Letter to my daughter: The World was more dangerous in 1977

Date: 28 mei 2017

Birmingham Pride 2016

The daughter of Ralf Bodelier is a frequent concert visitor. The terror that her peers in Manchester encountered, can also happen to her. But how real is that fear actually?

you read this letter, my dear Emma, you’re almost on the plane to Birmingham Pride, the largest LGBT festival in the United Kingdom. You are really looking forward to the performance of Dua Lipa, a British singer who you also saw in Cologne and Antwerp.

You will land in London and will take the bus to Birmingham where you will meet up with your group of friends, formed during the many concerts that you’ve been to since you were 14. Those friends come from England and Italy, Germany, Belgium and of course from the Netherlands. You guys are all 17, 18 or 19 years now, the official language is English and I follow your lives with admiration. Okay, I am very concerned about school, because you should also get your diploma at some stage. But the ease with which youtravel through Europe, trust people and enjoy close friendships, makes me feel really good. This is the freedom I hoped that you would enjoy, Emma.

Birmingham is a one and a half hour train ride from Manchester and when you checked your phone yesterday morning, you were so upset. In your friends WhatsApp group, you read that friends of your  friends were at Ariane Grande’s concert. The attacks have never come so close. Then you considered this: “There were 22 thousand people at that concert. 22 people were killed. So that’s one in a thousand. Even if a bomb were to explode in Birmingham, the chances are slim that something bad will happen to me”. You cuddled me. “Don’t worry too much, Ralf.”

You are living in a great time

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Of course, at times of terrorist attacks, I feel fear rushing through me. Why should only others be affected? But soon I control that fear again. I do this by taking some distance. By literally looking away from the gory images and heart-wrenching stories. Not only am I way too sad, I do it also because the chance that we are affected by war, terrorism or murder is negligible. In fact, that chance is smaller than ever.

When you follow the media, you wouldn’t say so, Emma, but you are living in a great time. This applies not only to your life expectancy, your freedom to travel or the choice ofmusic festivals you can go to. This also applies to the terrorism in Europe. When it comes to that, you can be pleased that you are spending your youth in 2017 and not in 1977.

In 1977 I was about as old as you are now. I also went to gigs, although it was by bus and only with the boys and girls from my village. Europe’s borders were still shut tight, flying was only for the rich, the probability of a traffic accident ten times as high and terrorism raged everywhere. In 1977 a train was taken hostage by radical Moluccans at ‘The Punt’, with eight deaths.

The Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany killed both a leading banker and his close employees. The same RAF shot down three police men in Netherlands, one agent died. A year later they killed two more agents in Kerkrade. Palestinians hijacked a Lufthansa aircraft full of passengers, flew across the Mediterranean and met a violent end in Mogadishu.

Media overload us with each drama

Count with me, Emma. The current jihadist terror wave began on September 11, 2001. You were still crawling around the living room and using a potty. In the sixteen years that followed, about 700 people were killed by terrorists in Europe. 700 people too many. But in the 16 years prior to 11 September, no less than 2200 people died due to terrorism in Europe. Three times as many deaths.

It was the time of the ETA, the RAF, the IRA, the Brigate Rosse and all those other terrorist groups that plagued us then. For the United Kingdom the decrease in terrorism is still more impressive. From 2001 to today, terrorists killed 120 people. From 1985 to 2000 they killed 1100 people, and between 1970 and 1985, 2150. The IRA alone killed 3700 people and wounded tens of thousands in those decades.

The terrorist danger in my teens was a lot larger than today. And yet we now seem much more anxious. But forty years ago we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook and cable TV. Media that overload us with each drama, anywhere in the world, real time on our 3-seater sofa. And even though the British Prime Minister May has now proclaimed a high alert status, I wish you a great weekend in Birmingham, Emma. I shall reserve my main worries for your future school results.

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