SEVEN people died in a series of terror attacks across London Saturday evening following reports that a van mowed down five or six pedestrians on London Bridge. In the nearby Borough Market shortly afterward, police responded to a knife attack in an area packed with popular restaurants. The attacks come less than a month after a suicide bomber set off an improvised explosive device at the exit of an arena where a sold-out concert had just ended in Manchester, England. Twenty-three people, including children, were killed.
Here at home, a masked gunman with an assault rifle shot up and set fire to gaming tables at Resorts World Manila before setting himself ablaze Friday morning. When the smoke cleared, 37 casino employees and guests were dead of suffocation.
While the authorities are adamant that this was not an act of terror, it certainly has all the hallmarks of one—it strikes fear in our hearts and causes us to doubt our own safety, even in the mundane activities of our daily lives. Instead of a casino, the gunman could just as well have gone on a rampage at a mall, a bus terminal or a busy government office. Instead of those unfortunate souls who died at Resorts World, it could have been us.
Clearly, from what the police have revealed, the Resorts World attacker was not some fanatic brainwashed into committing a terrorist act, but “an emotionally disturbed person who apparently engaged in a criminal action.” But isn’t this precisely the type of unstable, lone wolf that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State recruit and use to carry out their cowardly attacks these days? And isn’t it the very definition of “emotionally disturbed” to strap a bomb packed with shrapnel onto one’s chest and to detonate it among innocent civilians? Or to enter a casino with an assault rifle, set fire to gaming tables and cause panic among the people there?
Like other countries, we must now come to grips with this new form of terrorism in which the sowers of fear are “emotionally disturbed individuals” who have nothing to lose.
In computer systems, there is always a balancing act between usability and security. You can make a system more secure by putting more passwords in place—but putting too many such checkpoints will make the system unusable.
This is the same kind of balancing act that society confronts today. How much of our open, democratic way of life should we give up in exchange for a greater sense—or illusion—of security in the face of these terror attacks. We need to be cautious that we do not exchange one form of terror for another, in which the state is the terrorist.