Thursday, April 22, 2010

What if Eyjafjallajökull is an Islamo-Fascist?

Something I've been musing over is the reaction to the volcano in Iceland and the cuts to European flights. While criticism of the authorities is understandable, what I find interesting is that there is pressure to start flying again early from the public and very little reporting on people being afraid due to the volcano. This strikes me as something worth thinking about, particularly in comparison to the virtual panic whenever there is a thwarted terrorist attack. With the volcano, which failed spectacularly to crash any planes, authorities manage to act and prevent any planes from sustaining damage and crashing. While there is some pressure for institutional reform I don't get the impression that anyone feels this is a real urgent need.

However, whenever a terrorist spectacularly fails to cause any planes to crash it seems there is a significant uptick in public pressure for authorities to do something and inflict any amount of indignity on passengers to prevent a failed attempt to bring down a plane from happening again. If an equivalent scenario had been produced by a terrorist attack, say by a filthy bomb causing particulate matter to hover over Europe (dirty bomb is unfortunately taken) would the public response have been significantly different?

It may be simply because the flight ban has been so prolonged and is causing significant hardship instead of the cause of the event, I lean towards this explanation but not strongly. But I can't help but wondering if there is something special about human agency behind a potential threat to planes that enhances the sense of fear and makes the public react more strongly than if the threatened plane crash was due to non-human agency. Why is there such a difference in threat perception? I don't have any answers but I think there is something here that would be interesting to explore further.

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