Tuesday, 9 January 2007

be alert and alarmed = the politics of fear

In December 2002 the Australian Federal Government launched the first phase of a counter-terrorism awareness campaign, with the tagline BE ALERT, BUT NOT ALARMED. BE ALERT, BUT NOT ALARMED has been supported with a continuous, heavy media presence since then. The latest phase [Jan 2007] is a booklet for small and medium sized businesses on how to minimise the risk of major acts of terrorism. It includes essential advice such as "have a first aid kit; work out how you would deal with specific hazards such as a bomb threat; establish a chain of command".

All up, the Australian Federal Government has spent a total of $8 billion on counter-terrorism since September 11 [The Daily Telegraph, 9th January 2007]. Good on them - for we must surely be living in one of the safest places on earth as a result of their efforts.

Apparently NOT. Australians are more fearful of a terrorist attack today than we have EVER been. Check out these polls run by ninemsn.com.au:

Monday, 11 September 2006: Are we any safer since the events of September 11, 2001?
Yes: 13009 (27%)
No: 35143 (73%)

Friday, 08 September 2006: Do you fear a terrorist attack in Australia?
Yes: 37391 (47%)
No: 42823 (53%)

3rd October 2006:
Has the Iraq war reduced the threat of terrorism in Australia?
Yes: 5590 (12%)
No: 41431 (88%)

I'm not an expert on terrorism, and I cannot say whether or not the world [Australia] is a safer place today that it was on 11th September 2001. But I do know people who won't use the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, preferring instead to be blown up on the Harbour Bridge [despite the two security guards who patrol it 24/7] than drowning in a sea of concrete. And i do know a whole heap of people who avoid public transport.

Rather than allay our fears and concerns, BE ALERT, BUT NOT ALARMED has made us more alarmed than ever, by the mere suggestion that we shouldn't be alarmed. It's like telling your 3 year old kid "watch out for the baddies, but don't worry - they won't come creeping into your room in the middle of the night".

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