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Threats and threats

Are there really terrorists round every corner or is this just government hype to scare us into supporting them?

What's the biggest threat in the world today for most of the world's population? Judging by the airtime allocated by news media, the column inches of print media, the numerous books published in the last handful of years and the massive budget allocated worldwide to its defeat, it must be terrorism. Terrorism is good for sales and viewing figures. “Breaking News” is a sure-fire attention catcher. At the end of November Mumbai experienced a series of horrific, coordinated acts of violence which killed over 180 people, mainly civilians.

Sri Lanka has its ongoing struggle with the Tamil Tigers, Turkey the PKK, Spain ETA, Colombia the FARC, etc; all named “terrorist organisations.” Acts of terrorism occur daily in both Iraq and Afghanistan, individual suicide bombers, car and truck bombs killing single figures, dozens or scores of victims whilst guided missiles from the coalition forces create death and destruction for countless thousands of innocent victims. Since September 2001 the world's biggest powers have allowed themselves every possible opportunity to wreak retribution wherever they have deemed there to be a terrorist threat, even against the will of the majority of their electorates. Around 3,000 deaths in New York and Washington, horrific, inexcusable deaths, have been the precursor to untold thousands since – each one as horrific and inexcusable as the originals – but most of these excused as collateral damage by the powerful.

President Obama has vowed to carry on the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. No doubt UK forces will be expected to continue to play their role too. By continuing the occupation many argue that more Afghanis are and will continue to join the insurgency, the Taliban, because what they want more than anything is to remove the foreign occupiers from their soil. This is one of the poorest nations on Earth but it is seen as one of the greatest threats to the richest nation on Earth. Coincidentally, of the aid money actually contributed 40 percent has found its way back to the donor countries as consultant salaries and corporate profits. A mere $9 billion of aid has been spent in Afghanistan since 2002. Aid commitments have fallen well short of the promises; US still owes half of its pledged $10.4 billion; the World Bank still owes nearly half of its pledged $1.6 billion; UK is one of a few which has nearly met its commitment. (Matt Waldman/ACBAR Advocacy Series 'Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan' March 2008 – from New Internationalist, November 2008)

War, invasion or occupation is excellent business, especially for the wealthy and the wealthy are very happy to keep the media on board to help cultivate misconceptions and broadcast them loud, clear and often, subjecting consumers to manufactured threats until most of us believe the unbelievable: – That there is a terrorist threat. That there are terrorists around every corner, at every airport, in every subway, maybe even living in your street. But look at the numbers, at the actual threat. (The following statistics relate to the US and are taken from Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country.) For Americans, in 2001, the chance of dying in an act of terrorism was 1 in 100,000; as a result of murder 1 in 14,000; by suicide 1 in 9,200; in a car accident 1 in 6,500; or from flu or pneumonia 1 in 4,500. Statistics like these will vary from country to country but the general risk of death as a result of terrorism is much, much lower than that of death on the road or from heart disease or even from suicide, but you don't see people getting paranoid about getting into cars day after day. Even if you are born in Afghanistan you are more likely to die of malnutrition or health-related factors – 25 percent of children die before they are 5 years old and maternal mortality is 1,800 per 100,000 (compared with 8 in the UK). To repeat: even in the year of the biggest terrorist act in the US the chance of dying from terrorism was 1 in 100,000, but year on year the chance of dying in childbirth inn Afghanistan is 1,800 in 100,000. (UNICEF 2008)

Who knows this? Does it make any difference?

We need to get a sense of reality and balance. We need to recognise these manufactured, hyped-up threats for what they are. Terrorism will not be overcome by state-sponsored terrorism. Recognizing all lives as having similar worth would be an excellent start for world leaders – as they like to hear themselves called; even recognizing their own electorate as having worth on a par with their own would be an improvement.

A different threat, one which could claim the lives of untold numbers, suddenly and possibly without warning, is the nuclear threat. This threat is impossible to quantify. Proliferation is the name of the game now. Those with most of the nuclear weapons don't want those without to have any but keep on stockpiling themselves, refining and upgrading, supplying their favoured clients whilst insisting that those without shall remain without. That the industrial-military complex is so vast and carries such clout with governments (politicians are prized among board members), coupled with the readily available terrorist threat with which to alert and frighten the public forever increases the possibility of disaster. Depleted uranium weapons have been in regular use for a number of years causing death outright to immediate victims, a slower, painful death following debilitating illness for other victims, war veterans and local populations alike and massively increased numbers of severe birth defects in the “theatre of operations” - not to mention environmental disasters. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. We can tolerate such horrors. The slow drip of outright cruelty and inhumanity on mankind and its habitat can be borne, it seems.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of 'Physicians for Social Responsibility' and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize explains in her book The New Nuclear Danger in clear and unequivocal language how close the world has already been to all-out nuclear war and how simple human or computer error could trigger the destruction of the planet at any time. It used to be called the nuclear “deterrent” but terrorists, especially suicide bombers, are hardly likely to be deterred. They haven't been so far.

If we do manage to progress without mutual nuclear annihilation then the other great threat is the one that millions of ordinary folk are focussed upon but which is being treated far too lightly by world governments, that is the challenge of global warming and climate change. Both the pamphlet An Inconvenient Question – Socialism and the Environment and the DVD “Poles Apart? Capitalism or Socialism as the planet heats up”, recently published by the Socialist Party address this subject convincingly. There can be little doubt in anyone's mind that the threat to our environment is real and urgent.

Whether there is political will to confront this threat with the same enthusiasm and almost unlimited budget thrown at the war against terrorism and the continued development of nuclear weapons of all kinds is most definitely in doubt. It's clear there is repeat business and plenty of profit in weapons of all kinds but the environment is just another poor relation leaving us with the obvious conclusion that, in fact, it is capitalism itself which is our greatest threat.

JANET SURMAN