Sunday, July 01, 2007

Gwynne Dyer: Don't "obsess" about Terrorism

This is the sort of thing one reads frequently from the Left: let's compare the chances of dying from a terrorist attack to traffic fatality statistics or whatever and stop worrying. Of course, this is the same Left that points to the large number of terrorist attacks in Iraq as evidence of Western defeat. I doubt that it was originally published there, but this is from Tehran Times:
[...]If the silver Merc that was left in Haymarket had actually exploded and killed some people it would not be an appropriate time to say this, but an occasional terrorist attack is one of the costs of doing business in the modern world. You just have to bring a sense of proportion to the problem, and in general people in Europe do.

Most major European countries had already been through some sort of terrorist crisis well before the current fashion for 'Islamist' terrorism: the IRA in Britain, the OAS in France, ETA in Spain, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Brigate Rossi and their neo-fascist counterparts in Italy. Most European cities have also been heavily bombed in a real war within living memory, which definitely puts terrorist attacks into a less impressive category. So most Europeans, while they dislike terrorist attacks, do not obsess about them: they know that they are likelier to win the lottery than to be hurt by terrorists . . .

In almost all of these countries, despite the efforts of some governments to convince the population that terrorism is an existential threat of enormous size, the vast majority of the people don't believe it.

Whereas in the United States, most people do believe it. A majority of Americans have finally figured out that the invasion of Iraq really had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but they certainly have not understood that terrorism itself is only a minor threat. There has been only one major terrorist attack in the United States since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and that one, on 9/11, is now almost six years in the past. So how have Americans been persuaded that their duty and their destiny in the 21st century is to lead the world in a titanic, globe-spanning 'long war' against terrorism?

Inexperience is one reason: American cities have never been bombed in war, so Americans have no standard of comparison that would shrink terrorism to its true importance in the scale of threats that face any modern society. But the other is relentless official propaganda: the Bush administration has built its whole brand around the 'war on terror' since 2001, so the threat must continue to be seen as huge and universal.

Ridiculous though it sounds to outsiders, Americans are regularly told that their survival as a free society depends on beating the 'terrorists'. They should treat those who say such things as fools or deliberate liars not worthy of a moment's attention, but they don't. Which is why the manipulators of public opinion in the White House and the U.S. media will give bigger play to the London bombing-that-wasn't than Britain's own government and media will.
So far the British press is treating the recent bombing attempts as big news.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

Further thoughts: Perhaps some explanation of what Dyer means is in order. When he writes "an occasional terrorist attack," he means actually quite a lot of attempted terror attacks, most of which are either thwarted by the police or foiled by the appalling drooling stupidity of the would-be terrorist himself while the occasionally successful terror attack is greeted by most members of the group from which the attacker was recruited with thoughts such as "It's all very unfortunate and regrettable and of course I disagree with it, but you have to understand that such attacks are inevitable as long as Great Britain maintains diplomatic relations with the Vatican, India, and East Timor." Pithy fellow, that Dyer.

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