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.