Keeping terror in perspective

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Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, discusses the low level of threat from terrorism Canada actually faces and the consequences of fear-mongering on CBC’s Radio’s 180 with Jim Brown:

It is widely assumed that the world has become more dangerous than ever before, that there is more war, more terror, and more violence everyday. That assumption is just plain wrong. Compared with the Cold War, the last 20 years have had less conflict worldwide and more political stability.

The world is not more dangerous than it was 15 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Every statistical analysis of international conflict shows a sharp decline. In fact, there are fewer wars and fewer people being killed in wars than at any time since the 1950s.

You might think terrorism has replaced war as an ever-growing threat. That is wrong as well.

The Global Terrorism Database, which is part of a research program at the University of Maryland, has collected statistics on terrorist attacks from 1970 onwards. According to its numbers, terrorist attacks peaked worldwide in the 1980s. In North America, the number peaked even earlier, around 1970, when groups like the FLQ in Canada and the Weather Underground in the United States were active. The attacks on the United States in September 2001 were unique in number of people killed, but across the world last year just five countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Nigeria—accounted for 80% of all terrorism-related deaths.

That is why, for Canada and the Western world, I say that the greatest danger facing us is not terrorism. I believe that the greatest danger facing us is self-inflicted threat inflation. By imagining the world is more dangerous than it is, we end up harming ourselves. I say that this is a danger because it naturally leads to politicians giving greater powers to police and security services and joining unnecessary and counterproductive military interventions overseas.

These, as we know, are costly in blood and treasure. Canadians pay for this in more than just taxes. We pay for it also in the loss of our privacy, and in some cases, a reduction of civil liberties. The world has not become a darker place filled with threats. If it seems that way, it is because we keep our eyes half-shut and bump into things we can’t see properly. We live in a particularly safe region of the world which, compared with all of recorded history, is remarkably peaceful.

If we were to open our eyes, we would find it easier to navigate around the real obstacles to an even more peaceful future.

Listen to the full commentary here.

Photo credit: Brian J. Matis, Flickr.

Hyperlinks added by editors.

Tags: anti-terrorism bill, Armed Conflict, Bill C-44, Bill C-51, Canadian defence policy, Canadian foreign policy, civil liberties, Global Terrorism Database, Human Security Report, Military intervention, National security, Paul Robinson, privacy, security and intelligence agencies, surveillance, Terrorism, War on Terror