You could prevent more deaths by banning cycling in London than by deporting every Muslim in the UK and not letting any more in.
Up to a dozen cyclists die on London roads each year. Deaths from terrorism range from about 60 one terrible year more than a decade ago to nil. Or one that year. Or nil again the next.
Most terrorist acts are random, committed by random individuals in random places. A soldier walking along the street in Woolwich. A concert by a band almost no one has heard of in Paris.
This suggests heavy-handed policing is not the solution. All the armed police in the world at the Gare du Nord will not influence events on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Those armed officers I walk past at London Bridge each day will almost certainly not be present at the site of the next attack. It is the boring strategy of surveillance of known individuals and combating the spread of the meme of radical Islam that will limit the damage.
The French do seem to have a particular problem, with their large and disaffected Muslim population. They are also suffering from the previous inaction of the notoriously incompetent Belgian security forces.
If terrorist attacks are random, if committed by individuals or groups, they are better seen as similar to the deaths caused by serial killers such as Fred West and Harold Shipman. The difference is that serial killers’ actions, and the deaths they bring about, are limited by their wish not to get caught. No one sane worries, though, about being murdered by a serial killer.
We assess risk by balancing the likelihood of an event happening with the extremity of the consequences if they do. Sometimes we get that balance wrong. We may over-protect our kids because of the awfulness of what might, just might happen.We play the National Lottery despite the virtually nil chances of winning because the consequences of winning are life-changing.
Anyone who changes their behaviour because of the fear of a terrorist attack is like one of those Lottery players in reverse. Those of us who lived through the IRA campaigns of the 1990s can recall a time where there was the statistical possibility that we might not return home because of terrorist action. That possibility was vanishingly small.
I am not saying terrorism will not get worse. In France, they are talking about the prospect of something resembling civil war, if enough terrorist outrages sweep the far right to power.
Here, there will be another attack, and it might be worse than the London transport bombings. But it is about balance of risk.
PS: before you say it, no I am not proposing mass deportations. Don’t be silly.