Yesterday, British ISIS member Sally Jones threatened attacks in the UK in the near future, and that news was on the majority of British news sites. On twitter, Jones posted messages such as "To be honest I wouldn't go into Central London through June ... or even July well to be honest I wouldn't go there at all especially by Tube" and "London - Glasgow - Wales Booooom!" Whether Jones is attempting to scare people unnecessarily or to foreshadow a planned attack to give other warnings in the future a frightening resonance is unclear, but anyone thinking of postponing a potential trip into London or Glasgow this summer shouldn't give into the fear that Jones is trying to create.
It's become cliché to note that the chances of being killed or injured in a terrorist attack is extremely low. There are many comparisons to other unusual events such as being struck by lightning and animal attacks being more likely than being injured let alone killed in a terrorist attack and indeed the statistics bear this out (752 injured or killed in the July 7th 2005 attacks in London out of a city with a static population of over 8 million residents and many more travelling into the city on the day).
I've found though that these comparisons don't always reassure people though which as someone who in their academic career has studied the effect of terrorism on public opinion doesn't surprise me. Terrorism is about the audience. The Algerian liberation group, the FLN, who often used terrorism to further their goals said it was better to kill one Frenchmen in front of the cameras than ten of them with no coverage. Terrorism especially in the 21st century is about manipulating multiple audiences. The British Artist Damien Hirst and the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen caused outrage by comparing the 9/11 attacks to a work of art. Their comments though clumsy and perhaps callous, do point out the essential truth about terrorism in the age of social media and rolling 24 hour news that it is about transfixing a global audience sitting at home mouths agape, with the vile acts committed to achieve this.
The main motive behind these attacks is to create a dualistic split in Western societies where due to the resentment, Islamophobia and hatred unleashed by these attacks, the amount of Muslims identifying with ISIS increases. To use a second example from the Algerian conflict, the FLN would carry out dreadful massacres of the French population, with the expectation that the French in Algeria would respond with their own foul atrocities against the Muslim community (which it did) further separating the two communities and leading to a polarization where Muslim Algerians felt that the only choice for their community was to join with the FLN.
This 'provocation and backlash' strategy has been the most common strategy used by terrorists operation in mixed communities from Republicans in Ireland to Marxists in South America. What ISIS would want most of all after an attack in the UK is for mosques to be attacked, for women wearing hijabs to be assaulted in the street, and for gormless fascists in the 21st century sports casual equivalent of a black shirt to be marching up and down British high streets.
ISIS want to create hatred, division and alienation between Muslims and non-Muslims in every country in on the planet. The way to defeat them is to show understanding and affinity with the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens who are just like us in every way apart from religion. We can't ignore when terrorists carry out attacks, or even when they threaten attacks in the same way as Jones (those saying the media shouldn't report these incidents, should be wary of curtailing a free press that responds to publicly available statements, in the name of security), we can't avoid travelling into the cities they threaten or have attacked and we certainly shouldn't match hate with hate. If you want to do your part in defeating ISIS, then don't give into hate, don't become their mirror image and don't do exactly what they wanted you to do in the first place.