by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 2, Rajab, 1438)
While the US (and the West) makes so much noise about the threat of terrorism, the fact is the number of people killed in gun violence is nearly 1000 times more than those killed in terrorist acts yet hardly anyone talks about gun control.
What is the reality of terrorism in the world? Based on the statements of Western politicians (Donald Trump, and before him George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld et al), repeated ad nauseam, Muslims pose the greatest threat to peace and security in the world, especially the US. The Western corporate media reinforces this perception by the manner of its coverage.
While there is no clear definition of terrorism—even the United Nations has not provided one despite much debate on the topic—what has emerged through years of incessant propaganda is that any act of violence perpetrated by a Muslim is immediately branded as terrorism. If a non-Muslim perpetrates the same crime or worse, then that is not terrorism. On June 4, 2014, for instance, one Justin Bourque shot and killed three RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick (Canada). Two other officers were injured. When it was discovered that he was not a Muslim, Canada’s Justice Minister at the time, Peter MacKay declared that it was not a terrorist act because there was “no cultural component to it”!
In Trump’s first address to a joint session of US Congress on February 28 that most observers described as sophomoric (nothing unusual except that he did not go off the script causing many to heave a collective sigh of relief!), he again raised the specter of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Raising fear of the “other”—in this case Muslims—is a time-tested formula that is sure to rile up people and surrender to the whimsical policies of the establishment. Like his predecessors, Trump also wants more money for America’s war machine. He announced an increase of $54 billion in the US military budget that will now exceed $650 billion.
How serious is the so-called Muslim threat and whether Muslims alone are responsible for terrorism in the world? One is reminded of St Augustine’s narration of an interesting encounter between the emperor, Alexander (aka Alexander the great) and a pirate.
“How dare you molest the seas?” asked Alexander of the pirate. “How dare you molest the world?” said the pirate in response. “Just because I do it with a small boat, I am called a pirate while you do it with a big ship, you are called an emperor.”
Notwithstanding the self-serving definition coined by Western politicians and media outlets, three researchers at the Georgia State University in their fascinating report for Monkey Cage (reproduced in the Washington Post) have exposed the reality behind such propaganda.
The three Georgia State University researchers—Erin M. Kearns, Alison Betus and Anthony Lemieux—wrote: “In a recent study, we found that the news media do not cover all terrorist attacks the same way. Rather, they give drastically more coverage to attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims—even though those are far less common than other kinds of terrorist attacks.” The researchers then explained how they define terrorism and how they measured the coverage of such events.
“We first looked at all attacks in the United States between 2011 and 2015, as listed in the Global Terrorism Database. The GTD defines terrorism as ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation’.” Then they examined media coverage of each event.
Going by official pronouncements and media coverage of terrorist attacks, one gets the impression that these are daily occurrences and that people in the West are more likely to be the victims of terrorism than any other kind of violence. In fact, terrorist attacks are presented as an existential threat to the West’s way of life. Perhaps there may be an element truth to this but not in the way most people envisage. Here is why.
Following a string of deadly terrorist attacks in the US, euphemistically referred to as ‘deadly shootings’ or merely ‘violence’, especially after a white non-Muslim terrorist opened fire at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in October 2015 that killed nine people and injured seven, a visibly upset President Barack Obama said the shootings were becoming all too routine. He then called upon media outlets to compare the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks in the last decade with those that have died as a result of gun violence.
Interestingly, CNN took up the challenge and came up with some startling results. In a report published on the CNN website on October 3, 2016, Eve Bower wrote: “For every one American killed by an act of terror in the United States or abroad in 2014, more than 1,049 died because of guns.” This means the ratio of deaths from terrorism to those of gun violence was 1:1049.
Is there anything like the media coverage or hysteria about gun violence as there is about so-called terrorism? In fact, more Americans die as a result of falling furniture at home than they do of acts of terror. Trump has announced a ban on citizen of six Muslim majority countries because he wants to prevent acts of terror in the US but is there anybody for banning home furniture that poses a far greater risk to American lives?
Ms Bower of CNN found some other startling statistics.
“Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2001 to 2014, 440,095 people died by firearms on US soil. (2014 is the most recent year for which the CDC has data for deaths by firearms.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide.”
She went on: “According to the US State Department, the number of US citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369.” When the number of those killed as a result of terrorist acts inside the US, the numbers are still miniscule compared to those killed in gun violence. Ms Bower wrote: “In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the United States and found that between 2001 and 2014, there were 3,043 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism. This brings the total to 3,412.”
We know—the entire world knows—about the attacks of 911. It is also known as to how many people died in that attack: nearly 2900 (the exact figure given out by the US was 2893, of which nearly 600 were not American citizens). If we exclude the number of deaths in the 911 attacks because it was a one-time act, the total number of deaths related to terrorist acts inside the US would stand at 519.
Even this figure of 519 needs qualification. Muslims were not the perpetrators of all these acts as the CNN report explained. In addition to the 911 attacks, CNN included the following domestic acts of terrorism including attacks on churches and abortion clinics. Ordinarily, such attacks are not described as acts of terrorism; they are called ‘lone wolf attacks’; or attacks by ‘nutcases’, of which there is no shortage in North America and Europe! Yet, for the purpose of this list, they are now included in the overall total. Here is CNN’s list:
September 11 attacks (NY, DC, PA) September 11, 2001;
2001 Anthrax attacks (DC, NY, CT, FL) Oct., Nov. 2001;
El Al counter shooting (California) July 4, 2002;
Beltway sniper attacks (DC, Mid-Atlantic) Oct. 2002;
Knoxville church shooting (Tennessee) July 27, 2008;
Pittsburgh police officers killed (Pennsylvania) April 4, 2009;
Tiller abortion clinic (Kansas) May 31, 2009;
Holocaust Museum shooting (DC) June 10, 2009;
Fort Hood shooting (Texas) November 5, 2009;
Plane crash into Austin IRS building (Texas) Feb. 18, 2010;
Fort Stewart Army base killing (Georgia) December 10, 2011;
Sikh Temple Shooting (Wisconsin) August 7, 2012;
St. John's Parish police ambush (Louisiana) August 16, 2012;
Boston Marathon Bombing (Massachusetts) April 15, 2013;
LAX Shooting (California) November 05, 2013.
Overland Park Jewish community center (Kansas) April 13, 2014;
Isla Vista shooting (California) May 23, 2014;
Las Vegas shooting (Nevada) June 8, 2014;
Killing of state trooper in Blooming Grove (Pennsylvania) September 12, 2014.
Given this reality, why is such a strong impression created in the minds of most people that Muslims are responsible for all acts of terrorism? There is now even a saying that “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” While this has been repeatedly refuted in academic studies, it is the corporate media and politicians that push this line to target Muslims.
Let us return to the report by the three Georgia State University researchers.
“In total, there were 89 attacks committed by different perpetrators in the United States during the five-year period we examined. Between 2011 and 2015 in the United States, Muslims perpetrated 12.4 percent of those attacks. We then searched for media coverage of each attack from US-based print sources in LexisNexis Academic. Since many Americans get their news online, we supplemented the print media with coverage from CNN.com. Each article we counted had focused primarily on the act of terrorism, its perpetrators or the victims, and it had to appear in a US-based media source between the attack date and the end of 2016. We found 2,413 news articles that met our criteria.”
In their examination of media sources and coverage, they came up with some interesting findings: “Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources we examined. The small proportion of attacks that were by Muslims — remember, only 12 percent — received 44 percent of the news coverage. In only 5 percent of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born—but those four attacks got 32 percent of all the media coverage.
“In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.”
From 2001 to 2014, number of Americans killed:
Terror attacks abroad: 369
Terror attacks at home: 3,412
Minus 911 attacks: 519*
(*These include attacks by non-Muslims as well).