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EU > United Kingdom > London

Terrorist threat

London, UK (View on map)

9/11 in the United States, 7/7 in London and 11/3 in Madrid. Many Europeans will recognise at least one of these numbers to terrorist attacks by suicide bombers. Fortunately, these events are happening on a much less frequent basis in EU countries than in some other parts of the world. London is supposed to be one of the best protected cities in Europe, especially after the terrorist bombings in 2005. But how does it feel to be constantly reminded that your life may be at risk?

Andrew (23):

..can think of arguments to claim that the US and the UK are the biggest threats to world peace
People who were not directly involved in 2005 bombings hardly had any other choice than to resume their lives. The metro system Tube was less busy for a few weeks, but Londoners quickly decided that they would not let terrorism interfere with their daily routines. Regina (33), originally from Sierra Leone puts full confidence in the increased security measures taken by the government. `I do not see people look at each other in a different way either. Anybody could be a terrorist, so people don`t even really bother visually scanning the people surrounding them on the metro.`

Consequences of the bombings
Lukas (22) from Slovakia has lived in London for a few years, including July 2005 when the suicide bombings took place. He says: `The consequence of the attacks was a blind hatred against anything or anybody that had to do anything with the Islam. It boosted xenophobia that already reins big cities anyway. Nobody knows anybody, so you don`t know who to trust. That oftentimes leads to people distrusting everybody from the start. Moreover, London is a very multicultural city. It`s very hard to blame entire communities for crazy acts committed by a handful of their members.`

Andrew (23, photo) doesn`t think about the threat of terrorism in London. `I hope that being streetwise will keep me out of trouble, but I know there`s very little I can do. For the rest, I count on the increased level of security. Look at how well the airports are protected nowadays. I think it scares off potential terrorists and allows others to travel feeling safe.`

Axes of Evil
Although Andrew believes that the threat of terrorism is properly dealt with domestically, he does not agree to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. `That`s the kind of thing that keeps the circle going. If you look at these wars, it would be easy to defend the opinion that the US and UK are the world`s biggest terrorists. Their arrogance feeds the hate against the West and is more likely to cause more terrorism than to prevent it.`

Andrew thinks that many British oppose the wars, `but unfortunately, we live in a lazy society where nobody dares to speak up. Democracy in the UK is: reading The Sun, believing what they write and go on doing what you were doing. The majority decides, yes, but the majority doesn`t spend a lot of time on reflection. They are opportunistic in a negative way. Everything is becoming fashion, even political opinions.` Sipke (30) from The Netherlands has lived in London since the end of June 2005. He does see the shared effort to make London a safer place and suspects that similar projects are being carried out to facilitate exchanges between different ethnic communities: `None of these projects are however as clearly visible as the preventive measures taken by the government. I do notice, on the other hand, that the threat of terrorism facilitates the acceptance of new legislation that would otherwise be unacceptable from a human rights point of view. Politicians are working on controversial plans to allow authorities to detain suspects for 90 days without any process. If you look at things like wire tapping and camera surveillance, or even the recording of traveling data, you start to feel less at ease. Nobody knows where the information goes and in which way it is used, and by whom.`

Sipke continues: `I don`t think the threat of terrorism is as big as we are told it is. If it was, there would be more terrorist attacks but we haven`t had any since July 2005. But if it happens, it happens. No, it`s not like the risk of The Netherlands flooding, because that risk is manageable and controllable mathematically. Understanding people`s motives for carrying out terrorist attacks is much more difficult. The result of their actions is unpredictable, making it very hard to take appropriate measures to prevent attacks from happening.

Coping strategies
Harem (26) says the threat of terrorism has now grown to be a constant factor: `A small one, put people always keep that risk in the back of their heads. Terrorism has been here before, as London also used to be a target for the Irish Republican Army IRA. By the way, I think putting together a terrorist attack takes a long time, so when one actually took place, I felt relaxed and thought it would take another while for another one to happen. I know it doesn`t make sense, but it helps me deal with the uncertainty.`

Harem also tries to see the humour of the situation, and tells me about how he recently saw a man in traditional Islamic dress walk into a train where everybody watched him. He then turned around and said `don`t worry, I won`t blow you up`. But that`s what it`s like. London is a busy city with lots of different people and many of them wear backpacks. You can`t pinpoint a specific profile and say: this is a terrorist.`

`If somebody cultivates such a profound hate against society, one also start to wonder what the source of it is. I try to have confidence in the political system, but I often feel like we don`t get to see the whole picture. It instantly makes me think that Western governments have misbehaved without us knowing it. They may have oppressed people in the past, taken advantage of their poor economical position, or done whatever, which they have not been telling us about. So in a way, terrorism also makes me lose belief in the honesty of British authorities.`

Bigger risks
Harem continues: `Looking at the threat of terrorism in every day life, people may want to bear in mind that the number of victims resulting from terrorist attack is much lower then the numbers of stabbings, shootings and rapes. Those take place in London streets on a daily basis. Instead of worrying about terrorist attacks, I pay more attention to groups of teenagers in the street or on buses. They speak incomprehensible slang, are inaccessible and unpredictable. They cover their heads with hoodies. The risk of getting beaten up or robbed by these kids is much higher than the risk of being blown up by a terrorist attack.`

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