Thoughts on terrorism from “The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom” by Michael Shermer (Holt, 2015).
I may be doing more quoting here than is allowed under “fair use” but here goes. I will paraphrase his seven myths about terrorism.
- Terrorists are pure evil. This was what Bush said after 9/11, but studies show they are typically motivated by outrage at U.S. foreign policy.
- Terrorists are organized. There is no top-down, central organization directing terrorism.
- Terrorists are diabolical geniuses. The shoe bomber and others following 9/11 were incompetent.
- Terrorists are poor and uneducated. They are typically higher-income, better-educated individuals.
- Terrorism is a deadly problem. Compare 13,700 homicides per year with 3,000 from 9/11 and an average of 70 terrorist deaths per year, or 7.8 per year excluding 9/11.
- Terrorists will acquire and use a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. A real danger, but nuclear weapons require a lot of scarce material and sophisticated engineering.
- Terrorism works. Terrorists usually wait until after their deed is done and then proclaim that whatever outcome happened was in fact their goal.
Please read the book yourself. The section I have paraphrased (pp. 80-86) is a response to objections to his thesis that the over-arching trend of recent decades is toward a safer, more peaceful world.
I’ll add some thoughts of my own:
- Groups based on violence and hatred will eventually self-destruct as they splinter into factions and devour one another. But “eventually” leaves time for a lot of damage.
- This seems like a great opportunity for Western governments to cooperate with Russia and perhaps China because Islamic terrorism is a threat to all those parties.
Leaders of all the Western nations have expressed outrage, as has Putin. Radio silence thusfar from leaders of Islamic nations which, one presumes, have a lot to gain by distancing themselves from terrorism.