Like this page?
Send it to a friend!
BBC London's Kurt Barling
What's the risk to London?
In the first of a series of articles on life in London, BBC London's Special Correspondent Kurt Barling looks at the risks facing residents in the capital on the fourth anniversary of 9/11
On the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers Kurt Barling looks at the Risks Londoners’ face.
Holidays over, tan fading, children trudging through the school gates again. This year getting back into the swing of London life brings with it an element of risk that we happily thought we’d overcome with political good fortune in Northern Ireland.
And it's Londoners’ attitude to risk that will determine how we fare emotionally before the next mass holiday exodus. Since the 7 July bombings an academic at Kings College, Dr Neil Greenberg, has conducted a piece of research which suggests 50% of us feel our lives are now in danger. One third of commuters into the capital are suffering levels of increased stress and one in three individuals is less likely to use public transport.
Recent natural disasters re-awaken our awareness of our vulnerability. It also reminds us of the nature of risk. Those in New Orleans and along the US Gulf Coast slowly getting to grips with Katrina’s devastation will now have to weigh up the real risk of losing everything again if they are to stay.
Gulfport after Hurricane Katrina struck
I spent my family break in Portugal this year and there man-made natural disasters have got the Portuguese really wound up. Dozens of forest wild fires have destroyed all in their path and there have been many deaths and much loss of property.
Driving back to Lisbon on our way back to the UK I bumped into a German woman from Berlin in the forests around the Algarve town of Monchique. She pricked me out of my relaxed holiday state of mind. She was eager to know how worried I was about going home to London. Lots of other visiting Londoners had expressed real anxiety.
To be honest I rather dodged her question. I turned it back on her and asked how she had felt when the Baader Meinhof atrocities of the seventies had brought palpable fear to the cities of the then West Germany. Not to mention the Berlin neurosis of the risk of Russian tanks rolling into free Berlin prior to 1989. It was a roundabout way of telling her whilst I wasn’t very happy, like most people I’d have to get on with my life. In short, I would keep reassessing the risk.
Let’s not forget that 10 years ago Islamic terrorists associated with the Algerian GIA (the Muslim fundamentalist movement) launched a deadly bombing campaign on the Paris Metro. The French capital practically wilted under the strain of successive and ever deadlier bombings, fear paralysing many Parisians.
Some of the Metro bombings had London links and the French saw increasing numbers of Muslim radicals congregating freely in London’s mosques. They gathered intelligence on some of the men now being held by the British authorities.
World Trade Center after 9/11 attacks
They alleged, for example, that a man called Rachid Ramda had acted as a banker to some of those later jailed for the bombings in France from his flat in Wembley.
I guess if Lisbon airport shows anything, it is that risk can only be managed but never eliminated. There are those who have argued more eloquently elsewhere that we have increasingly become a more risk averse society, so I won’t rehearse the arguments here, but suffice it to say that much of what we fear is directly proportionate to the way we individually assess the risks we face.
Part of the desired psychological effect of planting the bombs is possibly to induce ordinary Londoners to suspend the faculty for assessing the risk, clouding our judgment with the fear that uncertainty brings. Fear is what the enemies of our open city need most.
In that sense it’s perhaps worth trying to put into a historical perspective the threat we now face. The threat is real and different from - but arguably no worse than - the IRA bombing campaign of 1974-75, carried out by the way by a cell that preferred to go on killing others rather than killing themselves.
last updated: 15/05/2008 at 16:50
Have Your Say
Let us know your views about some of the comments raised here regarding your sense of security in London