In the weeks following the devastating Paris and San Bernardino attacks, the stakes are high for politicians to exploit the fear that has surfaced in the American psyche yet again. Despite real threats that do exist, Americans have become renowned for our inflated sense of paranoia, fear that seems to permeate on our airwaves and on our screens, infusing an urgency of an impending and inevitable doom. Whether it be the NSA tracking your every move or Ebola ready to strike millions, the American panic response to major events has become a staple of our very identity.
Americans currently rate terrorism as the most prevalent problem in the nation, with one out of six Americans considering it the most pressing issue, the highest since 9/11. Terrorism is a threat. But it is not a legitimate threat to Americans, relative to the prevalence of terrorism on a global scale, and considering other issues that are responsible for more casualties than terrorism. However, it is difficult to convince Americans of these facts when the media flaunts graphics of terrorist plots and atrocities. However, the state of terrorism in America has become an irrational fear, a sense of insecurity that doesn’t align with the actual threat presented by terrorism.
47% of Americans fear that they will be the individual victim of terrorism, despite the fact that from 9/11 through 2014, there have been 3,066 American deaths as a result of terrorism. Compare this to the 10,000 Americans that are killed every year by gun violence. Media representations and nationwide anxieties are responsible for this inflated sense of horror, ignoring the fact that it is less likely that an American is killed by an act of terror than by drunk driving, furniture, heat, toddlers, bed pillows, obesity, alcohol, electrocution, lightning strikes, or parasites, all far more dangerous than terrorism in the U.S.
But there is no geopolitical gain in waging a war against furniture manufacturers or toddlers. It is much easier to emotionally rile up a population against people with nefarious intentions as opposed to those threats listed above. So why is this exaggerated sense of danger from terrorism such a significant issue? Because of what it will drive our nation’s politicians to do, and our citizens to back.
We have wrongly believed ISIS and the current face of terrorism to have somehow spontaneously emerged from the ugly underbelly of Islamic extremism. But this isn’t the case. The growth of ISIS in its current state was enabled by the vacuum left by American occupation in Iraq, as analysts now explain repeatedly and the majority of the American population admits that the Iraq war was a mistake.
However, the same fear and anxieties are floating through the American people, and the politicians are playing their tune, exploiting and manipulating terrorist panic for political expediency. The presidential race has quickly divulged into comparing the ferocity with which a candidate is willing to go into warfare. Running for the President of the United States we have individuals willing to kill the family members of terrorists, calling for mass airstrikes, and advocating carpet bombing. This response demonstrates how the tenets of pacifism have receded into a laughable, idealistic naïvety.
Instead of considering warfare as the last resort, politicians are now hypersensitive to engage in unilateral militaristic action, ignoring past consequences of hasty invasions, disregarding the loss of lives and livelihoods of millions worldwide, and the revelation that humanity is not nearly as evolved as we believe ourselves to be. Instead of considering economic sanctions against those nations that are funding the prosper of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, or erecting coalitions against those Islamic countries and their allies whose regimes support the growth of terrorism, we have presidential candidates claiming that ISIS fighters need to be “hunted down and killed.” We have real estate moguls saying, “I would bomb the shit out of them” and another saying, “We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion,” both leading the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
We have become entirely desensitized to these remarks of war, especially when we are waging it against those who apparently despise us, our way of life, and are willing to wage a clash of civilizations. These accounts are the sort of hasty responses that set the stage for the rise of unintended consequences. They are the sorts of statements that only foster a culture of violence, unable to differentiate use of force from strategic political leverage. We, as a society, have surrendered our ability for rational thinking for bombastic militaristic action.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.