Threats, Real and Imagined (mostly Imagined)

Two interesting and related articles crossed my screen almost simultaneously – this one by Nils Petter Gleditsch and Ida Rudolfsen and this one by John Mueller.

Gleditsch and Rudolfsen crunch the numbers and reach a conclusion that is simple, interesting and novel.  I love it!

Civil wars in Muslim countries have not increased dramatically in absolute terms, but they make up a larger share of all civil wars.

Have a look: Untitled The number of civil wars in Muslim countries has increased in recent years but the present level is not historically unprecedented.  Simultaneously, there has been quite a drop in the number of civil wars outside the Muslim world.

Imagine you’re a long-time listener to, say,  the BBC World Service.  Suppose that the BBC holds roughly constant over time the percentage of airtime they devote to war stories.  I know that’s a pretty bold assumption but something along these lines could be true.

If so, then the amount of airtime devoted to civil wars in Muslim countries would have risen over the last decade out of proportion to the real increase in civil wars in these countries. Thus, long-time listeners could easily develop an exaggerated sense that collapse of the Muslim world is a central feature of the decade.

News consumers would then be ripe targets for fear mongering  over the threat of Islamic terrorists.

A cartoon man cowers under the covers in bed at night.

Mueller does a pretty good job of explaining why ISIS, which is absolutely vicious in its area of operation, does not look like a serious threat outside this area.  For example, ISIS seems to regard foreign volunteers as readily expendable and even likes to post videos of foreigners burning their passports, rendering surviving foreigners unlikely candidates to return home and wreak havoc.

Barack Obama recently made a pertinent comment, bemoaning America’s tolerance for widespread gun violence mixed with a disproportionate fear of terrorism:

If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands

(But while searching for this quote I stumbled onto this insanity.   Sheeeshhh)

I’m sure some American readers out there smugly assume they’ve cornered the market on overreaction to terrorism.  Think again.  University lecturers in the UK now have legal duties to combat extremism.

At this moment it is unclear how universities will comply with this legislation.  Many hope it will be sufficient just to force everyone to do an online training course.

So I close with a solemn promise to my readers.  If it’s online training then I will share with all of you the content of the training in a future post.

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