Danger is everywhere, and people are killed by terrorists on a daily basis. In America, we hear or read about selective events, those that make good stories in our newspapers or provide carefully edited images on television. But, this is not an indictment of the media. If we knew about every death caused by terrorist activity, we might become immune to the monstrous events. Or, we might be too frightened to conduct our normal lives.
According to Robyn Dixon and Aoun Sahi, the reality “is that terrorist attacks over the last 15 years have become more deadly, more indiscriminate, and more wide-ranging.” The Los Angeles Times reporters, Dixon at the South African Bureau and Sahi in Pakistan, coordinated reports from six countries and contributions from 12 researchers in nine additional parts of the world. They concentrated on only one month, April 2016. On good days, April 26 and April 29, only one attack was attributed to terrorists; other days ranged between three and 12.
In one of the most bizarre incidents, ISIS “used a morgue freezer to slowly kill 45 defectors and a cage to drown seven people accused of collaborating.” The methods are intended to horrify the perceived enemies of the Islamic Caliphate (worldwide political and religious domination) and strike fear in their hearts. To this end, the authors comment, “During April, not one day escaped bloodshed committed by terrorists.”
Escalation and ubiquity
Writing for “Stars and Stripes,” Dick Meyer reports that, not counting the mass murder on 9/11/2001, since 1970, 397 Americans have been killed by terrorists. Contrast this with the rest of the world. ”Globally,” says Meyer, “the death toll from terrorism has risen dramatically, from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014.” But, in 2015, the number “fell” to 28,000.
Generally, the weapons of choice are bombs that are worn in suicide vests or concealed in cars and vans. But terrorists do not shy away from guns, knives, and — for more gore and bloodshed — machetes. Beheadings are among the most gruesome means, and they draw worldwide attention. And, these are not clean cuts, like the executions by guillotine in eighteenth-century France. They are accomplished with knives or swords, slowly and incompletely.
Dixon and Sahi report the events of one day, April 12. That morning, Habib Ullah was transporting his wife, daughter, and infant son when his vehicle hit a land mine in northern Pakistan. The Baluchistan Liberation Army took credit for that one. Nearly 600 miles away, a deputy police chief was shot to death by the Pakistani Taliban. Later, in Lebanon, a car bomb killed a senior Palestinian official and four others. In Mali, three French soldiers were killed by a mine. In Yemen, a suicide bomber exploded in a crowd of young army recruits. Two sawmill workers in the Philippines were beheaded by Islamic militants. And, in Turkey, a soldier and four civilians were killed by a bomb.
The reporters write, “One day, six countries, 19 deaths. And it wasn’t the deadliest day in April. That was a week later, on April 19, when terrorist attacks in five countries killed 71 people and wounded 391 others.” In all, during the month the journalists confirmed 858 deaths in 27 countries and an additional 1,285 injuries attributed to terrorist groups.
Home and abroad
In America, we are all deeply affected by the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, and we empathize with the horror experienced in Paris and Brussels. But, we are seldom aware of the fact that terrorism strikes everywhere: Armenia, India, Peru, Thailand, the Philippines. Recently, we saw the effects of terrorist activity in Bangladesh. But the deadliest places have been Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where Muslims have been slaying other Muslims.
According to Dixon and Sahi, Pakistani newspapers view many events as minor news, and television completely ignores them. Pakistani crime reporter Naseem Hameed Yusufzai commented, “The death of a donkey in cities like Karachi and Lahore gets more attention on TV media than the death of human beings in Baluchistan.” Dixon and Sahi add, “Whereas incidents inflicting multiple casualties grab headlines, single deaths often accumulate unnoticed.”
Also, there are deaths caused by explicit acts of terrorism, but others are incidental. In mid-April, four children were playing on the roof of an orphanage in southern Turkey. They were not targets, yet they died when a Katyusha rocket fired by Islamic State militants miles away smashed into the building.
Additionally, it is impossible to say how many preventable deaths occur at some point because of current terrorist activity. For example, on April 20 in Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen shot seven policemen who were guarding medical workers giving polio vaccinations to children. And, Afghanistan is one of the countries where polio is still an active disease that maims or kills thousands of people.
In the Muslim world, the holy month of Ramadan ended Tuesday, but during that month, brutal terrorist attacks were perpetrated on the countries where Islam is the principal religion.
In Jordan, six members of the security force were killed by a suicide bomber. In Lebanon, six died and 19 others were wounded when a terrorist blew himself up. As rescue teams gathered at the scene, three other attackers activated their suicide vests. In Yemen, 42 people, mostly soldiers, were killed by a car bombing. In Turkey, terrorists stormed Ataturk Airport, killing 44 people and injuring hundreds of others.
Iraq, which has been especially targeted, more than 200 people were killed and at least 175 were wounded by a truck bomb. There was a series of apparently coordinated attacks in Saudi Arabia during a single day. The terrorist incidents occurred near the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, the holy city of Medina, and at a Shiite mosque in Qatif. But the world news media centered on the gunmen who killed 20 hostages and two policemen at a restaurant in Bangladesh.
This is war, but a different kind of war than we experienced in Vietnam or during the two world wars of the 20th century. Traditional responses are inappropriate and would be ineffective. The simple substitution of new technology, like drones, is not a solution. Certainly, I don’t have a hint as to how to approach the dilemma; the extent of this problem is beyond the scope of my imagination.