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Statistics Show Mass Panic Over Terrorist Threat Is Completely Irrational

The stats speak for themselves. You should be more scared of pregnancy, alcohol and freak accidents than of religious extremism.

Anti-American insurgents in Iraq. Credit: Wikipedia, CC license

Anti-American insurgents in Iraq. Credit: Wikipedia, CC license

A recent survey found that that 44.4% of Americans live in fear of a terrorist attack. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone given the incessant sensationalism of the mainstream media, but is the fear justified? The short answer is no. Terrorist attacks are without a doubt horrific and tragic events, but ultimately, are not worth worrying about.

Let’s get some perspective: Despite the fact that the Western war machine is creating new terrorists every day, you are still statistically more likely to die on your way to work tomorrow than perish in a Jihadist bomb plot. In 2010, 13,000 people worldwide died from terrorist attacks. It’s a relatively small number, especially considering that in Britain alone, 17,000 people died from avoidable accidents in 2010. According to an in-depth analysis by The Guardian, these deaths included accidental hangings, falls, suffocation, lightning strikes and other natural events, choking on food, and drowning in the bath.

According to Our World In Data:

‘Despite the intense media focus on terrorist activity around the world, the numbers of people actually killed by terrorist attacks has remained low. Terrorism only killed 13,000 in 2010, a relatively low number when compared with other types of violent death, namely armed conflict and interpersonal violence.’

As the chart below demonstrates, you should worry more about air pollution than the Islamic State.

2010 Oxfam report on common causes of death. Source: http://ourworldindata.org

Statistics also show a clear correlation between increased terrorist risk and the War On Terror. Before 9/11, South American countries topped the charts, with Colombia ranked #1 (8.8% of all worldwide terrorist attacks happened there). It was followed closely by Peru and El Salvador, while separatist militants in Europe (the IRA in Northern Ireland and ETA in Spain, with 5.13% and 4.14% respectively) was also far more common than any plots linked to the Middle East.

Before the War On Terror began, Iraq didn’t figure in this list at all. Between 2001 and 2008, it moved to first place with 25.77% of all terrorist attacks taking place there. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel are other countries that were not at high risk of terrorism before 9/11, but now have a significant problem. As Our World In Data reports:

‘Terrorism pre-9/11 was concentrated in Latin America and Asia, but shifted to the Middle East post-9/11. Peru, Chile and El Salvador completely disappear from the top 10. More than a quarter of all terrorist attacks between 9/11 and 2008 took place in Iraq.’

A chart from The Economist shows how The War On Terror has increased terrorism. Source: orworldindata.org

A chart from The Economist shows how The War On Terror has increased terrorism. Source: orworldindata.org

All of this might make you wonder whether US-led military invasions are actually doing the opposite of what they hope to achieve. You’d be right to ask yourself that. As Our World In Data points out:

‘An important question is whether the global campaign against terrorism, known as the War on Terror, has made us any safer. Many commentators argue that the War on Terror has had the perverse effect of making us less safe, with some going as far as claiming the War on Terror is the leading cause of terrorism.’

It goes on: ‘Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism expert that worked in the US National Security Council between 1992–2003, was highly critical of the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism strategy and the decision to invade Iraq.’

Clarke writes:

“Far from addressing the popular appeal of the enemy that attacked us, Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land.”

Following the UK’s decision last night to join French and US airstrikes in Syria, we would all do well to remember why bombing terrorists is completely counter-productive. In light of these illuminating statistics, we should also question the media’s obsessive fear-mongering in the face of what is statistically a very small threat indeed.


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