With the recent activity in Canada's Parliament, terrorism is now front page news in Canada. It is most likely that the Harper government will use this as proof that it needs to act against terrorists now to prevent further attacks in the future. As we know from what happened in the years since September 11, 2001, this likely means further restrictions on the freedom of a select number of Canadians who are deemed to be a risk to society or more wide-ranging actions that will mean incremental losses of freedom for all Canadians. By instilling fear in society, Ottawa and governments around the world are able to justify all of their actions. This brought to mind a paper that I had come across entitled "The Terrorism Delusion" by John Mueller and Mark Stewart. In this posting, I will outline some of the key points in the paper that is quite enlightening when it comes to explaining our current "terrorist-phobic" society and where governments have gone so wrong.
The authors begin by noting that, after September 11th, 2001, many security experts anticipated that there would be dozens of similar attacks over the coming years. The American security apparatus believed strongly that a second wave of even more devastating attacks was imminent and gave no thought to the premise that the attacks of 9/11 were a lucky aberration for the terrorists. Over a decade later, on May 1, 2012, the leader who authored the attacks was killed and a virtual treasure trove of documents, hard drives, thumb drives and CD-ROMs were taken from his home, providing the American security authorities with their much-needed detailed plans for further attacks on America and Americans. In reality, the "mother lode" of data contained little more than complaints from al Qaeda members about a lack of funding, infighting between groups, having to dodge drone attacks and links to pornography. According to Glenn Carle, a veteran of the CIA, Americans, as a result of the stance taken by their government, have become "victims of delusion" and have a "persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence" when it comes to terrorism. This belief system has resulted in the spending of trillions of dollars on security for the homeland and has cost tens of thousands of lives in both civilian and military populations.
Despite the fact that it appears that there has been a never-ending succession of sophisticated terrorist attacks or attempted attacks on American soil, here is a listing of the American cases from September 11, 2001 to 2012:
You'll notice that after the case name, there is a single digit number between 1 and 4 that represents the case type. Here is an explanation of the case types:
1 An Islamist extremist conspiracy or connection that, in the view of the authorities, might have eventually developed into a plot to commit violence in the United States
2 An Islamist extremist terrorist plot to commit violence in the United States, no matter how embryonic, that was disrupted
3 An Islamist extremist plot to commit violence in the United States that was essentially created or facilitated in a major way by the authorities and then rolled up with arrests when enough evidence was accumulated
4 An Islamist extremist terrorist or terrorist group that actually reached the stage of committing, or trying to commit, violence in the United States
If you go through the list, you'll notice how many of the cases were of type 3, those that were well known to and facilitated by American authorities (i.e. sting operations). Of the fifty cases, twenty-four or nearly half of the total cases were under the control of the American security apparatus. Over the 11-year period, only six of the cases actually reached the stage where terrorists either committed or were caught trying to commit violence in the United States.
While some terrorists have proven that they are relentless in their efforts to send a message to Washington in specific and the United States as a whole, the vast majority of individuals that have been picked up on terrorism charges would be considered inept. The authors of the case studies listed above used the words "incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, and foolish" to describe their subjects. Many of the plans were wild fantasies that were far beyond the capabilities of those involved.
In the years since September 11th, there has been only one successful bomb detonation by terrorists at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. The only successful way that Islamic terrorists have been able to kill Americans is with gunfire; between 2001 and 2012, a total of sixteen deaths took place at the hands of Islamic terrorists, a rather small fraction of the 11,068 gun homicide deaths that took place in the United States in 2011 alone.
If we look back in history, we can see the same type of justification used in fighting another threat; Communism. J. Edgar Hoover was rabid in his pursuit of the American Communist Party who, according to him, was working "day and night to further the communist plot in America" and that its objective was "the ultimate seizure of power in America". Other than the prosecution of thousands of innocent Americans under McCarthyism, the fears and paranoia of the Federal Bureau of Investigation proved to be completely unfounded.
Using the data available on terrorism, the authors calculated that the odds of an American dying at the hands of a terrorist at present rates is about one in 3.5 million per year. According to the National Weather Service, here are the odds of being struck by lightning:
Governments, particularly after 9/11, have been more-or-less continuously playing the "fear card" when it comes to terrorism, most recently of the ISIS variety. Governments count on the idea that ignorance and perception will drive our thoughts and emotions. Terrorism and the fear surrounding it are the perfect tools for governments to implement additional restrictions on our freedoms all in the name of "protecting us" when, in fact, it is government that needs protecting, largely because of their misguided belief that military action will reduce the risk of lighting the fuse of terrorist activities. This is particularly pertinent for Canadians whose Prime Minister recently made this comment, defending his stance on "a dangerous world" which includes both ISIS and Russia:
"The measure of good government, the true test of leadership lies not in achieving success in times of stability and peace, but in doing so during times of risk and danger."
There's nothing like playing the fear card when you're desperate for votes. The more acts that government can stick the "terrorism" label on and the more bogeymen that they can convince us are hiding among us, the easier it is for those that we elect to slowly chip away at our freedom and privacy in the name of "protecting us".