To reduce terrorism, we must understand it

Tuesday, barely four months after the Paris attacks, terrorists attacked the Brussels airport and a metro station. The reaction to Tuesday's events were similar to last November: calls for solidarity, the French lighting the Eiffel Tower the colors of the Belgium flag, and posts on social media, such as “Pensées for Bruxelles” and “Je suis Bruxelles.” While solidarity for Belgium is important, we cannot forget the habitual terrorism that forces many into a life of fear.

The Economist reports that only three percent of casualties from terrorist attacks in the last 15 years occurred in western countries. Yet, many people in the Middle East and Africa live in a fear of terrorism every day that is nearly impossible for westerners to comprehend. For example, in 2014, 9,929 people died due to terrorist attacks in Iraq. That is roughly 27 people per day.

Terrorist attacks have increased dramatically in the last 15 years. The Global Terrorism Index of 2015 reported that in the last year, the number of deaths from terrorist attacks increased by 80 percent. However, the same report shows that 78 percent of fatalities were concentrated in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. In the last 15 years, these nations have been plagued by civil war and unwarranted attacks from outside nations, like the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Interestingly, the same report also points out that the majority of terrorist attacks in the West were not carried out by Islamic extremists, but rather that “80 percent of deaths in the West [were] from lone wolf attacks being attributed to a mixture of right wing extremists, nationalists, anti-government elements and other types of political extremism and supremacism.” Still, the attitude prevails among Americans that Muslim extremists are the main culprits of causing terror in the West.

The media is in part to blame for the frenzy of coverage that occurs after a terrorist attack in the West, like Paris last November. Whether it is on television, online news sources or social media, the 24-hour news cycle causes us to obsess over such events. Obviously, any terrorist attack is a terrible tragedy that demands our observation. Furthermore, the number of ISIS recruits that are leaving Europe to fight for the Islamic State and returning to Europe is a harrowing fact that should be raising an alarm for many.

Americans by and large do not take time to understand the Middle East or its history. The Sunni-Shia conflict and Sharia Law, as well as deep tribal roots, make the Middle East a very complicated region. Unfortunately, there are not enough Americans who understand the complexity of these issues or how deep-rooted they are, and yet we all seem to have a solution.

Our failure to deeply study the region and its issues puts us at a grave disadvantage. Until we do so, we cannot expect to be able to solve the problems that impact the Middle East as well as the rest of the world.

John David Thompson is a senior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.

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