This article explores what the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 teaches us about Western society today. There has been a wealth of research examining the purported cultural background and psychology of the perpetrators of those events (1). That focus has two main rationales; to identify and deal with potential terrorists, and to begin to tackle what are considered to be the 'root causes' of terrorism – usually held to stem from poverty and disaffection across the Third World (2). These approaches offer a somewhat predictable and reassuring explanation of events. They locate the problem of terrorism elsewhere – in the minds, actions and cultures of others. At best, those posing a threat are understood to be reacting in an adverse way to what are held to have been the injustices committed against their forebears during an earlier age of imperial domination. Here, I wish to consider the extent to which some of the issues may be far closer to home, and more contemporary, than we like to envisage. In part, this is due to the particular way in which Western societies perceive and deal with anything that involves risk nowadays (3). If anything, the actual threats posed could be conceived of as weaker today than those presented throughout most of the Cold War, yet society appears to react as if they were stronger. Why is this? And what does this tell us about ourselves? A focus on our increasingly exaggerated perceptions of risk and the adverse consequences this brings, both to the people of the Third World and for Western societies, is a missing element to our analysis of terrorism that we ignore at our peril. Ultimately, if our responses are shaped, in part at least, through the prism of our own domestic fears and insecurities, then the actions taken will prove limited or ineffective, and may serve to confuse matters more. A mystifying mythology is created, which in its turn demands totemic gestures to reassure the public. This process, readily becomes a self-fulfilling fantasy which – far from assuaging our concerns – will only drive them further.