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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/26/15

Americans' Paranoid Fear of Terrorism Is Illogical, Irresponsible and Uninformed -- Here's Some Perspective

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Counter Terrorism Response Level: Heightened
Counter Terrorism Response Level: Heightened
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ainstream media (helped along by conservative extremism, notably Donald Trump) has been recklessly whipping up a generally uninformed American public into a paranoid frenzy about the terror threat, which is exactly what the terrorists want. Meanwhile, much more critical issues like overpopulation, climate change and nuclear proliferation remain in the background.
One way to escape this irresponsible, illogical and dangerous echo chamber of fear is to step outside mainstream media -- away from the 24/7 CNN/MSNBC/FOX/major network coverage of terrorist activity and its impacts on American culture as displayed by Trump and his minions -- and keep it in perspective.
Here are some (mostly) non-mainstream media excerpts that can help save you from the real threat: yourself.
"Americans remain scared of an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack today. But that fear is not grounded in reality. The self-proclaimed Islamic State does not pose a major threat to the U.S. But if you are an American who is not familiar with the complex politics of the Middle East, you would be scared ... Helping this narrative grow is a compliant media ... The evidence is overwhelming: ISIS is not a major threat to the U.S. But the stoking of Americans' fear of the group is not about to stop. It's too useful a tool for the U.S. officials committed to bombing Iraq and Syria and extending the never-ending 'war on terror.'" -- How the Media and Gov't Terrorize Americans About ISIS -- and Why We Shouldn't Be Scared, Alex Kane, AlterNet

"Terrorist attacks are random; and nine times out of ten, they target civilians more than soldiers. This translates easily into its primary function of creating mass panic, because not only do people react to the initial random attack but also the threat of future ones that are equally unpredictable. This looming threat -- and the inability to substantially combat it -- has resulted in what I would consider a culture of paranoia, a culture in which we become obsessed with and act according to what-if's which are at times the most extreme worst case scenario ... Paranoia not only guides those in authority but also allows the citizenry to be guided ... And while that isn't to say that ISIS and other terrorist groups are only as bad as our paranoia is making them, it does call into question the way that we relate to the War on Terror and the collateral damage our paranoia-based pre-emptive attacks can cause." -- Culture of Paranoia and the War on Terror, Saminyan Bangura, Brown University
"Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated ... The United States and Europe already have effective measures in place to greatly reduce the threat of terrorism from jihadist returnees and to limit the scale of any attacks that might occur. Those measures can and should be improved--and, more importantly, adequately resourced. But the standard of success cannot be perfection. If it is, then Western governments are doomed to fail, and, worse, doomed to an overreaction which will waste resources and cause dangerous policy mistakes." -- Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq, Daniel L. Byman and Jeremy Shapiro, Brookings Institution
"The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act. And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want ... Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror ... The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face." -- What the Terrorists Want, Bruce Schneier, Schneier on Security
"After President Barack Obama sat down with Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein to discuss domestic policy, including the 'Balkanization' of the media, he moved onto to foreign policy with executive editor Matt Yglesias. This time, during a question about how the media covers terrorism, the president made a bold admission about how the war in Iraq affected our national security here at home. Yglesias asked Obama if he thinks the media "sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism" as opposed to longer-term problems like climate change and epidemic disease. 'Absolutely," the president responded, saying he doesn't blame the press for embracing the old adage, 'If it bleeds, it leads.' Obama acknowledged that it's lot harder to make climate change or cutting infant mortality a "sexy story."
But, at the same time, Obama said, 'It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that -- the same way a big city mayor's got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive ... But we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we've got to make sure we're right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn't counterproductive.'" -- 'If It Bleeds, It Leads': Obama Says Media 'Overstates' Terror Threat, Matt Wilstein, Mediaite
"Terrorism has, since 9/11, mushroomed into a greater global threat than it has ever been before -- and it has been a problem in one form or another since the dawn of history. But as bad as terrorism is, our reactions to it have triggered a kind of worsening risk spiral that has made the world a much more dangerous place. Not only are we playing into the terrorists' hands, and thus giving them needed momentum, the countries of the world are reacting in such an uncoordinated and even conflicting fashion that new geopolitical fissures are emerging that are far more worrisome than any strike or campaign extremists could orchestrate." -- Our Reaction to Terrorism Is More Dangerous Than the Terrorists, David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy
"ISIS does not represent an existential threat to the United States. Not even close. Let me tell you about an actual existential threat that America once faced. It starts with the Soviet armament called the R-36M, the largest ballistic missile ever built. Still in service, the R-36M can be equipped with as many as 10 strategic nuclear warheads on separate entry vehicles, each with a yield of between 500 kilotons and 1.5 megatons of TNT, or a single ultrapowerful warhead with a yield of up to 25 megatons. The nuclear bomb that obliterated Hiroshima, killing roughly 75,000 people instantly and tens of thousands more later, was a mere 16 kilotons ... Mass death by nuclear fire is a true existential threat. ISIS isn't. But you wouldn't know it listening to the Chicken Little caucus in Congress, not to mention the media soiling themselves en masse over ISIS ... These lawmakers and journalists are acting like unpatriotic, irresponsible cowards. A moment's considered thought reveals that ISIS is a tiny, manageable threat. Stoking panic by breathless, hysterical exaggeration, especially for possible momentary political advantage, is despicable." -- Stop your unpatriotic fearmongering over ISIS, Ryan Cooper, The Week
"The central idea in ISIS' propaganda strategy is to make itself look like a huge, omnipresent global threat when it is in fact relatively small and isolated. The corporate media, whether wittingly or not, helps it to do this. If one were to only watch and read Western media reports, one would likely think that ISIS is an enormous global presence. Listeners are constantly reminded that "ISIS territory remains larger than many countries," that the land ISIS controls is larger than Britain, and that ISIS is expanding. What is rarely mentioned is that much of the land ISIS controls is uninhabited or sparsely populated, and that the reason it easily overtook many of these areas is because there was often a weak local government and a feeble or even absent military ... This is not to dispute the fact that ISIS is obscenely violent and indefensible. ISIS does clearly pose a threat--but a threat to those living under or near its control, not those living thousands of miles away ... In its obsessive and insatiable appetite for histrionic headlines and sensationalist stories, nonetheless, the US media constantly claims that ISIS is behind this, that ISIS is behind that, that ISIS is in Mexico conspiring to topple the US government, that ISIS is on the path to take over the world ... The irrational media paranoia works. A September 2014 CNN poll found that 90% of Americans believe ISIS poses a threat to the US." -- How the Media Helps ISIS Spread its Propaganda, Ben Norton, Counterpunch
"More to the point, Isis's international expansion seems more of a success in press reports than it is in fact. The question observers should be asking is not why Isis is winning; rather, how it has managed to convince us of its growing power while actually treading water. Part of the answer lies in the Islamic State's marketing genius, and another part in our own willingness to believe its propaganda -- and the inability, or unwillingness, of western governments to counter this ... What Isis does have is an uncanny knack for scaring the audience it wants to scare: us. And we, addicted as many of us are to horror and violence in popular culture, seem perversely eager to be frightened ... [Terrorist acts] take on a media significance that distorts our sense of Isis's power. In turn, we become more willing to accept their territorial claims, even ones that don't stand up to serious analysis." -- ISIS's Media Skill Makes Commentators Too Willing to Believe Their Shaky Claims, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Foundation for Defence of Democracies

"Successful terrorism uses fear to manipulate us. It is designed to get -- and to keep -- our frightened attention, even as we go about our day-to-day lives. The strategy is that of a playground bully who targets someone for random ambush beatings. Of course, the bully may get a charge out of watching his victim suffer physically ... but ultimately, it is a psychological game that he plays ... Like schoolyard bullying, international terrorism uses abrupt physical force, but in both cases, the real payoff is lasting psychological power. Over and over our history and our individual experience shows us that the most effective bully, small or large, is the one who takes up residence in the mind ... Initially, the psychological trauma that preoccupies the targeted society is meant to make it impossible for the terrorists' communication to be ignored or forgotten. But in most cases, the fear greatly outshouts the message, and soon, only the fear remains ... The intelligence community and the military understand that, in the end, terrorism is a psychological strategy. They are well aware that, when they are working to minimize the damage caused by future terrorists, they must factor in that, alarmingly, the largest number of potential 'casualties' may be among the living." -- The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavio r, Martha Stout, Macmillan
"Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action ... the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive -- prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain's capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country ... 'If you know the truth and others don't, that's one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,' says Viren Swami, a psychology professor who studies conspiracy belief at the University of Westminster in England. It can be comforting to do your own research ... It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep ... Swami says the Internet and other media have helped perpetuate paranoia ... Those who got information supporting theories but not information debunking them were more likely to withdraw from participation in politics and were less likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprints ... current scientific thinking suggests [powerlessness is] nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism -- which only perpetuates the problem." -- Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories, Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times

"President Obama said Americans' fear of terrorism has been stoked by a combination of media obsessed with ratings, the Islamic State group's public relations efforts and his administration's poor communication ... Following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, 'you had a saturation of news' about terrorism, and the Islamic State group 'combines viciousness with very savvy media operations,' Obama told NPR's Steve Inskeep. 'As a consequence, if you've been watching television for the last month, all you have been seeing, all you have been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you ... Look, the media is pursuing ratings, this is a legitimate news story. I think it's up to the media to make a determination about how they want to cover things. There is no doubt the actions of ISIL are designed to amplify their power and the threat that they pose.' ... Several recent polls show that Americans are growing more concerned about the threat of terrorism attacks. One from Gallup that found that 16 percent of Americans now identify terrorism as the most important issue facing the nation, up from 3 percent in November. Another conducted by The New York Times/CBS News found that nine in 10 Americans were concerned about terrorism to some degree, while three in five were very worried about terrorists coming from abroad or domestic attacks inspired by foreign extremists." -- Obama: Media To Blame For ISIS Fear In America, Says President, Taylor Tyler, HNGN

"When it comes to terrorism, sometimes 'the best counter-terrorism measure is not to overreact.' The warning came from political scientist John Mueller at a presentation in Washington, D.C., Monday, a few days after Paris was roiled by terror attacks ... The FBI's current annual budget for terrorism comes to about $3 billion. In their new book 'Chasing Ghosts,' Mueller and Australian political scientist Mark Stewart argue about $1.8 billion of that sum -- well over half -- is likely unnecessary ... Mueller said, 'It's possible that doing nothing would be more cost effective" than America's dramatic expansion of anti-terror apparatus.' ... Mueller and Stewart argue that terrorism, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, is an awful but limited phenomenon, claiming the lives of 200 to 400 people a year. Folks have about a one-in-4-million chance of dying from terrorism vs. a one-in-a-million chance of being zapped by lightning.' -- After Paris, academics call terror threat overblown, Jeremy Lott, Washington Examiner
"The propaganda campaign that's been wrought through political rhetoric and mass-corporatized media, which is the US' political machine for the most wealthy amongst us, has done great work to keep the public in a constant state of fear and paranoia ... Stoking the flames of war abroad will not only benefit terrorist efforts universally, that is, for all sides using terror, but it will also benefit the wealthy-corporate class. Executive Vice President of Boeing, for instance, Bruce Tanner, raves that 'conflicts would lead to increased sales for their company. Indeed, 'with the ISIS threat growing, there are more countries interested in buying Oshkosh-made M-ATV armored vehicles.' Accordingly, business is booming for Western-war profiteers. Which was further illustrated when the war 'contractors also celebrated the fact that the defense sector was recently granted a $607 billion budget by the government.'
Thus, there remains a distinct correlation between 'terrorism' and Western profits; 'Glenn Greenwald pointed out stock prices for weapons manufacturers sharply increased just after the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.' ... Whether it's violence from a white-supremacist terrorist, like Dylan Roof or Timothy McVeigh, or one of the "confident savages" the world over, it's clear, that the West, without question, is in the business of producing terror and terrorism, evidently ... But how do our US maintainers of civilization ensure that the masses of people do not become inquisitive, or perhaps, dangerously, informed? Well one way is to continue the policies of secrecy and 'public security.' -- The US' Language of Terror and a History of Preemptive Aggression, Russell Webster, Common Dreams

"The message manifests itself in a kind of hysteria over possible future plots, claims (largely unsubstantiated or untrue) of past ones that were broken up by agencies of the national security state, and endless stories about how the Islamic State is using the Internet to rouse individuals in this country to commit mayhem here ... despite 9/11, the record clearly indicates that Americans are in next to no danger. If you're living in Baghdad, the possibility of terror attacks couldn't be more real or horrific. If you're living in Irving, Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or even New York City, they are close to nil. A country bounded by two oceans and friendly neighbors remains a formula for security, with no credit whatsoever to the national security state.
In few places on the planet is anyone likelier to be safer when it comes to Islamic terror attacks than this one ... Let me, then, offer anyone reading this a practical guarantee. You will not be killed in the continental United States by an Islamic terrorist or someone in sympathy with the Islamic State--or rather your chances of that happening are infinitesimally small. The odds of almost anything else disastrous happening to you, no matter how obscure, is at least as great, and in almost every case staggeringly greater, including being crushed beneath falling furniture, shot by a tot who has found a stray loaded weapon, murdered in a mass-killing incident (not by a terrorist), struck by lightning (or done in by weather events of almost any sort), knocked off by food poisoning, or killed in your own car ... Many of the country's citizens are increasingly living inside a fact-challenged fantasy of a country, a victimized superpower. Boogiemen lurk around every corner, as do high crimes and dark conspiracies ... In the meantime, we live on an increasingly disturbed planet in which the basics of drought, fire and flood, melting and freezing, are gaining new meaning, in which power seems not to be expressing or displaying itself in the normal, reasonably predictable ways." -- The Most Exceptional Thing About America Is Our Paranoia, Tom Engelhardt, The Nation

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(Article changed on December 27, 2015 at 01:30)

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Reynard Loki is a New York-based artist, writer and editor. He is the environment and food editor at AlterNet.org, a progressive news website. He is also the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio whose projects (more...)

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