OPINION

Editorial

News broadcasts across the Western nations have, for many days now, been dominated by stories of anthrax cases. The everyday lives of the majority of citizens in the USA and Western Europe have been seriously unsettled. The widespread impression that these cases mark the beginning of a biological war intensifies fears leading to reactions of panic. According to all available data, the number of cases where people were exposed to the deadly bacterium is – at least for the time being – extremely low and have all been located in the USA. In the majority of cases, the responsible authorities went on the alert because of terrified citizens who would have had totally different reactions had these incidents occurred two months ago. The specter of contamination however forces the citizens and the authorities to take all necessary measures – a fact which disrupts normal social and economic activity. The crucial issue is whether these are all part of an organized terrorist campaign by the Al-Qaeda network. US authorities are not certain yet. The large number of hoaxes accentuates the talk about biological war and has inspired several paranoid reactions. The activity suspected to have been organized by Osama bin Laden’s organization is, so far, characterized by great imagination and originality, as well as by a deep awareness of the role that the communication sector plays in the West. If we assume that Al-Qaeda possesses nuclear weapons, it is not certain that it would use them to bring death upon thousands of citizens in New York or any other big city, as such an assault would lead to the ultimate clash. Bin Laden’s organization is probably following a different tactic. The dispatch of small doses fuels panic and psychologically paralyzes a society. The victims are few but the economic and social cost is huge. The feeling that life is threatened by an invisible enemy makes people prey to their fear and destabilizes their daily lives. The Western world is faced with a threat whose character and size have not been exactly defined. It has no other choice but to defend itself. The first step in that direction is to surmount panic and rationalize fear.