21 November 1974 is a date etched in my memory. I was a university student, enjoying a drink with a couple of friends in Birmingham’s Mulberry Bush Pub. By the time I got home I saw the news on the TV. Less than an hour after we had left the pub, it had been blown up by an IRA bomb. The nearby Tavern pub was also blown up. 21 people were killed and 182 injured. Although the IRA threat is thankfully now historic, terrorism is still very much part of our lives.
Last week was Anti-Terrorism week. To mark this, a number of keynote speeches were made, notably by the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Prime minister, David Cameron. There is no doubt that terrorism is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. The most significant attacks have been associated with so-called Radical Islam. They include September 11, 2001 (known as 9/11) in America and the London bombings 7 July 2005 (known as 7/7). Terrorism in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria is a danger to political stability and hampers economic growth. The effects of terrorism on Government policies and economic budgets are well documented. But what is far less researched and understood are the financial effects of terrorism on the ordinary citizen.
The legacy of 9/11 is probably felt most in airport security. Four commercial aircrafts were high-jacked by the Islamic group al-Qaeda and crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a remote field in western Pennsylvania. The attacks killed 2,996 people and 11 unborn babies. Aviation is in reality more secure today than in 2001. But this has come at a great price in terms of passenger convenience and industry costs. Airlines and their passengers pay a security bill which has ballooned to over $10 billion. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of 9/11, air passenger traffic declined and by 2003 US airlines had laid off 14.6% of its employees. Swissair and Sabena airlines went bankrupt, as the 9/11 shock pushed financially weaker carriers into collapse.
But it is the individual stories of financial distress caused by terrorism, that really bring the impact home. One young woman lost her husband in the World Trade Centre. She had found out 2 weeks before the attacks, that she was pregnant. In the month after September 11, she received $450 dollars, hardly enough to cover her mortgage, car payments and other expenses. Thousands of people lost their access to public services, because major computer links were destroyed with the Towers.
Insurance companies had never considered terrorism when writing policies. Now every commercial property and public works project must factor this risk in. Inevitably this had led to an increase in premiums. As to risk, it is also important to recognise the vulnerable position of families of “first responders”, who by nature of their employment are more at risk when terrorism occurs. This would include the families of firefighters, police or emergency medical workers. In America there is a specific federal programme which awards such families a lump sum payment. A spouse of a fallen New York Police officer or firefighter, but not a paramedic, receives a life time pension. But how can one adequately compensate for the loss of a life? Apart from financial assistance, victims of terror may also need mental health counselling, childcare and spiritual care.
On the 7 July 2005 there were a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks in central London, targeting civilians using public transport during the morning rush hour. 52 civilians and 4 suicide bombers were killed. But over 700 more were injured, in the UK’s worst terrorist incident since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. There were 650 claims for compensation to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Most of the cases were settled by 2012, but because the CICA has a maximum payout cap, the total compensation was a relatively modest £11 million. This is cheap, when you consider the number of lives which were directly and indirectly devastated by the bombings. The London Chamber of Commerce reported that the bombings created a fear in some people using public transport, causing more expense for themselves by using cars and taxis instead. Ironically the 7 July attacks occurred the day after London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. London as an inclusive multi-racial, multi-cultural success story had been the core message of the bid. A day is a long time in politics.
This year alone, there has been an escalation in terrorist incidents. The most prominent have been by Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In London the killing of British Army soldier Lee Rigby was planned by his murderers as an Islamic terrorist attack. In September, when asked about how America planned to deal with ISIS, President Obama admitted “We don’t have a strategy yet”. That is a long way from his presidential campaign catch phrase, “Yes we can.”
On Thursday last week the UK Government announced a Counter -Terrorism Bill. The same day I attended an anti-terrorism meeting in parliament. It gave me and other parliamentarians the opportunity to meet a number of Islamic mosque leaders, who had been invited. It was encouraging to hear them denounce terrorism as being anything to do with true Islam. But they were equally clear that until the Government makes more effort to get to the root causes of terrorism, no amount of legislation is the answer. They explained their frustration at not having more channels of communication with central Government. It is this lack of dialogue between two cultures which fosters alienation. The tragedy is that the financial costs of terror impacts most on ordinary people. It is like an additional Tax. We need to listen more to the moderate voices of Islam and nurture a more inclusive multi-racial, multi-cultural society. Otherwise the Terror Tax will continue to grow.
To view, “The Terror Tax” in Endeavour Magazine, please click here.