A mere two weeks ago, a fatal terrorist attack took place on the steps outside British Parliament- injuring at least 50 people and killing 5 civilians. The assailant, Khalid Masood, drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then ran into the Palace of Westminster with two knifes. While the attack lasted only 82 seconds before Masood was shot dead, the strike reaffirmed long-lasting international fear of the Islamic State and relative terrorist organizations. However, it is still unclear if Masood was linked to ISIS or Al-Qaeda, despite ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack.
What is clear is that terrorism is a destabilizing burden that robs society of comfort and takes lives away. It kills mothers and fathers, co-workers and friends—stealing our sense of identity and security in the process. Masood’s attack made headlines in every mainstream news outlet, crying out these injustices, but terrorism still remains less of a threat to our lives than these rarely publicized fatalities—death by an asteroid, shark attack or choking on food.
It’s hard to believe the infrequency of terrorism when it headlines the front page almost daily, but according to the National Safety Council, U.S. citizens have a 1-in-46-million chance of dying by a refugee terrorist and a 1-in-138-million chance of death by an illegal immigrant terrorist. On the other hand, Americans have a 1-in-3,409-chance of dying by undigested food.
This is by no means making light of terrorism. Every death is a tragedy, but when looking at statistics—and away from sensationalized media—terrorism is less of a danger than ordinary threats ruled with less vengeance. Partly in cause by national security measures through border patrol, counterterrorism measures, and armed forces that we are thankful to have in place, terrorism is not happening as often as we think. But it is also not happening as often as we think because terrorism by immigrants just isn’t happening as much as it is talked about.
Trump tweeted that his executive order banning Muslims from our country is not an anti-Islam attempt, but a safeguard to “keep bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country.” In the official statement from the White House, Trump’s order, “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Entry into the United States,” prevents citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the state for 90 days. These limitations will secure the country according to Trump, and reduce the likelihood of terrorism, but there has not been a single death caused by terrorists by any of the seven countries listed.
Trump’s order preventing unauthorized immigrants from entering the United States just doesn’t correlate to the reality of the threat they pose. Despite this unavoidable truth, Trump’s counterterrorism measures have been accepted for two reasons—Islamophobia and fear.
In 2015, Trump originally called his executive proposal “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” This statement has since been taken down, but the disproportionate bias towards Muslims remains. 97 percent of the citizens in the countries that Trump has banned from entering America are Muslim but research shows shows Muslims are less of a threat to crime than native-born Americans. We know what is going on—bigotry, and Muslims are not the primary source of our danger.
The second reason why Americans are quick to jump to Trump’s extreme “counterterrorism” measures is by fear. Terrorism might be less likely to occur than death by a fellow civilian (11,737 fatalities annually), or even falling out of bed (737 per year vs. nine killed by Islamic jihadists) but the threat felt amongst American people still remains high.
Motivated by fear, terrorism is a national priority because it brings out more emotion. Fear can lead people to make snap judgements based on feeling rather than logic; not always correlating to actual risks. Since 9/11, nine people per year were killed by Muslim extremists in the United States. On the other hand, 37,000 people die annually from car accidents and over 12,000 are killed by guns. Despite these statistics, the fear of another 9/11 is so strong that its catastrophic memory is more powerful than protecting against much more frequent car crashes. Fear strengthens our memory, and leads us to overestimate the odds of another irregular, yet horrible episode from occurring. Terrorism stimulates so much fear because of its unpredictable nature—inciting dread and lacks domestic control.
In addition, the risk of terrorism is heightened further by its strong media presence. We have instantaneous footage—with images and videos seared into our brains by iPhones with compulsory news updates, and headlines flashing at the bottom of our television screens. It’s easier to over-react and jump to irrational conclusions when coverage to tragedy is ready to access. All of these factors magnify terror by illegal immigrants when compared to a car accident—a tragedy that can be prevented with predictable features and is less publicized.
As a result, terrorism fuels people to extreme measures, such as the United State’s new executive order on immigration, and it is important to question the President’s motives. National security is one of the biggest priorities to America and it is critical that the government is taking proper counterterrorism measures to safeguard against tragedy. But rather than using London’s terror attack as an opportunity to further religious and racial discrimination through “anti-terrorism” measures, I hope this most recent tragedy will elicit reflection and logic, rather than irrational fear for the fate of our country.
Sheridan Wilbur is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.