Sunday, November 23, 2014

23-Nov-14: Global terror: just how well did we think the world was doing?

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For only the second time (the first was a year earlier), a systematic ranking of global terrorism by country has just been published. It delivers some startling findings.

The 2014 edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), produced by an organization modestly named Institute for Economics & Peace, headquartered in Sydney
is an attempt to systematically rank the nations of the world according to terrorist activity. The index combines a number of factors associated with terrorist attacks to build an explicit picture of the impact of terrorism over a 10-year period, illustrating trends, and providing a data series for analysis by researchers and policymakers... [source]
It's a major work, filled with interesting data-driven insights about terrorism in 2013 across the world, and by comparison with the past:
  • 87 countries experienced a terrorist incident; the number was 81 in 2012. That's a 7.4% year-on-year increase by our figuring.
  • The number of people murdered by terrorists (the study calls such events deaths, which we think is somewhat missing the point) in 2013 was 17,958. For the previous year, it was 11,133. According to our spreadsheet, that's a year-on-year increase of 61.3%.
  • And for those who still think the forces of good are prevailing over the terrorists, this shrieking siren: "The number of people who have died from terrorist activity has increased fivefold since the year 2000". That's a global statistic, and it ought to shake us.
  • In some ways, the data seem to say terrorism is a highly localized problem. 60 per cent of all attacks (by number) occurred in a handful of countries; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. But the entire rest of the world, apart from these five, experienced a 54 per cent increase in terrorist events during 2013, year on year. Kind of hard to make the case that we're overcoming the threat.
  • From the GTI report
  • Still, the authors try to offer comfort in this statistic: more than 85 per cent of all 2013 terror incidents "were successful". (How does that compare with attempted bank robberies, attempted rapes, attempted murders, across the globe in 2013? We don't know.) The "good" news? In 2011, the success rate exceeded 90%. So, compared to that, things are looking up, right? Wonderful.
Here's the most serious point we want to make, and it's not about the numbers but the words. Like most observers of terror and like the entire global news reporting industry, the GTI repeatedly uses the expression "suicide bombers". It's a usage we wish could be eliminated because it's wrong on several levels. It puts the focus on the perpetrators, and simply ignores the victims. It connotes an unwarraned degree of selflessness that in some quarters is understood as bravery, or even heroism - and that's simply deplorable. But the main point is that bombings carried out by terrorists who conceal the explosives on their person are not about suicide at all, but about murder The death of the person carrying the bomb is incidental to the plan; those behind the plan virtually always include people who are not injured by the explosion, and were never endangered by it in any way. We think the terms "human bomb" and "human bomb attack" are more accurate. We wish they were widely adopted instead, and try to encourage everyone we meet to take the same view.

We speak often, in front of many different kinds of audience, about how terror impacts societies and ordinary people, and we almost always finish with words to the effect that the war against the terrorists is certain to get much worse before it gets better. The statistics, sad to say, seem to be with us.

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