Has the Threat of Terrorism Gotten Any Better?


Most people remember where they were on September 11, 2001. What began as an ordinary working day quickly exploded into the single biggest loss of life on American soil in history. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq soon followed, along with increased security in airports and other transportation hubs. What has changed in the last 18 years? Are we still fighting the same battles against the same enemies? Have the dynamics of terrorism changed?

How Do You Define Terrorism?

Terrorism is a tricky term. As the saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s “freedom fighter.” There is a constant political struggle over which groups qualify as terrorists and which don’t. Many governments around the world have attempted a strict legal definition of terrorism, but these are not uniform among countries, and such designations are still subject to interpretation. For example, from an American perspective, most Islamic terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram in Nigeria are widely and easily accepted to be terrorist groups. Right-wing militias, though, are homegrown organizations consisting mostly of American citizens. Because of political pressures, many are reluctant to classify these armed groups as terrorists. The classification of terrorist groups is further complicated by official sanction from governments. For example, the U.S. recently made a historically contentious decision to designate one of Iran’s official military groups, the Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist organization. Previously, only non governmental or paramilitary groups qualified for this status. If a branch of a nation’s official military can be considered a terrorist, the definition of the word is opened up to a whole new set of possibilities.

Modern Security Fighting It

According to Atlas Barriers, using vehicles as a method of terrorism has been on a steady rise through the world since 2014, with the most famous example being the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. Because terrorism is an evolving threat, security personnel must stay on top of technological developments and strategies adopted by the terrorist attack planners. When other means are not available, even simple knife attacks, common now in England, can cause mass casualties.

Reporting the Numbers

Analysis of whether the threat has gotten better or worse depends on accurate reporting of how many acts of terrorism are perpetrated. Unfortunately, a variety of factors impact the data, and these numbers are not actually always correct. Some organizations attempt to record worldwide incidents of terrorism, but until a universal, uniform system of recording and reporting becomes available, disparate reports from governmental and NGO organizations will have to suffice.

Terrorism is a complicated concept, subject to different definitions and different ways of counting casualties. It is therefore difficult to say with objectivity whether the threat has really gotten better or worse in recent years.

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