Terrorism stirs up little fear among Europeans, in contrast to Americans
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In this tense atmosphere, politicians and policemen, the key terrorist targets, take precautions.
``I drive a different route to work every morning,'' says a leading member of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party. ``I keep the car dirty on the outside. That way I can spot fingerprints if someone has been tampering. . . . I keep irregular hours. . . . I keep the drapes down. . . . I keep a fire extinguisher in the hall and I learn to sleep lightly.''
Other potential targets also take precautions.
Ever since the 1970s, when the Red Army Faction appeared in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, businessmen in both countries have responded with costly defenses. Armored limousines, protected reception areas, remote-control cameras, and 24-hour bodyguards are common in the industrial landscape. In Italy, machine-gun-toting guards patrol airline offices, and sets of double doors protect banks.
Politicians are better guarded, too. Only a few years ago, it was possible to walk into the France's presidential 'Elys'ee Palace simply by showing an identity card. Now metal detectors have been installed.
Security is tighter at the airports. In Rome, for example, police teams patrol the terminal. Helicopters and ground patrols guard the exterior against missile attack, passengers are required to identify their luggage, and controls have been tightened on granting workers access to aircraft.
In some cases the general public is becoming more careful. Police in both Italy and France report a rise in the number of bomb alerts. One passenger on the Paris subway recently spotted an unattended package and alerted police. A bomb was inside. It was defused.
But these are exceptions. Public awareness remains limited compared with Israel, where bus passengers board and then check below their seats for suspicious packages. Europeans continue to insist that terrorism is not so great a problem.
``Americans have reason to fear; they are the prime target,'' says Professor Wilkinson. He says he favors much stronger international cooperation against terrorism. But, he adds, ``homicide in America dwarfs the rate of death from international terrorism.''
Yesterday in The Hague, European Community officials took a step toward promoting cooperation. They agreed to set up an international information exchange with the US government on terrorism, terrorist suspects, and their methods of operation.
Nonetheless, Europeans believe they take a more realistic approach to the danger of terrorism than Americans. In Frankfurt, West Germany, US soldiers have begun constructing a large fence around one of their residential neighborhoods, a precaution that surprises Professor Bollinger.
He contrasts this with the German reaction in the 1970s, when the Red Army Faction scare was at its height.
``There was a call for action. The German equivalent of the FBI was doubled in capacity. But it didn't change people's behavior or stop them from going to movies,'' he says. ``It was nothing comparable to the American response.''
Determined to avoid what they see as hysteria, Europeans continue to plan for their summer vacations. A recent opinion poll published in the Sunday Times of London showed that only 14 percent of West Germans, 9 percent of the British, and 8 percent of the French would advise a friend to stay home because of terrorism. This compared with 57 percent for Americans.
Europeans are turning to what they consider a potent weapon against terrorism -- humor. At a recent airport check, a guard asked a passenger whether his box was a bomb.
``No, no,'' the passenger replied. ``It's a bonbon.''
Monitor correspondents Alf McCreary in Belfast and Janet Stobart in Rome contributed to this report.