I’m currently reading Charles Kurzman’s The Missing Martyrs: Why There are so Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford) which seeks to put terrorism into context. An excerpt from the book, which readers might find interesting:
The bad news for Americans in this: Islamist terrorists really are out to get you. They cannot be deterred by prison sentences, “enhanced” interrogations, or the prospect of death. They consider the United States to be their mortal enemy, and they would like to kill as many Americans as possible, in as dramatic a way as possible. The more I look at their websites, watch their videos, and read their manifestos and discussion boards, the more I realize that these are a brutal and inhumane bunch. It is worth taking them seriously.
The Good news for Americans is this: there aren’t very many Islamist terrorist, and most of them are incompetent. They fight each other as much as they fight anybody else, and they fight their potential state sponsors most of all. They are outlaws on the run in every country in the world, and their bases have been reduced to ever-more-wild patches of remote territory, where they have to limit their training activities to avoid satellite surveillance. Every year or tow they pull off a sophisticated attack somewhere in the world, on top of the usually daily crop of violence, but the odds of their getting lucky and repeating an operation on the scale of 9/11 seem like a long shot, since no other attack in the history of Islamist terrorism has killed more than 400 people, and only a dozen attacks have killed more than 200.
In fact, there have been 51 deaths in the united states from Islamist terrorist violence since 9/11. And if you add the death toll from the 9/11 attacks, you have a total of 3,054 deaths due to terrorism. These deaths, of course, are horrible and saddening. But in the light of murders that took place in the United States (190,000 murders!), that is an extremely low number.
How many terrorist are there? one might ask. Kurzman estimates that there are somewhere around 100,000 terrorist in the entire world. This may seem like a scary number to some. 100,ooo terrorists! Wow! But in the grand scheme of things this is not a whole lot. And not only that, they are usually fighting themselves. Groups that we hear of such as the Taliban, Hamas, Hizbullah, and other terrorist groups are wanting to make a revolution where they are, and are not interested in spreading their fight across the world. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, wants to globally kill everyone who does not fit into their mold (me, you, the family cow). But they are also occupied fighting with the Taliban and other terrorist groups regarding a whole bunch of other nonsense.
So why is there so much fear regarding terrorism? The answer, of course, is simple: The media. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s the medias job to report terrorism and violence. If they weren’t reporting these things, people were certainly complain that the media isn’t doing it’s job (and rightfully so). But that’s where this irrational fear of terrorism comes from. And it’s the only thing that people hear about. The truth is that in the context of everything else, there are many more big ticket issues we need to worry about. That isn’t to say terrorism isn’t an issue. Like Kurzman points out, we need to take them seriously. But it’s not a big as an issue as some politicians like to think.