This short rant was going to go on Facebook, but I thought my blog was a better forum than my cousin’s Facebook feed.
I’m sick and tired of people downplaying legitimate concern over terrorist attacks because gun crimes are more common or because Donald Trump is a racist. Both those things are true, but the fact that many people fear terrorism isn’t as stupid and racist as memes make it out to be.
A quick aside: I have not changed my life because I fear a terrorist attack. But that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot who thinks that living in NYC doesn’t mean living in a potential target.
Another aside: I can be concerned about terrorism and still acknowledge that the lack of gun control in America is an issue. I can mourn for the deaths of victims of gun violence and of terrorist attacks. I can also chew gum and walk at the same time.
A final aside: I do not support Trump. I do not agree with his policy positions, such as they are.
Anyway, back to Facebook. My cousin posted this video. I like my cousin. He’s a smart guy, passionate about various different causes, and always happy when I feed him gluten-free baked goods! But he has a tendency, like many other Brits, to fall into the trap of thinking most Americans are gun-toting, Trump-rally-attending, racist, fearful people. I blame the BBC–but not this minute. In any case, I’m sure many left wing Americans have posted this video as well because they have a tendency to think about half of the county fits the above description.
The video made some good points but they were lost in the lazy, click-bait world of social media memes. It went for shock value over making well thought out points. I don’t blame people for sharing it. It took me two viewings before I could start to put a finger on what I found wrong with the video, whose overall message was that we need to come together rather than point fingers and guns. That’s a refreshing thing to hear these days. But they went about arguing their point all wrong. So wrong that I decided to write this blog post.
The first point point this video made is that Europe has been dealing with terrorist attacks with regularity since the late 1960s. True. But there was a lull starting in the 1990s and continuing until 7/7 in London and more recently attacks in Paris (starting with the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack and ramping up in 2016.) This lull was long enough for my generation–millennial–to come of age in relative quite and for adults to forget the terror. So the renewed terrorism in Europe is certainly shocking. Plus the fact that there were more terrorist attacks in the 1970s than in the 2000s doesn’t actually mean that we can’t be concerned about terrorism now. Especially because the European terrorist groups mentioned in the video targeted specific countries–the IRA wasn’t bombing tourists in Turkey–so while there were more terror groups, they were primarily regional. Terrorism is becoming global and seemingly any target will do, from an out of the way church in France to a double decker bus in London to a nightclub in Florida.
The logical fallacy that because things were worse must mean that things now are better, isn’t the only issue with this portion of the video. The chart they showed didn’t include 2016 and it had no numbers on the side of the chart to make it clear how many deaths each bar stood for (a trick people often use to bamboozle people with statistics that aren’t quite so stunning). I’m guessing that if 2016 were on there it would be quite high. Maybe other times weren’t worse after all. (And again, even if they were, it doesn’t mean things aren’t bad now.) More to the point, if I’m reading the source data correctly (yes I went to the source they cited and started looking at the raw data) the chart that the meme said represents number of deaths in terrorist attacks actually shows the number of incidents of terrorist attacks with fatalities. In other words an attack that caused one death adds as much to the bar as an attack that causes hundreds. It’s possible I’m wrong and the video makers used the raw data to crunch the numbers themselves–but given how many attacks have “unknown” fatalities the further you go back, I think we need to take it with a grain of salt regardless of what it’s meant to show.
But enough with that chart, I’m studying American politics and the point of the video was (I think) to raise awareness for gun control in America and to bash Trump and his followers for being racist. (Or maybe the point is to call Americans fearful morons who have it so much better than Europe in the 1980s…I’m not 100% sure.) So let’s look at the second half of the video which seems to be where the real idiocy starts.
They cut right from the discussion of terrorism in Europe to a Trump supporter blaming Islam for terrorism. Yes, that Trump supporter represents an enormous issue! Too many Americans equate Islam with Islamic Extremism. It’s like (to steal from “The West Wing”) equating Christianity with the KKK. It’s wrong and hateful. But that’s not related to the issue of how many terrorist attacks there have been in Europe. Or if it is, the video doesn’t make the connection. Where’s the point that the IRA was terrorizing London in the name of religious independence but no one blamed Catholicism as a whole? I suppose that’s too complex a point to make in a meme–but isn’t their point that the issue is more complex than Trump rallies make it out to be?
Next they flash up the statistic that only 24 people have been killed in America by “Islamist Terrorism” in the decade between 2005 and 2015. Convenient time frame. What about the nearly 3000 deaths in September 2001, or the continuing death toll from cancer and respiratory disease among first responders? I know we are coming up on the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks and maybe it’s time to stop citing those statistics. But I had classmates who lost family members in the attack. I know I was removed from the effects (I wasn’t even living in NYC at the time) but I still don’t think that those dead can be left uncounted when we talk about terrorist attacks on US soil.
Also leaving off last year seems convenient. Of course I understand that 2016 isn’t over and so it’s not quite ready to be included in statistical sets, but many of Trumps followers are responding to attacks that happened this year, so ignoring them doesn’t help the argument–it just looks like the video is trying to cover up evidence that doesn’t fit.
Next we have some statistics about gun deaths. These statistics are horrifying. But that’s not my point at the moment. These numbers are used to say that we are 12,000 more likely to be killed by a gun than by a terrorist. That’s an iffy number. Many gun deaths are gang and drug related. Many are domestic disputes. A surprisingly high number of them are accidental–particularly if the victims are under 18. So if you are an adult without a gun in your home and don’t live in a high crime area, I’d wager that your chance of being killed by a gun is substantially lower than the meme says.
Again, I’m not saying that America doesn’t need better gun control, I’m just saying that linking these two issues is simplistic and does a disservice to those who are victims of terrorist attacks and those who are victims of gun crimes by making each category just a number to sling at people who disagree with you.
Finally the video ends with the Alt-Right’s fear mongering being compared to ISIS’s campaign of terror. That’s just lazy. Yes, I suppose if you boil it down they both use other-ing to create a mythical enemy who is meant to strike fear in our hearts and drive us apart, but it’s not the same and you know it. Ask someone in Syria the difference. Or one of the survivors of the Pulse shooting.
I’m tired of being reduced to a simpering idiot who cannot hold two ideas in my head at once just because a MINORITY of Republicans (who in and of themselves make up only about half the country) picked a loud-mouthed, racist, schmuck to be their party’s presidential candidate.
Sorry, that wasn’t as short as I’d planned.