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One of the most engaging articles I’ve read since the bombings on London transport earlier this month was written by Bill Durodie.

Mr Durodie is a senior lecturer in risk management and corporate security at Cranfield University and his article, Terrorism and community resilience, appears in a Chatham House report published this week.

In it, he argues that a terrorist event doesn’t have to be huge to shake our social fabric, but will seem huge if that social fabric is torn or frayed in the first place.

Given the ‘growing disconnection between ordinary people and professional elites’, one of the biggest mistakes a government could make, he says, is to disempower people by pushing them ‘beyond the yellow perimeter-tape’ and allowing the professionals to take over.

‘Disasters - including terrorist attacks - destroy physical and economic capital. On the other hand, they present a rare, if unfortunate, opportunity to create and enhance social capital. It is this that the authorities and professionals should be alert to and wary of displacing in their haste to put forward what they consider to be more meticulous and technically competent solutions.’

That’s where Bill and I part company. Terrorist attacks might seem like a ‘rare opportunity to enhance social capital’ but efforts to build social capital can and must be ongoing, otherwise it’s a bit like ignoring all the warning signs in a relationship until your partner’s suitcases are packed and the taxi’s at the door.

All those ideas like community cohesion, social capital, civil renewal - nice, cosy but marginalised ideas that seemed politically soft - are now showing their true value. The remaining danger is to suppose that the only groups that need to sit around the table are faith groups, the only communities, Muslim.

The message is for the private as well as the public sector, for those working to improve competitiveness as well as for those working in community regeneration. For black and white. A strong, cohesive society is the best national defence system there is.

If we allow fear to take hold, if our only response is to ‘get them before they get us’ or break out into a cold sweat whenever we see someone Asian on the bus with a bag, we will, as Mr Durodie says, be doing the terrorists’ job for them.

Susan Downer, assistant editor

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