Is the U.S. Blowing Europe's Terror Threat Out of Proportion?

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On Sunday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert to Americans visiting Europe in wake of rising concerns over a potential terrorist attack. "Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks," warned the State Department. The fear is that militants in Pakistan's tribal areas are planning commando-style attacks in European cities. Today, Japan issued a similar warning.

So how serious is the threat? According to The Guardian, European officials are "irritated" by the U.S. government's response because "there was no evidence that a plot was imminent." In the blogosphere, pundits grapple with the perceived threat:

  • These Decisions Aren't Easy, writes Mark Halperin at Time: "With the coming holiday travel season, this is a tough job for the administration. They must juggle the normal need to keep citizens informed and safe without inciting panic or hurting tourism. This is the kind of challenge that Rahm would have been at the center of. Every key national security figure in the administration – Biden, Napolitano, Holder -- has made verbal errors in dealing with such situations in the past. This will be the first test – and a vexing one – of how the administration deals with complex challenges in the post-Rahm era."

  • It's Hard to Take This Seriously, writes Laura Bly at USA Today:

As a charter member of the "you're far more likely to be killed on your way to the airport than at the hands of a terrorist" club, I certainly wouldn't scrub a trip or put off planning one. The latest State Department alert doesn't spotlight individual countries in Europe, and doesn't advise Americans to stay away - or even stay off the subway. But it does remind them of "the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure," and recommends they take "every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling."

And what might those "tourist infrastructures" and "appropriate safety measures" encompass? The advisory doesn't say - making interpretation a matter of how much risk you're willing to assume in a world where liquid bans and slip-on shoes have become part of what travel analyst Henry Harteveldt calls the "new, new, new normal."

  • Europe Is Less Safe Because of Anti-Muslim Laws, write Christopher Dickey and Sami Yousafzai at Newsweek: "The anti-burqa law, passed last month, seems practically gratuitous. Among France’s roughly 5 million Muslims, only a couple thousand wear full-face veils, compared with the multitudes of Muslim women who can be found on the country’s beaches in bikinis. In fact, this new law is no more than a transparent ploy by President Nicolas Sarkozy to win far-right support before he runs for reelection in 2012. And because the law is aimed against a specifically Islamic custom, jihadists denounce it as an insult to Muslims everywhere, making France an even more tempting target for terrorists."

  • No Reason to Think Europe Is Less Safe Than America, argues Booman at Booman Tribune: "I recall that a lot of the pre-9/11 intelligence suggested an attack would happen in Europe, too. So, just because this advisory is issued for travelers to Europe, we shouldn't think that we don't face an increased threat here at home."

  • The U.S. Is Creating a Climate of Fear, writes The Independent, a British newspaper. "The US alert, though less serious than an official advisory not to travel, is an unhelpful overreaction and a kick in the teeth for the European tourist industry. If intelligence had suggested US citizens were a specific target, the alert might have been justified. But there was nothing in the intelligence reports last week to suggest that. And the fact that no arrests were made after the report was leaked indicates how nebulous and undeveloped these plots must be...Terror threats are, sadly, now a fact of life across the Western world. Governments should, of course, act on specific information and warn their citizens accordingly. But the issuance of vague and slightly panicked travel alerts merely exacerbates a climate of fear and helps do the terrorists' job for them."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.