Overreaction feeds terrorism

Terrorism can be compared to a 'global parasite' that feeds on the fear of the world population. Therefore an increased amount of fear results in an increased amount of terrorist activities. To curb the growth of this 'parasite' mass scale counter terrorist measures are often launched resulting from the 'panic' caused by the fear in the people. However, the situation of terrorism is like a 'hydra headed situation', where decapitating one head results in the growth of two more. Overreaction to terrorism also functions in a similar sort of manner. More than containing the situation, Overreaction to terrorism can have drastic effects on the economy and human resources, diplomatic ties and the worldwide image of a nation.

History has been witness to the phenomenal amounts of 'blood and treasure' spent by nations to curb the growth of terrorist activities. As stated by Fareed Zakaria, "terrorism provokes large scale responses that can actually prove to be very expensive and even counter-productive for a nation". Ex US President George W. Bush's response to the 9/11 attacks is one of the most tragic cases of overreaction to terrorism, in terms of economic and human impacts, thus making this attack the most successful terrorist attack in US history. The attack on Al-Qaeda in the Tora-Bora mountains in Afghanistan not only caused the US economy billions of dollars, but may have also proved futile as till date, no one is sure whether Osama Bin Laden is dead or alive. However, this initial attack was just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly, the overthrow of the Taliban Government in Afghanistan was followed by an ill conceived, unwarranted attack on Iraq. Statistics according to The Economist dated 6th November, 2004 suggested that within the first eighteen months of the Iraq war, the casualty rate of Iraqi civilians had crossed the hundred thousand mark. This huge number, coupled with thirty thousand US soldier casualties and a price tag of one trillion dollars and still counting, is an indication of an overreaction without any equal.

Also, the over protective policies adopted by countries to prevent terrorism have not helped either. According to a study by John Mueller, Professor of Political Science in Ohio University, the direct economic losses from the 9/11 attacks amounted to around tens of billions dollars. However the overcautious policies enforced by the US department of Homeland security has cost the American economy around fifty billion dollars every year. The money spent on airline screenings at the airport itself amounts to around four billion dollars per annum for the US economy. On top of this, people's reluctance to travel by airplanes has caused the US airplane industry to suffer losses of around fifteen dollars per year. In comparison with the year 1990 when the airplane industry used to pose profits of five billion dollars per year, this is certainly a huge turnaround. Hence, such a response to terrorism is not the way to contain terrorism, but rather a path towards self-destruction of a nation's resources and its people.

In addition to the economic and human impacts, countries have been split by internal and external discords due to frenzied responses to terrorist activities. Terrorists frequently use the 'divide and rule' policy to create roots of friction not only between two nations, but also within various sects and religious groups within a nation. These terrorist groups often hide under the mask of a single religious or rebel group and attack politically instable targets in a country, in anticipation of an overreaction. History suggests that these tactics have often succeeded than fail. The Sikh terrorism attacks in India in 1984 prompted the Indian government to overreact by attacking the holiest place of the Sikh people, The Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, home to the largest population of Sikh people in India. This action caused an outrage among the Sikh community in India, which accounts for the third largest religious group in the country. The consequences of this action by the Indian Government were shattering. The then Prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi was murdered by her two Sikh bodyguards and the following year, an Air India plane carrying 329 passengers exploded in mid-air over Ireland, making this bombing the largest terrorist act since 9/11.

This 'divide and rule policy' has taken effect outside national borders too. The 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were probably the incidents that prompted the FBI to place Osama Bin Laden on their ten most wanted list of criminals.

This action prompted the then US president, Bill Clinton to bomb a suspect pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, based on some unreliable US intelligence. The aftermath of this act was disastrous. The destruction of the factory, which was the manufacturing site of fifty percent of Sudan's medication crippled Sudan's health industry and caused death of thousands of Sudanese who were deprived of access to medicines. Similarly, the strife between Israel and Palestine due to terrorist activities has impacted Israel's relations with the whole on the Middle-east. Till date, any traveler carrying an Israeli Visa or passport is forbidden to enter Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE due to a clause mentioned in those countries constitution.

Lastly, an overreaction to terrorism often blurs the image of a country that the people from outside nations associate the country with. One act of brutality or wretchedness is enough to turn a once benevolent country into a villain. Terrorists themselves are opportunists who wait for one wrong act by one nation to draw sympathy from the victim nations and confirm the righteousness of their propaganda. The US attack on Iraq confirmed Al Qaeda's propaganda of an imperialist nation trying to occupy Arab lands. As a result of this attack,the Iraqi civilians who once would have viewed the US as their savior and liberator from terrorist rule would be bound to feel more sympathetic towards the terrorist groups after watching images of violence as thousands of their kin die around them due to the wayward and inhumane mass bombings by the US army. Also the acts of inhumanity and torture in Abu-Ghareb and Guantanamo have shaken the basic foundation of Human rights and tolerance, the two policies that the US government prides itself on. This notion is confirmed by Bobby Kennedy from O magazine in 2007 who states :"The big threat to America is the way we react to terrorism by throwing away what everybody values about our country--a commitment to human rights. America is a great nation because we are a good nation. When we stop being a good nation, we stop being great."Similarly, Israel's merciless bombing of thousands of innocent Arabs in Palestine has not done any good to the already severed diplomatic ties of the country with the rest of the Middle East. Hence, these actions not only distort a nation;s good image and confirm the ideologies of the terrorists, but they also help the terrorists to draw sympathy from the audiences and recruit potential terrorists.

Thus, an overreaction to terrorism only serves to cripple blood, treasure and image of a nation. Overreacting to this global parasite is similar to adding fuel to fire. The whole purpose of terrorism is to expose frailties and divide nations by provoking internal and external discords and fear. The solution to overcome this frailty does not lie in shedding innocent blood and straining one's resources. As stated by Naom Chomsky in his book 9-11, "Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism.". Hence sound counter-terrorist measures require a disciplined and a united effort by the nations affected by this evil. The time has finally come for all nations to join hands as someone rightly said, "United we stand, Divided we fall".


  • http://psweb.sbs.ohio-state.edu/faculty/jmueller/NB.PDF
  • http://www.hometownannapolis.com/news/opn/2010/01/23-10/Guest-Column-Obama-wisely-hasnt-overreacted-to-terrorism.html

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