The US’s wrong priorities on terrorism

By Jonathan Power

Were the killings in the church in Charleston terrorism, meant to intimidate the black population of America? Of course they were. Moreover, they were a reflection of the still widespread white hatred for America’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Indeed, as the New York Times editorialized last week, “The main terrorist threat in the US is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. (Many of them anti-black.) Just ask the police”. The New York Times has studied 382 police forces and 74% reported extremism by whites. Severe Muslim extremism was only 3% of the total.

The number of violent plots carried out by international terrorists remains very low and most attempts were disrupted. ‘

Last year not one US citizen at home died from international terrorism. The number of Americans killed abroad was 24. In contrast, at home, right-wing, white, extremists, made 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing 254 fatalities. So much for attacks by Al-Qaeda-type terrorists.

Nevertheless, if one looks at it from a world-wide perspective, there was last year an increase in the number of terrorist attacks, jumping by 35% in a single year, but overwhelmingly concentrated in the Middle East, principally in Iraq (the legacy of President George Bush’s and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s invasion), with Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria next.

Al Qaeda affiliates, including the most deadly of all, the Islamic State, rampant in Syria and Iraq, have become among the world’s foremost purveyors of terrorist violence. Even so the number of deaths, 32,727, is about the same as the number killed annually in car accidents in the US.

The misinformation that most Americans suffer from, thanks to a slanted media and the frenzy of mainly Republican politicians, is extremely worrying, not least because it is pushing Obama back into the sinkhole of Middle Eastern self-destructiveness.

Just two beheadings of American citizens in late August and September by the IS seems to have shifted a war-weary nation that shunned more war to instead increasing the support for US airstrikes from 52% of those of voting age to 78%, and for deploying ground troops from 19% to 44%.

As Micah Zencho writes in the US magazine, Foreign Policy, “This is unsurprising because people are exposed to threatening television news coverage which is far more likely to support hawkish foreign policies”. One might add that in America’s close ally, Saudi Arabia, beheadings for crimes, even adultery, are a regular occurrence, and are rarely mentioned by US media.

Obama has been pushed by this reporting, Republican pressure, the Pentagon and even some of his White House and State Department staff to expand the bombing of Syria and the IS, and has deployed hundreds of troops to train the Iraqi army that eight years of occupation could not achieve.

That said, the worsening Middle Eastern trends are only a small fraction of overall violent deaths. According to the NGO, The Geneva Declaration, less than 7% of the world’s violent deaths were the result of terrorism. 93% were interpersonal violence, gang violence and economically motivated crimes.

Citizens of several Central American and Caribbean countries are still more likely to be the victim of homicide than Iraqis or Syrians.

Back to Charleston: America should be focusing on crimes against blacks rather than putting so much of the nation’s energy into tackling Middle East terrorism. As Obama said the other day, “We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries”. Black Americans are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries.

If one compares various countries’ rate of homicides against the Human Development Index, an overall measure of the standard of living and welfare, we get a picture of who is top in the violence league. Among the developed countries, the US’s rate of homicide deaths is 5.2 per 100,000 persons, more than three times its neighbour, Canada. France and the UK are at 1.1. Italy and Sweden are 0.9. Denmark is 0.8 and Japan 0.4. The Arab countries are also well placed in the league. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (which includes Dubai) are 0.7 and Saudi Arabia 0.8.

America’s primary concern should be its gun laws, not international terrorism. Despite mass killings in schools and other places Obama’s attempts to tighten gun laws have been shot down. It’s not just Republicans in Congress who vote against Obama on this but Democrats too.

Once the Iranian deal on its nuclear program is signed, probably in a week’s time, Obama should use an executive order to ban the public wearing of arms, military-type weapons and the buying of guns with no questions asked.

This should be America’s priority, not hysterical overstatements about the savagery of international terrorism.

Copyright: Jonathan Power 2015

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