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7/7: What kills you matters - not numbers

Posted by John Adams

The death toll from the London bombings represents six days of death on Britain's roads. The death toll from the Madrid bombings represents twelve or thirteen days of death on the Spanish roads. In the 25 "busiest" years of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland twice as many people died in road accidents as were killed by terrorists. In Israel, between 27th September 2000 and 26th September 2003, 622 civilian Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists; the annual road death toll over this period was about 550. It is estimated that last year more than 1.2 million people were killed in road accidents globally – more than one 9/11 every day. Yet the public fear of terrorism - and reaction to it - is on a completely different scale to that of death on the road. Prof. John Adams - Britain's leading academic expert on risk and the author of the seminal Risk - asks why this should be so.

7/7 is Britain's 9/11. After the events of the 7th July 2005 most of the British press adopted 7/7 as its shorthand symbol of Britain's terrorism victimhood. The eight most-powerful-men-in-the-world, coincidentally assembled for the G8 in Gleneagles in Scotland, stood shoulder to shoulder before the World's television cameras. Tony Blair proclaimed their solidarity, outrage and defiance. The Prime Minister then helicoptered to London to assume command of the emergency. The 60-fold differential in numbers of lives lost was a negligible inconvenience. London, like Madrid, like New York, was a victim of terrorism.

In the following days the Government and the media choreographed the nation's grief, anger and resolution. (As I write I am listening to a BBC radio programme devoted to explaining why it pulled programmes from its schedule the following week for fear of treading on the sensitivities of a traumatized nation.) One week on, millions stood in silence for two-minutes at mid-day to commemorate the events, and tens of thousands assembled in Trafalgar Square in the evening to manifest their ... what?

In Britain on an average day nine people die and over 800 are injured in road accidents. The mangled metal, the pain of the victims, and the grief of families and friends, one might suppose, are similar in both cases. Measured in terms of life and limb, 7/7 represented six days of death on the road. But thousands do not gather weekly in Trafalgar Square to manifest their collective concern. Why?

Acknowledgment:  by kind permission of the author Professor John Adams.  Read full article at: http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000512.php

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