Terrorism in France

The horror of the terrorist attacks rests not so much on the wounding and death of the victims as on the deliberate and hateful nature of the attacks. It is therefore prudent to separate the two aspects and consider them each.

The attacks were perpetrated by crazy young people using a murderous ideology to motivate and justify their actions. I say crazy because sane people do not deliberately murder people to whom they have no relation. The unfortunate reality is that at any given time there is always, in every society, a substantial pool of crazy people, some of whom could be tipped into violently hostile and aggressive action. Tribal ideologies, whether derived from ethnic identity, fundamentalist religion, injustice, or anything else serves to stimulate and justify such actions.  but These crazies are not much different than, say, the anarchists of the late 19th century, the Slavic nationalists who engineered the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke at Sarajevo in 1914, or the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. But with modern communications and relatively easy access to guns, such crazies seem to have become more numerous and much more dangerous than ever before.

Is it feasible to shut down the communications that stimulate them? Certainly not directly, without losing our freedom of speech. Perhaps indirectly, by reducing the urgency and romance of their appeals through corrective measures to the misery that so many now endure in their lives, eliminating the most militant terrorists, and in general making the practice of terrorism more unattractive to the young--long term projects all.

Turning to the risks that terrorism creates, I have two thoughts. One is that in cold statistical terms terrorism adds very little to the general level of risk of physical harm that prevails. On an annual basis I imagine that disease, automobiles, fires, and natural disasters, even bicycles kill or wound many more people. My other thought is that many people, including the "experts" who advise, write, and appear on TV; the firms that sell equipment to police, paramilitary, military, and terrorist organizations; and of course the media themselves all profit from creating or perpetrating public hysteria about terrorism.

1 comment:

  1. Generally well said - try as I might, I can't really quarrel with anything here. I remember a couple of years ago reading an article from a researcher who had been tracking the number of terrorist incidents and the number of people killed in them around the world for many years. The writer made the point that both - again this was as of a couple of years ago - had actually been declining steadily, despite the nearly universal belief that the opposite was true. What had instead been increasing was sensationalist media coverage of any incident that did occur.

    The obsessive coverage of the recent incidents in Ferguson and NY involving police killing of minorities is indicative of the same phenomenon in which disproportionate coverage leads to a public perception of rampant violence out of proportion with the reality.

    As for the situation in France, I just posted a comment to the WSJ's article about the march there. I generally don't like quoting myself, but it's faster than trying to paraphrase myself, so here it is:

    "We've entered into a strange new reality when a group of snarky political cartoonists become the people we all look up to for courage, but such seems to be the way it is right now. So I have to concur: Je suis Charlie! And I would add to that Vive la France! This situation has obviously aroused the French national spirit, and they're speaking for all of us right now, whatever our differences otherwise. As an American, I would like to have seen President Obama in the line of world leaders, or at least Joe Biden, but I assume they had their reasons for demurring."

    And that's still pretty much the way I feel.