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Old 07-09-2018, 07:30 PM
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Default Why we think terrorism is scarier than it really is (and we probably always will)

Why we think terrorism is scarier than it really is (and we probably always will)
I am arriving in Brussels. The train from London is full of the usual Chinese tourists and bored businesspeople. The city doesnít, contrary to the impression given by CNN, resemble Kabul. Rows and rows of untouched houses scream bourgeois calm (actually, they gently whisper bourgeois calm).
As I wander out of the train station, grim-faced soldiers with impressively large automatic weapons are rousting a homeless man. He doesnít look dangerous. There is no gunfire or explosion going off in the background. Daily life in Brussels continues in its usual sunless stupor.
Outside the train station, I think of the 31 people who were so tragically killed in the metro and at the airport while innocently going about their daily lives. I am helpless to resist imagining myself or my loved ones in their place.
But as I watch the Brussels traffic, Iím also thinking about the two or three people who, statistically speaking, died in road accidents that same day in Belgium. They were also going about their daily lives and probably also died tragically.
But we will not have protest marches for them or newspaper profiles lamenting their loss. In fact, we will never know, or apparently care, who they were. Still, there are two or three more of them every day.
Similarly, there were 372 mass shootings in the United States in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, yet ending this killing spree is a minor issue in the presidential campaign. But a terrorist attack in a city an ocean away that killed far fewer people has already roiled the campaign.
Along with many, many others, Iíve been researching and writing about this disproportionate reaction to terrorism for more than a decade ó about the dangers it poses to freedom and democracy, and even the ways it can encourage more terrorism. President Barack Obama seems to agree.

Yet it is abundantly clear by now that these arguments, as strong as they seem to me, will never have an impact.
Indeed, a phone call from the US reminded me that I havenít even convinced my own mother. She was not happy that I had dared to visit Brussels. She advised me to stay away from crowds. She loves me, but her fear is stronger than her faith in my analysis (which, she assures me, she does read).
The difference between her image of Brussels and its reality is hardly surprising. Back in the US, the media hype surrounding terrorist attacks, the fear it generates among the public, and the exaggerated policy responses that public reaction inspires in politicians are all now part of the routine.
Why? Why do we continue to choose fear? Why do we care so much more if you are killed by a terrorist than by a drunken driver or an apolitically deranged individual with a gun?

Over the years, Iíve observed three main reasons:
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Policymakers and politicians know that if they fail to acknowledge peopleís fears, however irrational, they will soon cease to have jobs. So they rightly ignore people like me telling them that terrorism is not such a big problem.
The conscientious ones look for ways to channel those fears into more productive activities, such as increasing societal resilience to terrorist attacks. They seek to play down the threat of terrorism to the extent possible and enlist communities in the effort to prevent young men (and women) from turning to the dark side.
The more cunning ones look for ways to play on the fear. They often recommend policies, such as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's proposal to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods, that nearly all experts say would only make the terrorism problem worse.
It is this terrifying symbiosis between the terrorists in the Middle East and the populist politicians in the West that is the real threat...
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