Terrorism: How worried should we be about it?
What should we do about it?


Is terrorism as great a danger as our leaders would have us believe?
If we are to 'fight terrorism', there is a far more effective way than sending troops to the Middle East.

Three thousand people were killed in the September 11th 2001 bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Thirty thousand people suicide every year in the USA; EVERY year, not just in one year! Forty thousand US citizens were killed in vehicle accidents in 2006. There are around five thousand pedestrians killed on US roads every year.

Why has George W. Bush killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, caused two million others to flee Iraq, spent trillions of dollars and hundreds of US soldiers' lives on his War Against Terror while not bothering doing anything about the suicide rate or the number of pedestrians killed on the road? This question in handled in Terrorism in perspective, below.

Certainly the USA has given a great many people in the middle-east reason to hate it, but is terrorism the best response? Does terrorism achieve anything for the terrorists? Is it really justified by the Koran? Surely there are much more effective ways of achieving justice.

This page was created 2003/03/08, last edited 2020/09/26
Contact: David K Clarke – ©

What should be done about terrorism?

If people hate you and do nasty things to you then perhaps you should give careful consideration to why they hate you and whether you deserve their hatred.

For example, Australia has become a target for terrorists since we helped the USA in their invasion of Iraq. My page on The real USA gives many reasons why people would hate any country that links itself with the USA.


State sponsored terrorism

Far more innocent people have been killed by state sponsored terrorism than by those who are normally labelled as 'terrorists'. For example consider the Vietnam War, particularly the USA's part in the Vietnam War.
Terrorism has been with us a very long time; long before September 11th 2001, although that was perhaps the largest single act of non-state sponsored terrorism in history. To listen to President George W Bush around the time of writing this page one might think that 9/11 was the world's first act of terrorism.

Many times since then the question of how to combat terrorism has been discussed. By combating terrorism the establishment seem to think mostly in terms of how to catch terrorists, how to stop acts of terrorism from being carried out, and how to punish terrorists.

The War on Terrorism

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

-- Herman Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall and commander of the Luftwaffe, at the Nuremberg trials
The questions that seem to have rarely been asked are ones like:

  • Why do terrorists engage in terrorism?
  • What motivates them?
  • Why do they so hate the West that they are willing to give their lives to hurt the West and kill Westerners?
  • Can we do anything to make them like us rather than hating us?
Yet surely these are the most important questions to ask. How can we hope to 'combat' terrorism effectively if we do not address these questions and get to the root-causes?

Can we ever hope to stop terrorism by concentrating on catching terrorists, intervening before they carry out their aims, punishing nations that we believe support terrorism, and punishing those terrorists that we catch?

Terrorism is a symptom of a sick society. Let's put at least as much effort into curing the disease as we do in treating the symptom.

Also see:


Terrorism defined

The Collins Concise English Dictionary defines terrorism as "The systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal".

By this definition the USA is a terrorist state. They code-named their invasion of Iraq in 1993 'Shock and awe' as I recall. The USA has, for many years, periodically resorted to violence and intimidation to achieve some goal or other. I would definitely say that the US has systematically used violence and intimidation to achieve goals.

If the reader feels disinclined to call the USA a terrorist state, I would be very interested in how he/she would redefine terrorism to exclude the habitual activities of the USA (my email address is on the About Me page).


Causes of terrorism

Terrorism, in its non-state-sponsored form, it seams to me, is the act of desperate people; people who feel that they are not able to achieve their aims by any other means.

Some of these people may be religious fanatics who have an irrational hatred for any who do not profess their particular faith, or even those who do not belong to their branch of a particular faith. Perhaps these people might be persuaded out of their fanaticism over a period, but I suspect this is probably the most difficult form of terrorism to try to combat. The most productive course in stopping these terrorists, I would think, would be to aid these people's more moderate countrymen to educate the would-be terrorists about the more peaceful aspects of their common religion. I don't think that any of the world's great religions, if carefully considered, really advocates killing innocent non-combatants.

Other terrorist acts are committed by people who feel that their rights are being withheld and they have no legal recourse. The terrorism in northern Ireland and that committed against Israel by the Palestinians is substantially of this kind.

It is surprisingly difficult to find out what motivates a terrorist like Osama bin Laden. Plainly he hates the USA. A large part of his grudge, I believe, is due to US support for Israel against the Palestinians. While his grudge is justified, his methods cannot be condoned; the methods advocated by bin Laden are against ethics.

Many of Al Qaeda's recruits are Muslims who believe that the Islamic world is being unjustly handled by the world's dominant Western nations. In many cases these feelings are appropriate, and in many they are probably blaming others for failings within their own nations or societies. But whatever the existing causes for the hatred and fears or the terrorists, can we hope to reduce hatred and fear by buying ever more weapons and by bombing those nations that our leaders see as threats.

Which way would you advise someone to live with his/her neighbours?

  • Build a high wall topped with barbed wire around his house, buy savage guard dogs, make an alliance with the biggest bully in town, and periodically shout threats?
  • Or try to make friends of his neighbours, offer them help when they seem to need help and share with them the produce of his garden?
Shouldn't nations behave toward each other in the same way as good neighbours?

U.S. Military Spending vs. the World: $ in Billions
US Military spending compared to world
"Allies" refers to the NATO countries, Australia Japan and South Korea. "Rogues" refers to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Chart created by the Center for Defence Information

Cures for terrorism

Western nations are far ahead of any Third World nations in both military capability and the wealth of their citizens. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, there is, as I write in September 2002, a worrying trend toward increasing fear of Third World based terrorism in the West. The reaction to the fear has been more military build-up and isolation from the Third World, rather than being directed toward efforts to allay the cause of the terrorism threat.

Many people in the Third World have no reason to love the west, particularly the dominant Western nation, the USA.

Instead of giving the Third World more reason to hate and be jealous of the West by building up barriers, I believe we should be knocking down barriers. Instead of spending on weapons, we in the West should be providing more aid to the Third World.

Instead of spying and other covert action in Third World nations we in the West should be providing an example of what open, honest, democratic governments can, at their best, achieve. Instead of the politics of hate, we should try the politics of kindness, assistance and compassion.

In 1999-2000 international development assistance from the USA, as a percentage of gross national product (GNP), was ranked at No. 22 (last) among the OECD nations. (OECD: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Denmark gives just over one percent of its GNP as assistance, Australia gives 0.25%, the USA gives just over 0.1%. For more information see Global Issues.
Consider how much good could be done in the Third World if just half the current defence budgets of the West was spent on aid.

In the year 2000 the USA spent US$396B on 'defence' and US$11B on foreign aid; one 36th as much.

For the year 2001/02 Australian defence spending, in Australian dollars, was about $12.9B (2% of GDP) while foreign aid spending was $1.8B (0.25% of GDP). One seventh as much.

One does not reduce fear, jealousy and hatred by buying more guns and missiles; one reduces fear, jealousy and hatred by generosity, openness and honesty.

Australian defence versus aid spending 
2001/02 We in the West should be giving Third World people reasons to love us, rather than more reasons to hate us. It seems to me idiotic to think, as it appears George W. Bush and John Howard do, that the best way to approach a terrorist threat is to drop more bombs, with the inevitable consequence of many more innocent civilian casualties.

Education, a part of the cure

The trial of the Bali Bombers (the people who detonated a bomb in Kuta in late 2001 and killed over 200 people) has shown that the motivation was an ignorant and narrow minded hatred of Westerners combined with religious fanaticism.

Both excesses in religious zeal and ignorance can be lessened by a good, broad education; however, nations like Indonesia have little money to spare for education. I suggest that the West should spend a significant amount of money on assisting education in Third World nations, rather than increasing its spending on weapons. I believe that this would be a cheaper, a much more effective, and a more humane way to combat terrorism than the 'threaten them with bombs' approach of Bush, Blair and Howard. And, of course, it would also increase friendship rather than fear, and make the world a better place.

The brain drain, a part of the problem

Foreign aid should not just be thought of as a gift that the generous West provides to the poorer nations. The West has unfair advantages because of its greater wealth, one of these advantages being the brain drain. Well educated and exceptional people are attracted to the West by high salaries; the loss of these people makes economic progress in the nations they leave more difficult and, of course, it is unfair that poorer nations should bear the cost of educating people who then go to work in the West.

Western nations have moral debts to poorer nations; foreign aid can repay a part of that debt. On the other hand, people in Third World nations understandably resent the brain drain and unfair trade practices, and terrorism may well feed on that resentment.

Unfair trade, cheep labour: other parts of the problem

Western nations can afford to subsidize their industries, giving them trade advantages over poorer nations. Western nations take advantage of the cheep labour available in poorer to increase their wealth.

Both of these factors must increase resentment to the West in the Third World.


Terrorism in perspective

World wide

The death toll from terrorism in the three years from 2003 to 2005 was about 20 000. By comparison the death toll from the Second World War was about 50 million.

The number of Iraqis killed in George W. Bush's 'War against terrorism' has been estimated at 650 000 (Dr Les Roberts et.al. John Hopkins University, published in The Lancet) and more recently at 1.2 million (Opinion Research Business study, see Wikipedia [ORB survey of casualties of the Iraq War]).

Incomparably more people are killed by diseases including malaria and HIV Aids than by terrorism. If a fraction of the money being spent on 'the war on terrorism' was spent on a 'war against disease' incomparably more lives would be saved. If a fraction of the money being spent on 'the war on terrorism' was spent on a 'war against malnutrition' incomparably more lives would be saved.

If the USA was to spend big money on helping third world nations fight malnutrition and disease rather than on weapons and war there would be much less hatred and mistrust of the USA, and less desire to attack the USA.

Another page on this site, A comparison of possible disasters, compares the threat of terrorism with other threats such as pandemic and global warming.

Terrorism in perspective: USA

Total casualties from the September 11th attacks on the USA were 3030 deaths and 2337 injuries.

In the 2002 American-lead attack on Afghanistan 3500 civilians were killed, see Common Dreams.

The USA National Safety Council's page on the odds of dying (no longer available) gave the following figures for the USA in the year 2004:

  • Deaths by all external causes: 167 184;
  • Deaths by transport accidents: 47 385;
  • Pedestrian deaths on roads: 5976;
  • Accidental drowning: 3308;
  • Deaths by exposure to smoke, fire and flames: 3229;
  • Deaths by exposure to excessive natural heat or cold: 902;
  • Deaths by accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances: 20 950;
  • Deaths by assault: 17 357;
  • Deaths by intentional self-harm: 32 439;
My intention in providing these figures is not to try to trivialise the September 11th deaths, but to place them in perspective. A US citizen is much more likely to be killed crossing the road than by a terrorist attack!

If President Bush had spent a tenth as much as the cost of the Iraq war on making US roads safer surely he would have saved far more US lives.

Many more Afghan and Iraqi civilians have been killed by the American-lead responses than Americans in the original attack. Many more Americans die from accidents and other 'external causes' than have been killed by terrorists. How many of these deaths could have been avoided at far less cost than the many billions that the USA is spending on wars?

Is the American war against terrorism an over-reaction? Is it justified? Is it money well spent? Did President Bush use the 'war against terrorism' as a diversion to take the minds of US citizens away from bigger problems that he did not want to confront, such as climate change, or on problems closer to home?

From another angle, is the illegal and immoral holding of 'detainees' in Bagram Airbase and Guantanamo Bay without charge and without trial and without the rights of prisoners of war justified by the gravity of the situation? Is the curtailing of civil rights in the USA justified? Was 'extraordinary rendition' ever justified on any grounds at all?

Terrorism in perspective: Australia

Eighty nine Australians were killed in the Kuta (Bali, Indonesia) bombing of 2001. This is by far the biggest ever single terrorist 'hit' on Australians. There were also some Australians killed in the Twin Towers attack.

Most of the figures below are extracted from an Australian Bureau of Statistics Web page and refer to the year 2001. The road traffic fatalities figure was from ABS Year Book Australia 2003.

  • Deaths due to external causes: 7876;
  • Suicide: 2454;
  • Drug induced deaths: 1038
  • Road traffic fatalities: 1736
Again, the terrorist casualties, while tragic, wrong and enormously regrettable, are few compared to deaths from many other causes. Would the Australian government be better advised to spend more on fighting illicit drugs, studying the causes of suicide, or improving road safety rather than trying to increase ASIO's powers and helping the USA in its militaristic ambitions? Is the curtailing of civil rights in Australia justified?

Is the present course of action the most productive? Is it productive at all? Isn't the 'war on terrorism' much more likely to increase terrorism, by increasing hatred for Australians, than to make us safe?

Is terrorism convenient for government?

Well after John Howard involved Australia in the Iraq War because of the supposedly terrible terrorist threat it became clear that the baggage handlers employed in at least some Australian airports were opening bags and stealing some of the contents; they were neither being sufficiently screened before employment, nor supervised during their work; had any of them been terrorists they could have been inserting bombs. (Australia was not a target for terrorists until PM Howard involved Australia in the US's oil war in Iraq.)

In March 2009, in the Sydney International Airport, a person was brutally murdered by a gang. There was no CCTV coverage of the event.

Why, if terrorism is such a great threat, is security at our airports so lax? A cynical citizen might think that the 'terrorist threat' is little more than a convenience to an unscrupulous government to excuse the introduction of draconian laws and involvement in wars of aggression; a way of diverting the attention of voters to an outside threat to reduce their concern about other matters if more real importance, but matters over which government wanted to avoid scrutiny. It is a fact of life that the government is often the worst enemy of the people.

Terrorism is often counterproductive

Just as fighting terrorism by bombing and punishment is likely to increase rather than decrease terrorism, so acts of terrorism are likely to make the position of the terrorist group worse. For example the present wave of Islamic extremist terrorism is creating a mistrust of, and among some people even a hatred of, Muslims. The September the 11th and the Kuta terrorists have harmed the lives of Muslims in Western countries.


The Middle Eastern terrorists seem to be intent on proving that, whatever the West does, they can be more barbaric. One wonders how they can imagine that this will achieve any worthwhile result. On the other hand, the Coalition of the Willing (USA, UK & Australia) in their invasion of Iraq seems intent on 'an eye for eye'; when did that strategy ever achieve anything?

Is dropping bombs and shooting missiles at people any less barbaric than blowing them up with bombs strapped to your body?

Is suicide bombing the most effective way to give your life?

I am old enough to remember seeing Vietnamese Buddhist monks burning themselves to death in objection to the American War in Vietnam. The courage and determination that was needed for self-immolation brought huge sympathy from those who saw it on the world's media and helped to end that war.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, among many others, achieved a great deal by fasting. Fasting, as a way of getting sympathy for a cause, has the advantage of going on for weeks before the death of the protester. The time involved puts pressure on governments and others.

In contrast, suicide bombing with the aim of indiscriminant killing of bystanders, many of whom are innocent, produces hatred and fear, self-immolation or fasting produces sympathy and makes those who hear about them think about the determination and dedication to the cause of the person whose life was given.

When has increasing hatred and fear ever achieved anything good?

Increasing sympathy and understanding for the undoubted injustices inflicted by the Americans on the Arab peoples might achieve something.

Terrorism and religion

Both the Terrorists and the Bush camp claim to be deeply religious. Both are, in their own ways, hypocrites. The terrorists are twisting Islam to suit their purposes; they kill indiscriminantly, often killing fellow Muslims either purposely or accidentally. Bush and his supporters, while claiming to be good Christians, seem to have forgotten all that Jesus taught. Bush and Co. are motivated by wealth, while Jesus not only saw no value in wealth, but encouraged his followers to give all they had to the poor.

What do the terrorists hope to achieve? To turn the infidels to Islam by indiscriminate killing? How would that make anyone love Islam? Do they want to set up a global caliphate? How can they believe that they have any chance of achieving that when they are making people with far more military power than they have fear and distrust Muslims?

Bush, on the other hand, has forgotten about loving his enemy and turning the other cheek. Christians have never been good at turning the other cheek.

Terrorism and nuclear waste

High level nuclear waste has been defined as "self-protected" because it is so radioactive that a thief would receive a lethal dose of radiation. Given the fact that there seems to be no shortage of fanatical terrorists willing to give their lives for their causes, is this valid? Is the waste really protected?