An Unlikely Fear

Joshua Woo

Terrorism is unique in its ability to induce distinct fear in civilians, even those located on the other side of the world. A single attack can discompose and scare an entire nation, perhaps to points of inaccurate over-exemplification. In an almost formulaic manner, the media reports terrorism, rejuvenating fear from prior events, before political figures begin spewing rhetoric that build off the people’s cumulative frustration and angst. So what factors contribute to the deep rooted fear and disproportionate responses? Why do we hold an exclusive fearfulness for terrorism?

Part of the reasoning to this thought process can be explained by anecdotal projection. People have a tendency to calculate the possibility of dangers based on personal account and witness rather than statistical probability. In perspective, global fatalities relating to road crash incidents count in at around 1.3 million a year, while 32 thousand people worldwide were victims of terrorist attacks in 2014. Therefore, by numerical data, we should be more concerned with road safety than with an act of terrorism. But we aren’t, and most likely never will be, seeing that fear and worry are peaking at levels not reached since September 11, 2001 (according to a CBS and New York Times poll). More than just the report of the experience, the relatability of the victims play a key part in how we perceive the threat to ourselves.  Most people don’t know the fact that dozens of terror attacks aside from Paris and Brussels have taken place since January of 2015. Even fewer people are aware that six of those attacks were deadlier than both Paris and Brussels respectively.  This should come as no surprise, considering the focus of the public remained on the familiar areas, rather than Nigeria or Egypt.  It explains why fear and mourning were widespread during the time periods following the Paris/Brussels attack while some people remain completely unaware of incidents just as, if not more, fatal. Anecdotal reliance is a very basic form of computing danger, but it is a tendency we are all (understandably) subject to.

Anecdotes may be the start of miscalculation, but the media dictates how much of the news consists of specific accounts of attacks and death counts. The news channels are saturated with recent updates on the same event, amplifying the perceived magnitude of the attack.  When an individual is presented with information with such repetition and consistency, it’s only natural that they begin to irrationally invoke themselves in the event. Perhaps these excessive reports are doing more harm in spreading the fear terrorists initially intended.

As shown through the obvious numerical disparities between death count of car accidents and terrorist attacks, the justification for citizens’ fear supercede any tangible evidence. Simply put, accidents leading to death are just that—accidents.  No intensive purpose, no plan, just an unfortunate twist of fate. However, the deaths caused by terrorism, disregarding how small the stats may be, holds more to be afraid of than just death count.  Its very nature implies an extensively precise, meticulous, and calculating effort to cause damage on random bystanders. The reality of terror is more than just the casualties. There is a bigger picture, an involvement in a greater scheme to destroy certain people’s set values. That is the unique trait of terror. That is the great trigger for fear that can’t be combated with knowing probability.

Terrorism is undoubtedly a major concern, regardless of comparison. There is something truly haunting about the dynamics of terrorism, where needless slaughter is followed by a widespread dismay that is magnified by the media, leading to panic. To further confound the issue, we are living in an age of mistrusted authority.  When a politician dare stray from the current common rhetoric, citizens deem them weak. Cautious planning and understanding of facts has been translated to people as “scared” or “spineless”.  How can it even be plausible to hope for a solution if we refuse to engage in statistical analysis? The fear of terror is understandable, given the inclination of human nature and the methods of receiving news. But succumbing to fear while engaging in discussion of serious political affairs is not in the best interest of our country, our globe, and our principles.