Summary: Again terrorism dominates the headlines. How serious is the threat to Europe? To the US? The numbers tell the story. They also reveal something important about America.
“I once asked a guy at [the National Institutes of Health] how much we should spend on preventing a disease that kills 6 per year, and he looked at me like I was crazy.”
— Islamic terrorists have killed six Americans per year since 9/11. Said to Business Insider by John Mueller, a foreign policy expert at the Ohio State University and co-author of Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism.
A sharp observation about one cause of our obsession with terrorism — “The endless loop of terror victims: Lazy journalism that lets ISIS run the newsroom” by Indira A.R. Lakshmanan at Poynter — Opening…
“Watching cable TV and listening to radio last night and this morning, I found myself trapped in an endless loop of panicked victims screaming and fleeing the suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester, England. Shaky witness cellphone video aired again and again, and the image of a girl leaping off a staircase lodged in my mind.
“Yes, the attack is news. But does replaying footage of victims for hours or turning over the entire homepage to the story, as CNN, Fox News and Breitbart did, elevate the public understanding of why terrorism is committed or how to stop it? Or is it just lazy and sensationalist tabloid journalism, blowing the murder of 22 people out of proportion to stoke fear? …
“Study after study — not to mention the diaries and social media accounts kept by perpetrators — reveal that terrorists and mass shooters thrive on the media attention and fame they’re guaranteed (even posthumously) by committing horrific crimes.
“Michael Jetter, a behavioral economist at the University of Western Australia, analyzed 60,000 terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2012 that were reported in The New York Times. He found that terrorist groups have increasingly sought in recent years to exploit social and mass media, keeping their message alive on the “oxygen of publicity.” From videotaped beheadings by ISIS and al-Qaeda to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, the idea is to garner maximum media attention to draw impressionable recruits and instill fear in everyone else.”
The other driver of publicity is, of course, the Deep State. Terrorism serves its needs. A frightened people is an easily led people, willing to surrender civil liberties for the illusion of safety — and increase the funding and power of the security services.
Terrorism in western Europe
Yesterday The Times put the current wave of terrorism in a larger context.
“In 2015, the last full year covered by the Global Terrorism Database, 175 people in western Europe died in terrorist attacks. That was a huge leap from preceding years, coming close to the 2004 toll of 196, all but five of whom perished in the train bombings in Madrid. Yet neither figure would be thought an unusual yearly tally in the Seventies, when groups such as the IRA, Eta Basque separatists and the Red Brigades were active and western Europe was a hub of terrorism. …The ebbing of terror attacks in the West from the Seventies peak is at odds with the public perception that the threat has rarely been higher.”
Terrorism in America
“Foreign-born terrorists who entered the country, either as immigrants or tourists, were responsible for 88% (or 3,024) of the 3,432 murders caused by terrorists on U.S. soil from 1975 through the end of 2015. …From 1975 through 2015, 154 foreign-born terrorists murdered 3,024 people, 98.6% of whom were killed on September 11, 2001. The other 1.4% of murder victims were dispersed over the 41-year period, with two spikes in 1993 and 2015.”
— “Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis” by Alex Nowrasteh of Cato Institute, 13 Sept 2016.
The Business Insider compares the odds of an American dying from terrorism vs. the odds of the serious dangers, making our fears look silly. More pointedly, CNN puts “American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence in one graph.” Their graph shows the story. Terrorism — conducted by the Right, the Left, or jihadists — has killed roughly 80 people per year for the past 15 years (not shown on the graph: 47 in 2015, 66 in 2016). This is a drop in the tide of blood that washes over America each year.
Americans’ fear of terrorism
“A wide expanse of America’s populace finds itself engulfed in a collective fear …a creeping fear of being caught in a mass rampage has unmistakably settled itself firmly in the American consciousness”
––Sonny Kleinfield in the New York Times after the San Bernardino terrorist attack
Why so much fear? Nemil Dalal at Priceonomics looks to the New York Times for the answer to their question “How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism“. The NYT’s coverage of terrorism is disproportionate to its contribution to American death (but it’s great clickbait).
Let’s not forget the people ultimately responsible for American’s bouts of hysterical fear: the American people. We choose to believe in propaganda despite the facts. Not just about terrorism. Fear has become one of the major tools our leaders use to influence us (see many posts documenting this).
What kind of people are so easily frightened, and so easily manipulated when frightened? What do other peoples, friends and foes, see when they look at this sorry spectacle?
- Are Americans easily panicked cowards? I think not, but many experts disagree.
- Today’s fear-mongering (they think we’re cowards, but I’m sure they’re wrong).
- Why are we so fearful? Have we become cowards?
- A safety checklist for America during the Ebola panic. #1: Look for cowardice.
“Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful — horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember…”
— An insight from a demon (they know us well), from The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis (1959).
None of this implies that terrorism is not a danger, or that western governments should decrease their vigilance or efforts to suppress terrorism. But we should have a sense of proportion, and allocate resources to fight terrorism in proportion to other threats (for example, the oceans are dying).
We were strong once and can be again. We can take inspiration from our history, imperfect as it is, and change. It’s a step to a better future.