UK or US soil, it is "destroying our probabilistic
mapping of the world", according to Nicholas Taleb, professor
in the sciences of uncertainty at the University of Massachusetts.
There have been several terror scares in Britain since 2001.
The Centre for Policy Studies published a report (The Use and
Abuse of Terror The construction of a false narrative on
the domestic terror threat) which investigated a few of these,
and found that despite media panic, they turned out to be nothing.
The report's authors concluded (on Channel 4's Dispatches):
"We have shown that you can't believe a word that you read
in the newspapers about the terrorist threat. We have also shown
that the politicians are only too ready to use terror as a political
MIPT figures, tkb.org; New Scientist, 19/8/06; Centre for
Policy Studies/Dispatches, C4, 20/2/06