The International Implications of a Machete Murder


The Guardian

Last week Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, declared that "the gruesome terrorist murder of a member of the British armed forces in London should serve as a wake-up call to Australia." Jeff Sparrow responds in The Guardian, putting the danger posed by terrorism in perspective:

Though it's impolite to say so, fatalities from terrorism remain vanishingly rare, at least in wealthy nations. You have four times the chance of being struck by lightning as you do [of] being killed by a terror attack. You are nine times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit; you are eight times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than a terrorist. You are also something like a thousand times more likely to lose your life in a car crash than from a terror plot. Traffic accidents constitute a genuine threat; we all know someone who has died on the roads. Yet no-one would consider giving traffic officers anything like the powers accorded to security agencies, even though a far more intrusive policing of drunk driving would, without question, save hundreds of lives….

"There is a particular horror associated with low-grade or homemade violence of this kind…" explains the New Yorker. "[T]here remains something hideous about the use of weapons that are, to other people, barely weapons at all, but household or kitchen implements."

A particular horror associated with…kitchen implements? With such arguments, we move from security into theology, a realm in which whatever weapons terrorists employ become the Worst Weapons of All….

Amazingly, between 1968 and 1973, terrorist incidents involving the seizure of commercial jets took place at a rate of nearly one a week, a sequence of skyjackings now almost totally forgotten. The attacks were taken seriously, of course—but no-one suggested they posed an existential threat, nor claimed world had somehow changed forever.

Now, ask yourself this: what would be the reaction today to a similar spate of terror attacks? If two men wielding a machete on an entirely different continent spurs calls for increased surveillance of your emails, how would Greg Sheridan and his ilk react to five years of weekly skyjackings? What kind of security state would they demand in response?

Whole thing here.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]