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Terrorism in Perspective

"... terrorism accounts for only a tiny proportion of the world's violence. Every day, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 150,000 people die around the world. The U.S. government's National Counterterrorism Center calculates that Islamist terrorism claims fewer than 50 lives per day -- fewer than 10 per day outside Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. By way of comparison, approximately 1,500 people die each day from civilian violence, plus an additional 500 from warfare, 2,000 from suicides, and 3,000 from traffic accidents. Another 1,300 die each day from malnutrition. Even in Iraq while it was suffering the world's highest rate of terrorist attacks, they caused less than one-third of violent deaths. In other words, terrorism is not a leading cause of death in the world. If we want to save lives, far better to divert a small portion of the world's counterterrorism budgets to mosquito netting."

- Charles Kurzman, "Why Is It So Hard to Find a Suicide Bomber These Days?," Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2011.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 6th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
I thought the point of terrorism was not to kill, per se, but to instill fear (terror). To attempt to change people's thoughts or actions through threat of violence.

It is absolutely true that there are a lot of ways that we could reduce suffering and death, probably with a lot higher return on our investment of time and money. And maybe that time and money would, in fact, be much better spent. But my understanding is that fighting terrorism isn't just about reducing the number of deaths.
Sep. 6th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
And yet, I'm not especially terrorized -- in no small part because I can do basic math; claiming responsibility for less than 1/30th of the world's homicides does not make a movement all that impressive, to me, especially given that 2/3rds of the homicides the movement claims take place in war zones, where by definition there aren't a lot of cops. *yawn*
Sep. 6th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
I'll bet you also don't watch professional wrestling and think it's real. Or play the lottery and consider it "an investment strategy." You are not the group they're expecting to react. They're targetting the great unwashed masses, yearning to be saved (by someone else's actions and no real effort on their own part).

Yes, there are plenty of us who are not terrorize by their actions. But we're still negatively affected by the overreactions of a lot of others.
Sep. 6th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
        Below from Bruce Schneier.  URL at end.  This says it all.


The Efficacy of Post-9/11 Counterterrorism


This is an interesting article. The authors argue that the whole war-on-terror nonsense is useless -- that's not new -- but that the security establishment knows it doesn't work and abandoned many of the draconian security measures years ago, long before Obama became president. All that's left of the war on terror is political, as lawmakers fund unwanted projects in an effort to be tough on crime.

I wish it were true, but I don't buy it. The war on terror is an enormous cash cow, and law enforcement is spending the money as fast as it can get it. It's also a great stalking horse for increases in police powers, and I see no signs of agencies like the FBI or the TSA not grabbing all the power they can.

The second half of the article is better. The authors argue that openness, not secrecy, improves security:

The worst mistakes and abuses of the War on Terror were possible, in no small part, because national security is still practiced more as a craft than a science. Lacking rigorous evaluations of its practices, the national security establishment was particularly vulnerable to the panic, grandiosity, and overreach that colored policymaking in the wake of 9/11.

To avoid making those sorts of mistakes again, it is essential that we reimagine national security as an object of scientific inquiry. Over the last four centuries, virtually every other aspect of statecraft -- from the economy to social policy to even domestic law enforcement -- has been opened up to engagement with and evaluation by civil society. The practice of national security is long overdue for a similar transformation.

Maintaining the nation's security of course will continue to require some degree of secrecy. But there is little reason to think that appropriate secrecy is inconsistent with a fact-based culture of robust and multiplicative inquiry. Indeed, to whatever partial extent that culture already exists within the national security establishment, it has led the move away from many of the counterproductive security measures established after 9/11.

Yet, in the ten years that Congress has been debating issues like coercive interrogation, ethnic profiling, and military tribunals, the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which have all the proper security clearances to evaluate such questions, have never established any formal process to consistently evaluate and improve the effectiveness of U.S. counterterrorism measures.

Establishing proper oversight and evaluation of the efficacy of our security practices will not come easily, for the security craft guards its claims to privileged knowledge jealously. But as long as the practice of security remains hidden behind a veil of classified documents and accepted wisdoms handed down from generation to generation of security agents, our national security apparatus will never become fully modern.

Here's the report the article was based on.

Sep. 6th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
The Atlantic article has the euphemism "pain-based interrogation." If the authors are using terms like that; I think it's pretty clear which side they're on.
Sep. 7th, 2011 05:29 am (UTC)
Who in their right mind thinks torture is OK?
Sep. 7th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC)
I think bombing civilians is worse. Of course, I think both suck.
Sep. 9th, 2011 05:56 am (UTC)
Yes, but the point is, what really works? No one has done any objective scientific evaluations of various methods to see what is most efficacious. Or, have they? Would our government pay any attention to it if it had all been studied scientifically and there were clear answers?
Sep. 14th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
Professional interrogators actually have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't, and torture doesn't work. There's a former military interrogator on LJ, name of pecunium. You might want to check out some of his posts on the subject.
Sep. 14th, 2011 07:38 am (UTC)
Bah, that was supposed to be a reply to kimchalister.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )