Threat Level: Pointless

“Man the terror alert for London has just been upped I don’t wanna go out now :(”, the text from my friend read. The recent news that Britain’s government has raised its terrorism alert level to “severe” unsurprisingly prompted a renewed climate of fear, reflected on social media and in major news outlets. Yet even if we grant a significantly increased risk of a terrorist attack, how can publicly raising a “threat level” do anything to lessen that possibility?

My friend did not change his plans, of course. Few — if any — do. The only likely change in behaviour amongst the British public is a greater feeling of dread when they see someone who looks “a bit foreign.” This fearmongering serves the state’s agenda of control and power by applying the timeless formula of uniting the population against “the enemy within.” It fits seamlessly into the narrative of xenophobia peddled by successive governments, so successfully that around three quarters of people in Britain are now anti-immigration. In the absence of any sort of protective value, Theresa May’s much-publicised announcement can be viewed as a further attempt to galvanise support for the next election. This support is built on the practice of blaming anyone and everyone but politicians for the country’s economic and social difficulties.

Those who chose not to take the raised alert level seriously displayed the typically British response of taking the piss, with numerous “#ThreatLevel” parodies doing the rounds on Twitter. When you’re nearly fourteen times more likely to die drowning in a bathtub than as the victim of a terrorist attack, such disregard for government threat levels is understandable. Terror attacks are horrific, and no reasonable person would say otherwise. But you (or indeed someone you know) being a victim of an attack is stupendously improbable.

It’s true to say that a small number of Brits are fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It’s also true to say that making a huge song-and-dance about raising the terror threat level will do absolutely nothing to prevent them from staging a terrorist attack. Maybe if politicians replaced such needless posturing with an examination of the failures of interventionist foreign policy, they might make a real contribution to the safety of Brits. Until then, we are left with a grim irony; the British government’s “terror alerts” help nobody and — if taken at all seriously — only succeed in creating terror.

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