I’m always excited to collect my parents from the airport, but this Easter I was nervous too. Four days earlier, two suicide bombers had detonated explosives at Brussels Airport, killing 17 and injuring 81 people as part of a coordinated terrorist attack. Waiting for Mum and Dad, I spent as much time scanning the hall for unattended baggage as I did watching the arrivals board. Suddenly, we all felt very vulnerable.
Since then, there have been mass murders in Orlando, Nice and Munich, among others. In the past few days alone, there have been mass killings in Tokyo and Florida.
So how worried should we be? Is terrorism on the rise?
It’s complicated, says Dr Clarke Jones, expert in terrorism and radicalisation at the ANU. “Certainly, there has been an increase in mass casualty acts. But whether they’re all acts of terrorism is another issue.”
Clarke points out that not all perpetrators are terrorists – some are disaffected loners rather than religious extremists. “There is a lot of bias in the way we determine a terrorist attack – if they’re Muslim, for example, it must be a terror attack. And that’s simply not the case.”
The 24-hour news cycle – and social media – also heightens our anxiety. “We’re living in a state of fear,” says Jones. “If there is an act, it becomes a world event, leaders send condolences, there’s enormous publicity around it. But previously there may have been a lot of small-scale events that simply haven’t been reported.”
Whenever we hear about an act of violence, we empathise with the victims and imagine what it might feel like to be involved, says psychologist Susie Burke. “But we need to remember our society is largely safe, and that acts of community violence are not the biggest risks we face.”
"We need to remember our society is largely safe"Susie Burke
If you’re feeling anxious, Burke advocates taking a break from media and concentrating on self-care: eating well, exercising and getting enough rest. Talking about these events with someone close to you can also help. “Rather than raising each other’s anxiety levels about the state of the world, look for the good that comes out of these events,” she says. “Focus on stories of people being kind and heroic in the face of hate and violence.”
Our distress can also turn to gratitude, she adds. “At time when you watch other families being devastated by the loss of loved ones, it does make you appreciate the value of your own.”