The risks of terror

18 Jun 2015

Like all phobias, terrorism relies for its enduring effect on sustaining and reinforcing irrational fear. Remarkably, terrorism co-opts credulous authorities who need to constantly dramatize the magnitude and imminence of the threat in order to justify exceptional government actions to protect the community. The reach and impact of the distorted "death cult" propaganda is reflected in the (absurd) characterisation of terrorism as an existential threat to civilised society.

One of the significant risks of terrorism is therefore its capacity to elicit an authoritarian response by zealous governments under the auspices of a new and more powerful (utilitarian) national security paradigm. By reacting in militaristic ways to misperceptions of the terrorism threat governments can damage the fundamental institutions and principles that are the foundations for a contemporary and cohesive liberal democracy, at the same time compromising the moral authority and legitimacy of the state and exacerbating the social marginalisation and radicalisation that governments are seeking to prevent.

Ironically, Australian Governments have previously recognised the potential for alarmist, populist or reactionary perspectives to distort national priorities, and for a number of years authorities have applied an objective risk management approach to identifying and evaluating the relative risks to the nation's interest from a broad range of hazards. An all-hazards risk management approach examines and compares the likelihood and consequences of a diverse range of actual and potential threats (from natural disasters to pandemics to terrorism), with mortality (deaths) being an important benchmark of severe harmful consequences.

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