July 03, 2007

With every risk comes an opportunity for the insurance industry, which is another way of saying it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. That's small recompense for living in a world where cruel fanatics are increasingly driven to attack civilians - men, women and children - for the sake of their perverse beliefs.The failed bombing attempt in London and the not-very-successful attack on Glasgow Airport brought home that sad truth once again. The bell may toll for us all whenever atrocities are committed, but as with the World Trade Center attack, the latest round struck closer home.

I was based in New York in September 2001, and my boss Kathy Burger was actually in the basement of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. The three cities that have been most central in my life have been London, Glasgow and New York. I was born near the first, and as the son of parents from the West of Scotland, I have spent a great deal of time in the second, including many trips through the airport.

I traveled between the U.S. and the U.K. quite a lot in my early adulthood, and back in those days I remember getting perhaps a little more attention than my fellow passengers because (I speculated) of the combination of my Irish surname, British passport and American residence. Youth, attire and tonsorial factors probably played a role. If indeed I was profiled, rather than be offended I was rather grateful that the security people would take the trouble when so much was at stake.

My fear, as I walked down the streets of New York or through the Port Authority in the wake of September 11, was that we would see low-level atrocities like those committed by the IRA in Britain and elsewhere. Such attacks never materialized, thank goodness. But now we've seen several attacks in the U.K. that might be so described.

One hopes that the attacks might lead to the means of preventing future ones, both in Britain and abroad. For the time being there is much speculation and little clarity as to the correct interpretation of the attacks as to how they bear on the future.

However, there is abundant clarity in the comparison of those who commit these attacks and those who endure them. The difference is stark between, on the one hand, a culture that takes tremendous pains to avoid harm to civilians during warfare and, on the other hand, a culture that seeks to maximize harm to civilians.

To my original point, the creation of a business opportunity out of sadistic attacks against people and property may be cold comfort but it presents, perhaps, another contrast between the civilization of the jihadists' targets and the barbarism of the jihadists themselves.

By Anthony O'Donnell

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek ...