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The cost of paranoia
Ever tighter and stronger and more intrusive controlling of public life and domain is not the answer to terrorism threat


August 16, 2006

The plot that was foiled in the UK scared some people. It was quite stressful for the passengers and their families. The government is banning more and more stuff to be taken on board airplanes, and also checking people more and more to make sure that there won't be terrorist attacks on airplanes.

It seems to be reasonable for the British government, and other governments such as the US, to take such measures to protect their citizens. But are they any more than public relations maneuvers! These actions such as ever more controlling passengers and luggage and many many other types of check-and-control measures are quite open to debate, and as I will explain, actually counter-productive.

Let's just take the material costs of such measures! They are horrendously high. Extra billions of US dollars and British pounds have been spent for all sorts of check-and-control measures since September the 11-th that could have been spent for many other useful things. Beside the material costs to state and private budgets, there are also the personal, and privacy costs that should also be added to the directly spent billions.

And what all this is for? To check as many people as possible so that terrorists would be intimidated? That's just the illusion. Public authorities may check more and more all the people who board on planes, but what about people who are boarding ships, trains, the underground, buses and so many other crowded places? It is simply impossible.

You cannot prevent people from blowing themselves up, or killing others, using all sorts of methods by simply checking and checking and checking everyone more and more and more. Not that human life is not worth it, yes it is. But it is simply impossible to prevent terrorists by taking such measures. Maybe terrorists will not blow up airplanes anymore, but they can still blow up trains and buses, let alone other places. I don't wish to give the terrorists new ideas.

The bureaucrats are trying to show the electorate that they are doing something to protect them. Maybe it's not just for the electorate's eyes, but it is just for the sake of the duty, which is nice. However, we as the tax-payers, or simple citizens, should know, and should try to convey this to the authorities, that these measures are not just too costly and intrusive, but they are actually useless.

This is not to say that the authorities should do nothing. Of course they should be active protecting the people. But this is not the smart way to do it. Ever tighter and stronger and more intrusive controlling of public life and domain is not the answer. It actually makes the terrorists happier. All they want is to distort life and business because they know that they are not really able to do more than that.

The smart way to deal with the threat of terrorism is to go after the terrorists first, and then, go after the root causes of terrorism. Well, the Americans, and the British alongside them, have tried to do the first and succeeded in some ways more or less, especially in Afghanistan but also in Western countries by nailing various terrorist cells and disrupting others' activities. But they have done a lot of wasteful and some harmful things beside some of the successful ones. One of the major wasteful things, as mentioned in detail above, has been the ever more intrusive and expensive check-and-control system they have put in place.

At the same time Americans have been quite incompetent in dealing with the root causes of terrorism. I believe that the British prime minister, Tony Blair, could have been wiser in this regard but he had little opportunity or leverage to do enough. What the Bush administration thought and acted upon was to democratise the Middle East by force, while staying biased toward Israel, which is probably the most important, and the most reasonable, cause of Arab and Muslim dissatisfaction toward US policies. Americans could have done more and better by staying on the side of reason and logic more, and less on the side of paranoia.

Terrorism is dangerous indeed, but let's be serious! They are extremely few in numbers. Otherwise we could been witness to many more attacks. It's not really possible to stop someone killing other while he has no regard for his own life. So, why there aren't terrorist attacks all over the place every day? Because there aren't enough terrorists out there. But anyway, American policies can change the situation and increase the numbers!

That's the worst case scenario, but by taking wrong measures and by doing the opposite of what a right-minded rational leader would do, Mr Bush might actually succeed in realising what Bin Laden may have never wished of. And this wrong policy is not just one or two to mention. But the last one, that has added to the situation making it worse, has been the US support for an Israeli offensive in Lebanon that was completely unnecessary and in a very bad moment.

Let's hope that the number of the terrorists will not rise, as they are actually very low and manageable thus far. Comment


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Ben Madadi



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