On the eve of the French presidential election, the killing of a French policeman on the Champs Elysees has unsurprisingly been exploited by the electoral candidates. The right-wing Candidate Marine Le Pen used the opportunity to once again blame Islam as the cause of terrorism. This incident took place just a week after the German football team Borussia Dortmund was attacked in a metal bomb attack. Whilst Islam was also blamed to be the motivation of this attack, the police now believe it to be a 28-year-old German-Russian national who attacked the bus in hope of profiting from a consequent fall in the football club’s stock. Of course, by then the damage done to reinforce the connection between Islam and terrorism was already done.
It is now common for all terrorist attacks to be viewed as the struggle western nations face against those who are prepared to commit acts of terror. In the wake of 9/11, a wave of terror swept the globe as people worldwide became certain that more such spectacular attacks were inevitable. A global war on terror ensued in order to hunt down terrorists and those who harboured them. A decade on from the events of 9/11 many in the west treat the threat of terror attacks on their soil, the same as the possibility of nuclear war during the cold war. There is much propaganda around the issue of terrorism and putting this into perspective is essential.
Terrorism, the use of terror or violence is a tactic utilised by a wide array of individuals, groups and states and something that has existed throughout history. Terrorism did not come into existence on September 11 2001. Terror or violence transcends across various fault lines and there is no single creed, ethnicity, political persuasion or nationality with a monopoly on terrorism. Individuals and groups of individuals from almost every conceivable background from late Victorian-era anarchists to tribal clansmen to North Korean intelligence officers – have conducted terrorist attacks.
Whilst the last decade – Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Taliban have been constantly blamed for terrorist attacks the reality is terrorism is a relatively minor threat to most people wherever they are in the world, especially America. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) in its report: ‘American Deaths in Terrorist Attacks, 1995-2015,’ noted, excluding the 9/11 atrocities, fewer than 400 people died in the US from terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2015. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the average American is as likely to be crushed to death by televisions or furniture as they are to be killed by a terrorist. In fact US government policy is completely disproportionate to what kills many Americans. US policy over the last decade saw a massive escalation of its military foot print across the globe as well as the expansion of homeland security and surveillance laws to deal with a relatively minor threat. More Americans die every year in car accidents, drown in a bathtub, die in a building fire and are struck by lightning then in a terrorist attack.
In Europe terrorism is a relatively minor threat to people, but due to terror attacks receiving significantly more media coverage than other causes of deaths, terrorist attacks have been magnified. Official data from Europol, which is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, who publish an annual terrorism report, EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT), shows that more people die from car accidents and burning fires than they do in terrorist’s attacks. It found in the last decade only 0.4% of terrorist attacks in the European Union were committed by Muslims. In its 2016 report, which is its latest it found only 8% of attacks were committed in the name of Islam whilst over 30% were committed by separatists. 211 terror attacks took place across Europe. In other words, separatist groups committed many times over, more terrorist attacks than Muslims. Statistically speaking, there is a very small threat from a Muslim terrorist attacks.
The proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and Internet news sites magnifies this relatively minor threat. The need to fill the airwaves and compete with a plethora of channels has led to bad reporting and misunderstanding that has hyped terror. The outlandish and startling terrorism stories have led to the audience to become impacted by the propaganda leading to the deed becoming far larger than it really is. On September 11, 2001, millions of people in the US and around the world watched live as the World Trade Centre, came crashing down and people leapt to their deaths to escape the raging fires. Watching this sequence of events in real time profoundly affected many people. Such theatrical attacks exert hold over the human imagination. The sense of terror they create can dwarf the reaction to natural disasters many times greater in magnitude. For example and without belittling any deaths, more than 227,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami compared to fewer than 3,000 people on 9/11. Yet the 9/11 attacks spawned a global sense of terror and a geopolitical reaction that had a profound and unparalleled impact upon world events over the past decade.
Alongside this the entertainment industry through film and Drama have taken the issue of terrorism and built multiple myths around the issue. Films such as under siege, the Kingdom, United 93, Olympus has fallen etc. have all contributed to the myth that many Muslims are involved in sleeper cells and plotting spectacular attacks on Western targets. TV series’ such as Homeland and 24 sensationalised the possibility of a WMD being snatched by Islamic radicals from a secure, secret facility in order to hold America hostage. When compared to the facts Europol data shows most terrorist activity in Europe was conducted by non-Muslims. Research from The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, which catalogs information on over 150,000 incidents since 1970 shows that since 2010 Muslims carried out only 11 out of the 89 attacks.
There can be no doubt that elements within the US establishment needed a pretext to expand US influence around the world at the turn of the 21st century. The Neocons argued in their project for the new American century report of the need for a Pearl Harbor type event to justify a massive increase in US military footprint to further America’s global agenda. No sooner had the dust settled on 9/11, the attacks became the pretext to invade Iraq.
Terrorism and the threat of terrorism has been used to justify the actions of Western States across the globe as well as to roll back civil liberties domestically such that Government’s have now yielded increased powers to monitor and control their populations. It remains in their interest to stoke up this fear. Western States do have a big problem domestically which claims the lives of thousands, this however is not terrorism. For example, every day approximatley 2 people die from gun violence every hour in the U.S. When putting terrorism into perspective, it is quite clear it is a relatively small threat.