Monday, 14 December 2015

21st Century Terrorism in Historical Context

Terrorist outrages are appalling and disgusting. Yet one thing that has struck me a number of times is how the panic around terror attacks are far greater now than it was for those who grew up during/lived through the Provisional IRA's British mainland bombing campaign. Some might point to media cultivation of such a thing and, of course, they do bear some responsibility. However, could it be that terror attacks now tend to be mass casualty events that are thankfully rare, and so retain the power to deeply shock in ways the almost routine bombings of the IRA did not? Possibly. This handy little chart helps put the terrorism of the early 21st century in a historical context.

Does the declining frequency of terror attacks mean security services are just better at foiling the operations of would-be terrorists, or are Western European societies generally more peaceful? Answers in a comment box ...


BCFG said...

Arab and terrorist are almost synonyms these days.

But it wasn't always the case. I was watching the Long Godd Friday recently and a bomb had been found in a casino. The Bob Hoskins character asked if any suspicious looking people had been in the casino that night and the barman said, "No, only some Arabs!"

It would be interesting to see the graph of Middle East victims of terror. Though the X axis would have to be in the thousands of course. Oh but wait. That isn't terror is it, merely humanitarian liberation! Still it would be interesting to view the graph showing the the number of victims of humanitarian liberation!

Matt W said...


Think you have your numbers out of context, perhaps prompted by the political lens you are using. Your comment seems cynical as to civilian casualties and keen to blame the West.

To put it in context, according to SOHR via Wiki (have a better source?) between Sep 2014 and Nov 2015:

Killed in Syria by US led coalition airstrikes:3,952
3,547 ISIS fighters, 136 Al-Nusra Front militants and 250 civilians.

And between 2011 and 2015 casualties in local forces and civilians: 257,099 killed
Pro-Govt forces: 93,385 killed, Anti-Govt forces: 83,960 killed, Civilians - 75,996 killed

You will recall that the campaign for non-intervention in Syria pretty much succeeded for a long time, led by the Stoppies. I hope they are proud of themselves.

Corbyn and friends are not so much right or wrong, as entirely irrelevant rubberneckers bringing nothing to the crisis.

David Timoney said...

The terror attacks of al-Qaeda and Daesh have been characterised by face-to-face acts, usually involving the suicide of the perpetrators. Though this style of operation did happen in the past - notably the Black September attack in Munich in 1972 - most terrorist acts in the 70s and 80s involved bombs.

Pyschologically, the prospect of a face-to-face attack instills greater fear than the random possibility of a fatal explosion. Though the latter is a constant worry, it is low level background humn (because we can all do the maths) and leads to a degree of resignation familiar from wartime ("If it's got you number on it ..." etc).

In contrast, the prospect of being hunted when defenceless is more of a "nightmare" (Utoya, Westgate Mall, the Bataclan). In this regard, the media are probably guilty more of unthinking repetition rather than conscious cultivation. The chief source of the nightmare has been Hollywood, starting with the slasher films of the 80s and reinforced by the zombie plague genre.

Despite the claims that Islamic terrorism is sui generis, or the eruption of incomprehensible and atavistic impulses, Daesh & co are actually acting out a very modern, Western trope. I'm not suggesting that the fault lies with "video nasties", and that banning them would have led to universal peace and love, but that if your aim is to maximise effect, then it is rational to leverage existing fears.

Matt W said...


I think the main story of the chart is that democracy and economics won in Western Europe, and all the various revolving revolutionaries lost out or became exhausted.

Apologists for Western European terror in democratic setups seem to have gone away - how are the Troops Out people doing now?

Though some of them are doing a poor job of resiling from their own former enthusiasm for it, such as Chancellor McMao. (I think you call this one wrongly in saying it does not matter. It does.).

IMO The tale of NI is of the IRA 'military' fighting itself into a failed standstill enough to allow Gerry Adams to impose a political process after waiting for more than a decade or two to see it happen, which allowed the peace process to work eventually.

Policing? Yes it has changed - much more ubiquitous and thorough snooping. I'm very unhappy that the culture of normal policing has become more authoritarian. Battles to be fought.

Better Policing? I think the jury is out.

And yes - we have developed a glass jaw. Perhaps less so in the UK (?)

Michael said...

The terrorist attacks of the 1970's and 80's, such as the Brighton bombing, and so on were also on a large scale. Not like 9/11, but larger than the majority of current attacks.

The Provos were also much more effective. They only accidentally blew themselves up, rather than engaging in suicide attacks.

I think that the hyping up of current terrorism is partly to do with an agenda to reduce civil liberties, and partly a reflection of the fact that the current media is dominated by young people, who think history is anything that happened more than a couple of years ago, and which has to make everything seem bigger, and more exaggerated than anything that happened previously.

Speedy said...

On a technical point, the IRA were forced to sue for peace because they had become so utterly infiltrated by the security services, and plus the funding began to dry up post 9/11.

Jihadist groups are harder to infiltrate/ do not have negotiable objectives. Still, if you look at conviction rates rather than successful attacks, then the figure is still alarming, and a testament to the success of our security services at keeping us safe.

I wonder how many fewer people would have had to die if that traitor Snowden hadn't blown the gaff?