Nothing to fear but fear

Back around the time of the Madrid bombings I wrote a short piece where I argued that we had more to fear from the responses to the fear of terrorism than from terrorism itself. I was pleased to see that Steven Johnson has taken up a similar theme. As he says in the conclusion to his piece:
“To be clear: terrorism is a threat to us, and our politicians and law enforcement officials should be focused on ridding the world of those threats as effectively as they can. But those leaders should also be focused on giving us a sense of proportion. By any reasonable statistical measure, ordinary Americans are safe from terrorism. It would be nice, for once, to have our leaders remind us of that.”
Well worth a read.
Harvey Molotch, whose book, “Where Stuff Comes From”, I have been urging all my friends to read has also ventured into this territory. In a long essay written with Noah McClain “Dealing with Urban Terror” (PDF) where they thoughtfully explore some of the things that could be done to deal with this problem they conclude:
“Authorities charged with addressing the September attacks have proclaimed an endless war against the perpetrators, harkening back to the most regressive traditions of dealing with crime and disorder, domestic and foreign. We know from this past history that fear of crime – to take the crucial precedent – leads to major policy consequence, including race and class effects. Fear of terrorist crime in the US now escalates to global consequence, including abuse of human rights and the potential for cycles of turmoil around the world. With some analytic and empirical help it may be possible to transmute an understandable public anxiety into outcomes that increase rather than curtail social enfranchisement, protect civil liberties, and add some safety. We need more knowledge about how cities, including those in the rich centers of the world, work in the context of terror – both for the sake of better policies as well as more informed and effective populations.”