What About Terrorism?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Terrorists are organized. There is no top-down, central organization directing terrorism.
  3. Terrorists are diabolical geniuses. The shoe bomber and others following 9/11 were incompetent.
  4. Terrorists are poor and uneducated. They are typically higher-income, better-educated individuals.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

7 thoughts on “What About Terrorism?

  1. For anyone interested in a reality-based look at terrorism…..


    “The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is an open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world from 1970 through 2014 (with annual updates planned for the future). Unlike many other event databases, the GTD includes systematic data on domestic as well as international terrorist incidents that have occurred during this time period and now includes more than 140,000 cases.”

    • Thanks for the link, Dr A. I only peeped a couple of countries (I used the number of attacks listed by country option) and saw that terrorism has been steadily declining. Austin, where I’m currently living (again), has been the site of two recent ones. I’m going to go back and check some Arab states. I know what I’m going to find, but it’ll be nice to get some more confirmation that terrorism and Western military intervention/occupation go hand-in-hand.

      When you write of “a reality-based look at terrorism” I assume you’ve been reading Jacques’ Facebook feed lately. He’s losing it…

    • Nope, Jacques and I aren’t linked on Facebook. I don’t use my real name and my frequent Librul links would drive him crazy. However given what Chay said recently…. on Facebook I’m Richard Villiers.

    • Found ya!

      If you’d like, I could “introduce” you to other Notewriters on FB. We’re all pretty chill dudes…

  2. Thanks Warren. I was thinking about the Russia/China angle in regards to Islamist terrorism awhile back. It’s not like the three of us haven’t been allies before.

    Islamists aren’t industrial regional powers the way Japan and Germany were, but there is definitely an opening there for more cooperation between all three sides. A big issue for me (which I have been trying to blog about) is the fact that all three states – but especially China and Russia – are still too enamored with the idea of sovereignty when it comes to these post-WW2, post-Ottoman states. As a result, institutional change at the international level a la Westphalia or Paris is hard to enact.

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