The Paradox of Terrorism

After 9/11, the American public lived in constant fear of another attack. Many believed that future terrorism was imminent, and that threats to American soil were going to be severe and frequent. I imagine the people of France felt similarly following the attacks in November of last year. For Western countries, whose military dominance, institutionally secured influence, and alliance largely provide safety, attacks by small pockets of international extremists are destabilizing and debilitating. Right?

Wrong. After 9/11, the deadliest attack on U.S. soil, one attack was used to start multiple wars that have caused more deaths to innocent civilians in multiple Middle Eastern countries than were lost in the attacks. The deadliest attack on U.S. soil, with over three thousand dead and wounded, incited reactionary, rash policy that haunts us fifteen years later. And that’s why terrorism is an effective weapon against Western countries: because we respond. It sounds harsh, and I am in no way discrediting those who lost their lives on that day of great loss for our nation. But on paper, the loss of life does not justify the massive response. Significantly more people died in 2001 from Alzheimer’s, suicide, or HIV.

Terrorism is used against large countries whose conventional forces cannot be challenged because these are the countries whose reputation in the community will be questioned if they fail to respond to an attack on their homeland. This is why ISIS, whose threat to the United States is limited and whose resources and recruiting are exaggerated by the media, keeps coming up in the news and in election coverage. These groups want to send a message to large Western countries whose values they perceive as imperialist, superficial, and corrupt. And because even small attacks promote national outcry and international recognition, these groups use terrorism as a tool to foster support, build their reputation, and challenge the “big players” at a relatively low cost to themselves.