37

Every time there's a terror attack in Europe, people will come out with messages such as "we are not scared".

What is the point of these messages?

Each individual human is very unlikely to be a victim of terror attack. It is much more likely that you, or one of your loved ones, dies of some other crime, or of a disease, or so on... yet you don't see these same people come out and say "we are not scared of you, mr. traffic accident!"?

My point is, it just seems ... well obvious to not be scared of terror attacks. Take France for example. They often make messages like these .... but since 1970, only 400 people have died of terror attack. Assuming a population of circa 50 million over this period, the probability of having died in a terror attack is 0.0008 %. It is probably more likely to die from heart attack after watching a poor quality movie.

  • 19
    The point of terrorism is to make people scared. (That's why it's called terrorism) The idea is if they aren't making people scared they'll stop bothering (or find a different way to make people scared). – user253751 Aug 27 '17 at 23:41
  • 1
    Because "terrorism" is actions intended to induce terror — that is to say: a sense of dread, fear and anxiety — in order to affect societal change that are in some way beneficial for the one that enacted the attack. By saying "We are not in a state of terror", the very goal of the attack is negated. – MichaelK Aug 28 '17 at 13:39
  • 4
    As Yoda (and probably Bible) taught us "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering and suffering leads to the dark side…" – Jan Ivan Aug 28 '17 at 13:51
  • 6
    When voters are scared, politicians get away with passing stuff like The Patriot Act. nuff said? – HC_ Aug 28 '17 at 17:34
71

My point is, it just seems ... well obvious to not be scared of terror attacks.

It might seem that way to you, but it still doesn't stop politicians from demanding and making policy based on fear of terrorism:

  • There are demands for extended surveillance, justified with requiring these as tools for law enforcement to fight terrorism.
  • There are demands for extended internet censorship, justified with preventing terrorists from using the internet as a recruiting tool.
  • There are demands for stopping migration from Muslim countries, justified with the possibility that there could be terrorists among them.

By stating that you are not afraid of terrorism, you are telling these politicians: "It's OK, nobody wants you to permanently sacrifice our freedom to give us a bit of temporary safety. Please abandon these plans, unless you have some other arguments for them. If you do, please focus the public debate on these arguments instead".

  • 51
    Now if only it actually worked... – 0xFF Aug 25 '17 at 17:03
  • 6
    To be fair, no one (that I know of) is trying to "[stop] migration from Muslim countries". Much of my family is from a Muslim-majority country and they have no problems getting through to the US (tangential; the question was about Europe.) The countries under scrutiny tend to be countries with other issues going on. – horse hair Aug 25 '17 at 22:40
  • 15
    “I am not afraid of terrorism, but I am afraid of how governments may respond to terrorism.” On a more serious notes, I do find the large heavily armed military police presence in France scary (and this predates the recent wave of attacks and the state of emergency). – gerrit Aug 26 '17 at 10:28
  • 18
    I very much doubt that this is the message they're trying to send by saying this. It seems a lot more likely that these messages are intended for the terrorists or other citizens (as pointed out in the other answers), much like one might say one's not scared of a bully. If they were trying to stop politicians from taking such action, I'd imagine they'd wait until there's a plan for such action and then be a whole lot more direct. – NotThatGuy Aug 26 '17 at 11:47
  • 4
    There is still some inconsistency here, as the people who say "although there is an islamist terror attack almost every day in Europe, the numbers killed are insignificant relative to the total population, so no need to worry", when a far-right attack kills a single person in a single event, the same people say "This is why all nationalist parties must be banned." – vsz Aug 27 '17 at 11:33
43

Traffic accidents don't kill people to scare populations, terrorists do. That's literally what terrorism means : act in order to induce terror.

Despite the efforts of a determined few to induce a general fear of Muslims (or to equate "Muslim" with "terrorist"), a lot of us know that traffic accidents kill far more people than terrorism, and aren't scared by them trying.

But we would still kind of like them to stop trying. That's why.

I base my answer on my experience. I was residing in Paris when the shootings of january 2014 and november 2015 occured, and was living in Nice on the 14/07/2016.

23

An inanimate traffic accident, unlike a living, thinking, scheming terrorist, does not exist with the intent to psychically demoralize people and induce terror. I'm not sure that is an apt analogy.

If people seemed cowed and afraid, then a terrorist who killed hoping to induce terror will feel successful, and being successful, will feel like the recent endeavor was a worthwhile expenditure of time and energy, and would be encouraged to engage in more.

How effective it is would be an entirely different matter, but the reasoning would seem to be to communicate that the intent, to sow fear, has failed, with the effect of not encouraging more attacks.

Also, from the other end of the equation, the regular folks, who may feel a bit fearful, insecure and uncertain, can feel comforted, not alone, and stronger if they are banding together with others in an act of symbolic defiance. Certainly, there's no harm and since this is psychological warfare being waged, who's to say it's not useful, to some degree?

  • 2
    I do not know about the context of the other European attacks, but at least for Barcelona this is the correct answer. It is not for and against specific measures, the only relevant political party that does not support it is due to nationalism/centralim issues and the King -who has the duty to be politically neutral- is going to assist with no one (except the before mentioned political party) protesting against it. – SJuan76 Aug 25 '17 at 16:38
11

The point of saying that you're not afraid of terrorist attacks is to refute the terrorists. After all, the whole point of terrorist attacks is to frighten people (duh!) into forcing policy changes that are favorable to the terrorists.

People don't say that they are not afraid of e.g. traffic accidents because (with a few lamentable exceptions) they are not deliberate attempts to force policy changes. They demonstrate their lack of fear, silently, by continuing to drive, and if they do fear, they respond by buying vehicles like SUVs that are percieved (albeit falsely) to be safer.

In a larger sense, though, there is some reason to be afraid* of terrorist attacks. Not the attacks themselves, but the possibility that continued attacks will drive weak-kneed politicians to either cave in to the terrorists' demands, or force illogical & burdensome policies (yes, I mean the #@$% TSA) on the public in response.

*Of course I use "fear" in an intellectual sense here, not the emotional one. English doesn't really make it easy to make the distinction.

  • How bad was caving in to the IRA? Are there other examples of caving? – user9389 Aug 25 '17 at 17:26
  • 4
    @not store bought dirt: The IRA? Last I looked, Northern Ireland was still part of the UK, and the IRA had (mostly) reformed itself into a political party, so any caving in seems to have gone the opposite way. For a current example, look at the way local authorities (in the US) are caving in to "antifa" groups and refusing to allow people with controversial views to speak or hold peaceful protests. – jamesqf Aug 25 '17 at 18:09
  • @jamesqf Or, we could look at an example from the 30's, where Neville Chamberlain tried to ignore the rhetoric coming from Germany. Appeasement. He's ridiculed for it. Hell, did Netanyahu not come to America on the eve of his re-election talking about how it was 1938 all over again? As for the IRA, they wanted Home Rule and they got it. Sinn Fein is a party now because they won. – chiggsy Aug 28 '17 at 8:14
  • @chiggsy: Why do you say the IRA wanted Home Rule? Everything I've seen says they wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the Irish Republic, not the UK. Scotland & Wales got similar sorts of Home Rule without benefit of any major terrorist organization... – jamesqf Aug 29 '17 at 5:01
6

The traffic accident analogy is flawed because it suggests that Western societies aren't doing anything to prevent traffic accidents. We are. Citizens are forced to wear seat belts. There's various regulations on cars. There's speed limits. There's driver's licenses, and violations of driving rules can result in revocation of one's driver's license. Drunk driving is punished severely. All of these things, the purist libertarian might argue, are an affront to civil liberty, and yet these regulations are regarded as common sense by the vast majority of people.

It's similar with airplane regulation. There's countless regulations on airplanes even though most airplanes nowadays are designed scrupulously. Should these regulations be removed simply because the statistics on airplane regulation paint a pretty picture? Should we just stop being scared of airplanes and stop caring about airplane safety? No, of course, not.

Because although airplane crashes are exceedingly rare, the probability of them occurring is non-zero, and when they do occur, they have the potential to be utterly catastrophic.

It's exactly the same with terrorism. The fear, therefore, isn't entirely irrational.

In addition, your superficial discussion of the "statistics" ignores the psychological effect of terrorism. I will give a specific example to elaborate on this point.

During the 2014 Gaza war, the Islamist organization Hamas launched thousands of rockets directed at civilians into Israel. Did these rockets kill very many people? No, they did not. I can count the number of deaths directly caused by the rockets over the entire war with my fingers. Surely one could argue that the rockets were irrelevant, since statistically car accidents may have posed a greater threat to Israelis. But this misses the point entirely. When a foreign adversary dedicated to destroying your society is firing missiles at you every day, it has a profound psychological effect. The country isn't able to properly function. There is a constant fear. Alarms going off. Citizens forced to suspend their work and go to bomb shelters. It, again, has a profound effect on the psyche. A nation is not obliged to tolerate this, and one can certainly make the case that it is the state's responsibility to use forceful measures (e.g., military force, domestic surveillance) to stopping the terror.

  • Compare the those rockets to lightning. Statistically, lightning kills few people - there are thousands, if not millions, of lightning bolts for every death. Does that mean people are not "afraid" of lightning? (In an intellectual sense, not an emotional one like my dog who hides in the closet during T-storms.) That is, they take reasonable precautions like not standing on high places during thunderstorms, installing lightning rods on tall buildings, and so on. – jamesqf Aug 26 '17 at 5:12
  • 2
    That's a particularly one-sided commentary on the Gaza war you have there. How about the psychological effect of decades-long Israeli occupation (West Bank) or blockade (Gaza) on the Palestinian population? – gerrit Aug 26 '17 at 10:33
  • 2
    @gerrit I completely agree with you, gerrit. I myself am sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. The occupation has absolutely had a terrible effect on the Palestinians. My point is simply to highlight what the Israeli people were going through when the rockets were being fired. The Palestinian side is important, but discussing that would not pertain to the question. – user5904 Aug 26 '17 at 22:35
  • @gerrit - Don’t worry, they aren’t pro-Israel to the point of bias - very much the opposite, in fact. – Obie 2.0 Dec 29 '17 at 22:53
4

While the risk of getting hurt in a terrorist attack is indeed very small, that hasn't stopped politicians, tabloids, and right-wing groups from exploiting the fear for their own purpose.

Don't forget that we humans tend to behave irrationally. The statistically very small risk of getting hurt in a terrorist attack means very little when it's in the news for a week or so every time it happens.

In a way, saying "we're not afraid" is not a message to the terrorists, but rather to our follow countrymen, urging restraint in their response to the attack.

4

The "we are not scared" messaging can be taken as a confidence-building statement. After the 9-11 NYC attack, airline sales caved due to irrational fears (fanned by mass media sensationalization and aggrandizement of terrorism). Special deals were needed to re-establish normal ticket sales. Tourism is vulnerable to single-incident terrorist attacks. e.g. 2004 Bali, 2005 London, 2015 Istanbul.

That said, the November 2015 Bataclan massacre indicated much more grandiose plans afoot...the intent was to set off 3 bombs inside the Stade de France during a soccer game (with President Hollande present). The plan was several hundred explosives deaths plus up to a thousand more trampling deaths. Only several alert, courageous security personnel prevented the bombers from entering the Stade.

There is little doubt that terrorists would kills thousands or millions if they had the capacity, e.g. getting a nuclear weapon.

So, based on intentions, ambitions and learning time, terrorists pose a greater threat in the future. To base calculation of future threat on past attacks is to discount terrorists' grand ambitions.

  • Tourism is vulnerable to single-incident terrorist attacks. e.g. 2004 Bali, 2005 London, 2015 Istanbul. The way you're noting those examples make them appear self-evident, but do you have any evidence to back this up? The 2005 London attacks targeted commuters, not tourists. Is there any evidence tourism has declined as a consequence? – gerrit Aug 26 '17 at 10:34
  • @gerrit The quarterly data from visitbritain.org doesn't show much of a connection on the 7/7 bombings. July-September 2005 tourist visits are up 4.21% over 2004. – Charles Aug 28 '17 at 14:39
2

Whether or not politicians and publishers who make it their policy to use labels like "terror", (to signify a far-flung heterogeneous muddle of mutually incompatible global discontents' various schemes and efforts such as sorties, skirmishes, murders, and grandiose vandalisms), actually want their customers to fear the world too much... either way such fears sell more weapons, newspapers, magazines, films, media advertising, etc.

As the public's interest in the label terror waxes and wanes, publishers can cyclically celebrate courage and fearlessness as remedies. Until the next round of terror...

(Compare this to cycles of media coverage of contraband drug related crimes, unhappy biographies of drug users, then followed by inspiring drug recovery stories, or heroic law enforcers.)

0

The explicit purpose of terrorism is to cause terror. If it fails to cause terror, then the terrorist has failed. Thus, if one is looking for a purpose for stating "we are not scared," that purpose should logically come from a desire to demonstrate that an attack has failed to cause terror.

I see two main prongs to this approach. The first is a direct statement to the terrorists. The second, and possibly more profound, is a statement to those who are terrorized. A terrorist attack which sustains terror longer is naturally going to be seen as more successful as one which causes brief terror. If the terrorized citizens can be encouraged to regroup faster, the attack will be seen as less successful. As it turns out, when people are scared, they often look to people who are not scared for guidance. An announcement of "we are not scared" is also an advertisement for "If you are scared and want to stop being scared, come talk with me. I'll help you not be scared as well."

Of course, this approach is also incredibly dependent on non-verbal cues as well. If you are declaring "I'm not scared" while simultaneously stocking up on non-perishable foods, your message actually says the exact opposite. It says you're so scared that you're trying to hide the fact that you are scared. If you declare "I'm not scared" while racking the slide of a handgun, the message you send is "I'm not scared because I can hurt you more than you can hurt me, and I can do it faster."

If you declare "I'm not scared" with a slightly bemused tone of voice which beckons the terrorists to come within reach of a good noogie, it starts to suggest to the terrorists that the cat may wish to be wary of the canary, because the canary seems to know something they don't.

It all depends on your non-verbal cues. "I'm not scared" can be the perfect response, or it can make things worse.

  • "I said and said and said those words. I said them but I lied them." Perhaps you have an anecdote of it making things worse? I can't think of one, even when saying it from an undisclosed location was mocked it didn't seem to cause any more fear. – user9389 Aug 28 '17 at 20:50
  • @notstoreboughtdirt A scared populace may cling to the illusion that certain people will protect them in times of crises, like a president or a sheriff. If one of those people dispels that illusion, even by accident while claiming they aren't scared, it shatters the peace even worse. As an extreme example, consider a Pope that admits to be afraid to die because they might have been wrong about the afterlife. – Cort Ammon Aug 28 '17 at 20:59
  • After a little more thought financial examples and failed riot dispersion exist. – user9389 Aug 28 '17 at 21:48

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Philipp Aug 25 '17 at 23:50

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?