Can we ease up for a moment? Desist from the drum-beating and the alarums? Hush the television interviews, the pronouncements and the what-ifs? Put the terror button on pause for a spell and maybe stop and think? What is the extent of current dangers to us and in what form do they lurk?
What do the facts and figures tell us? For within them maybe we can discern some context, some sense of balance, some reality.
In October 2002, Muslim terrorists detonated two powerful bombs that destroyed Paddy's Club Café and Sari Club Café in Bali’s tourist district when 88 of the 202 people killed were Australian.
We had earlier grieved and been horrified at New York’s loss of life after al-Qaeda supporters flew aircraft, and passengers, into the Twin Towers. We were saddened at the loss of life at Madrid, London and other targets of terrorist activity. We sincerely feel for those families who have had to endure the bad news.
It is sensible to guard against terrorism but it also necessary to see it in perspective and in context with other dangers. Britain was attacked for years by IRA terrorists but sought to deal with it within democratic limits and controlled alarm.
Fear of terrorism and new technology have provided governments with the open sesame to introduce severe (and maybe anti-democratic) anti-terrorism legislation. People in power can always be tempted to go too far, clamping down on the freedom of people and freedom of speech. Once politicians get the bit between their teeth, they don’t seem able to stop themselves. It is the public that has to reign them in.
Fear breeds fear. Look at the US, now with a presidential licence to spy on its own citizens; look at the past bad ways of the old Communist Soviet Union and consider Putin’s Russia; and wonder too about China.
In Australia recent severe anti-terror legislation, including the reintroduction of sedition laws, caused deep consternation, but nevertheless it was passed by parliament with the help of the Opposition. Now the Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has decided it is necessary to have legislation to allow police to tap the phones of people not suspected of crime (ABC, February 16, 2006).
He has introduced a Bill into parliament designed to formalise the powers of police and intelligence agencies to access phone calls, text messages and emails of suspects. The law would also allow police to tap the phones of friends and family of a person under investigation for major crimes or terrorism offences. That could be your emails, phone calls and text messages, as well as mine. This is all under the terrorism-fear umbrella.
Therefore it is useful to consider current facts and figures to put terror concerns in context and perspective. Regretfully, we lost 88 Australians in the Bali terror bombing, but, concurrently we lose nearly 1,500 Australians each year in road fatalities. In 2005 the number of road deaths was 1,635, the previous year the figure was 1,598. Since record-keeping commenced in 1925, there have been over 169,000 road fatalities in Australia. This dreadful and unnecessary loss of life receives scant publicity given the huge number of people who die on the roads annually.
Other unexpected deaths include the victims of murder which in 2004 numbered 254 for the whole of Australia, (attempted murder 304), and manslaughter, 35. The 2005 totals are not yet available.
Australian service people killed on operations to date (February 21, 2006) since March 2003 total eleven. Nine were on a humanitarian helicopter mission at Nias Island, Indonesia; one serviceperson died in the Solomon Islands and one in the Middle East.
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