The Bigger Picture
Published on April 1st 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Last week I said that although I agreed with President Obama that trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts would be a symbol of America’s commitment to the rule of law, doing this just isn’t possible as long as so many Americans remain fearful. But should they be?
The recent arrests of seven Muslims here in Ireland, including one American woman who was living with the suspected ringleader, Ali Charaf Damache, in a plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks is a case in point. In the absence of very many ‘western’ deaths at the hands of al Qaeda inspired terrorists over the past 5 years, the news media focus has now shifted to the threat posed by home grown terrorists who have blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin and Muslims who have been living in America and Europe for a number of years. But do they really pose a threat?
Truth be known, the chances that any American will die at the hands of pseudo-religious al Qaeda inspired political extremists is at best infinitesimal and the same holds true for Muslim and non-Muslim people living in other ‘western’ EU countries. I say this because al Qaeda has actually killed fewer than 300 Americans and Europeans over the past eight years since the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, given the fact that the vast majority of those fatalities occurred in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005, there have actually been almost no deaths in the past 5 years.
Mind you I’m not saying that even one of those deaths was acceptable. But with a combined population of over 850,000,000 people (including Canada) spread over 29 countries and two continents, the odds of you or I being killed in an al Qaeda inspired terrorist attack are about 1 in 22 million. In other words, we have a much better chance of winning the Irish lottery (about 1 in 8 million) than we do of being killed or injured by Islamic terrorists.
The fact of the matter is, almost 100% of al Qaeda’s victims since the 9/11 attacks have actually been innocent Muslim civilians living in predominately Muslim countries like Pakistan and Indonesia or the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. This fact alone should put the lie to these pseudo-religious political extremists’ claims of being ‘defenders’ of Islam. How can you claim to be defending your ‘faith’ if all you actually do is kill innocent members of that same faith?
Unfortunately, while rarely a day passes without some news media story about various different Muslim extremist threats to the security of people living in the ‘western’ world of North America and Europe, one rarely if ever sees a story that points out how extremely remote the chances are that you and I will ever be harmed by Muslim extremists. Why is that I wonder?
While I could be wrong about this, I suspect there are four main culprits who are responsible for this; the news media, self serving politicians, the Muslim community and ourselves. I think the news media is at least partially to blame because they focus almost all of their attention on stories about things like lapses in security measures or the threat posed by home grown Islamic extremists, rather than on the reality of al Qaeda inspired terrorism; that these pseudo-religious political extremists rarely succeed in killing westerners and that they mainly kill other Muslims. Why? Maybe because ‘bad’ news sells better than ‘good’ news does.
The role played by self-serving politicians is very similar to that of the news media. They demonize terrorists and stoke the fears of voters about the threat of terrorism because this draws attention to them. They know that a fearful public is both easier to manipulate and more inclined to support and or vote for politicians who appear to be ‘tough’ on terrorism. But a fearful public is also much less disposed to understanding that people with Muslim names or people who are dressed in a traditional Islamic manner are not necessarily sympathetic to Islamic terrorists.
Within the Muslim community, where is their outrage at the fact that these pseudo-religious political terrorists have hijacked their religion and are using it to justify killing innocent Muslim civilians? Why haven’t more members of the Muslim community in the West and in Muslim countries condemned this blasphemy? While some Muslim clerics have publicly condemned al Qaeda’s misuse of the Muslim faith to justify their political aims, I don’t believe the wider Muslim community has done as much as it could to denounce this.
As for ourselves, I blame us because we just seem to accept this. We don’t question the news media’s focus on bad news that stokes our fears instead of on good news that reassures us that such fears are vastly overblown. We don’t demand that the news media accurately portray the reality of the threat of pseudo-religious terrorism in a more balanced manner.
We are also to blame because we don’t condemn politicians who demonize terrorists in an effort to get us to vote for them. Nor do we express disapproval of politicians who stoke our fears about immigrants taking our jobs or availing themselves of our country’s social welfare benefits. Instead, we reinforce these politicians’ manipulative behavior by voting for them.
To effectively reduce the threat of terrorism we should work more closely with the Muslim community to reassure non-Muslims by drawing more attention to the fact that their chances of being killed by Islamic extremists are actually very remote. Doing so would also serve as a reminder to al Qaeda sympathizers that, despite their proclamations of success, al Qaeda has become progressively more impotent rather than stronger since the 9/11 attacks. We should also try to encourage the Muslim community to remind Muslims that most of al Qaeda’s victims are actually innocent Muslims that al Qaeda claims to be waging a jihad on behalf of.
I just wonder whether we and the news media are willing to try this approach?