Say you make it through today, what about tomorrow? What are the odds you'll get killed tomorrow... and when I say killed, I don't mean falling in the shower, or run over by a drunk driver while crossing the street – I mean killed violently by another person?
Let's take the question down one level. What are the odds someone you love, care about or just know, will be slain today, tomorrow, or even during your entire lifetime ?
I figure the odds of any of those things happening to you or anyone you know range somewhere between slim and slimmer. And, despite the steady flow of fear mongering out of Washington, those odds have changed little, if any, over the last six years.
If you took to heart every claim or threat made by these two groups on any given day, you'd never leave the house.
Al-Qaida keeps claiming that the attacks of 9/11 were the first of many to come. And that the next attacks will be even bigger.
Does al-Qaida and the Bush administration employ the same PR firm? Sure sounds like it. Al-Qaida says, “We're gonna get you.” The Bush administration says, “Al-Qaida is still trying to get you.” The only change today is that the administration has ginned up it's warnings, adding now that they just don't want to kill you but also “your children and grand children too.” (At this pace, can an al-Qaida threat to our family pets be far behind? Will they plant Dandelions in suburban lawns, return VHS tapes un-rewound, litter?)
I don't mean to trivialize all this. Certainly terrorism is real and terrorists hurt and kill real people somewhere on earth everyday. And I do not doubt for a second that killing Americans here is right at the top of their lunatic wish list.
All I am suggesting is that, before we decide how to respond to that threat, we assess precisely what it is terrorist and terrorism really threatens.
So here's my reality check.
1)What threat does Islamic terrorism pose to America?
Even at it's most vicious and effective levels, could it overthrow our government, take control of our institutions, subjugate the people and impose its will on the nation? No. Not even close. The “best” Islamic terrorists can hope is to be very annoying. By blowing things up from time to time they can disrupt a few city blocks, kill X-number of innocent people and, in so doing, assure that the last thing the rest of Americans would want is a country run by murderous sociopaths like them.
2)How should we respond to terrorist threats and acts on US soil?
The same way we respond to other potentially lethal threats – with some degree of proportionality. Lots of things kill Americans every year that we don't “declare war” on. For example:
Americans killed each year in auto accidents 42,116
By the common flu 20,000
Murdered by common criminals 15,517
Food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses,
and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.
On 9/11 somewhere around 3000 innocent people were killed by terrorists. Since then only five people died on US soil tied to a terrorist-type attack (the Anthrax letters.) So, 3005 divided by six years gives us a rough average of 500 Americans a year dying at the hands of terrorists.