One of the biggest things that bothers me about life in America post-9/11 is the accepted common wisdom that Islamic terrorism is some kind of existential threat to homeland security/civilization/the western world/etc.

Leaving aside the fact that acts of terrorism carry with them the grave potential to goad our own governments into tearing down the walls of civilization onto ourselves (see, e.g., torture), it really is a mind-boggling proposition to think that a ragtag band of several hundred religious zealots could somehow level all of Western Europe and the U.S. with their superhuman Jihad Deathrays.

The whole bag of nonsense becomes really ridiculous when you consider how few people are actually killed by Islamic terrorism on a regular basis:

“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

Last year, McClatchy characterized this threat in similar terms: “undoubtedly more American citizens died overseas from traffic accidents or intestinal illnesses than from terrorism.”  The March, 2011, Harper‘s Index expressed the point this way: “Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29.”  That’s the threat in the name of which a vast domestic Security State is constructed, wars and other attacks are and continue to be launched, and trillions of dollars are transferred to the private security and defense contracting industry at exactly the time that Americans — even as they face massive wealth inequality — are told that they must sacrifice basic economic security because of budgetary constraints.

For this we’ve tortured people?

This is what we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to fight against?

We’re barreling down the road of someday needing a routine anal probe at the airport security checkpoint for this?

(h/t JC)

  1. Lev says:

    I think the psychological components are underplayed. On one hand, you have the availability heuristic, which basically says that people are afraid of what they hear about a lot and can imagine (and fear) happening to them. Hence parents freaked out about their kids being kidnapped by a stranger, which almost never happens anymore, but usually not by being injured in an auto accident, which is quite likely by comparison. Terrorism being much like kidnapping in this case. On the other hand, I think there’s a specific phobia around flying. The lack of control coupled with the (minimal) possibility of a crash is stressful at best. I’m always upfront that this scares me about flying (and that it’s entirely irrational), I think most people do too. Terror attacks on a plane are much more of a minimal possibility than a plane crash, but it adds to a fear that’s already there. Had terrorists bombed some trains instead of flying planes into WTC, the reaction would have been much more muted. The fears are different.

    There is simply no rational reason to fear terrorism. It’s all emotional. But the combination of a media and a political system that refuse to challenge people on this particular issue has had a devastating impact. I’m somewhat optimistic that panic about terror is subsiding (and if al-Qaeda crumbles it’ll mean a lot), but Washington tends to lag behind these things.

    • Metavirus says:

      on your last point, i’m not so sure. Terrorism Preparedness™ is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and, just like with the prison-industrial complex driving the Drug War™, the smart money is on the buckets of cash that find their way into the pockets of politicians from raytheon, halliburton, etc.

  2. It is rather simple, fear sells. They have made this huge horrible threat to cover up how badly they screwed up. If the Bush administration had been watching the terrorists with their intelligence assets instead of using them to find a bogus reason to invade Iraq they would not have been blind sighted by 9/11. Now they need this threat to make seniors pay for the 2 wars that they charged to the national debt. Of course it is all done in the name of the Lord, to justify their bungling.

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