The Huffington Post UK has published an article by Chris York which appears to want to make the complacent point that Islamic State is not an unusually deadly threat, but then concludes by contradicting the whole thrust of the article before it. You are left asking yourself: “what was the point of that?”
The piece on Huffington Post UK is headed “Islamic State Terrorism Is Serious But We’ve Faced Even Deadlier Threats In The Past” – a title which pretty much sums up the argument the author is looking to make.
Mr. York opens the article with three alarming quotes about the threat posed by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism:
“We have never known anything like Isis.”
“What we’re facing in Iraq now with Isis is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.”
“The threat we are facing today is on a scale and at a tempo that I have not seen before in my career.”
He then attempts to make the case that despite the “methods and doctrine” by which ISIS is able to “unnerve their enemies”, the recent history of terrorism played out on the streets of Western Europe shows the streets of the continent’s capitals are, in fact, “safer now than they have been for decades”.
Mr. York cites in evidence a graph showing victims of terrorist attacks in Western Europe from 1970 to date and one showing victims of terrorist attacks beyond Western Europe in “selected countries” from 2001 t0 2014, along with supporting comment from Dr. Adrian Gallagher, Associate Professor in International Security at Leeds University. He said:
“The reality is… Western Europe is safer now than it has been for decades and is far safer than most other parts of the world.
“At the broader level, the data supports the idea that we are now living in the most peaceful period of human history.
“These graphs support the idea that Western Europe is perhaps more peaceful now than at any point in modern human history.”
This, however, is where the confusion kicks in.
Having attempted to establish that ISIS is not something peaceful Western Europe should be overly concerned about, Mr. York then goes on to contradict himself entirely by setting out exactly why the terrorist group is such an unusual threat.
He quotes Raffaello Pantucci, the Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, saying:
“If you look back at historical attacks, there was always a plan to get away.
“They would shoot, blow things up but they would not plan to die. Nowadays you are dealing with people who are willing to die in pursuit of the action and that makes it much harder to protect people from them.”
In other words, the methods used today are new and unusual and potentially devastating.
Mr. York also draws attention to the obvious hole in his own argument, stressing that “the death toll alone can never show the full picture of the threat from Islamic State.” In fact Dr. Gallagher agrees, saying: “Of course, we should never be complacent. One thing the graphs do not show us is how many terrorist attacks were stopped prior to them being carried out.”
And that, save for an incomplete rogues gallery of European terrorists from the 1970s on, is the sum total of his argument:
- ISIS is not as bad, in Western Europe, as previous terror threats
- Western Europe is safer now than it ever has been, based on the number of terror-related deaths
- But in fact ISIS is very different to any group we have ever fought before
- And in any case it would be complacent to believe that intercepted terror attacks may not have been substantially worse
Quite what argument the Huffington Post UK was hoping to convey in publishing Mr. York’s confused and complacent piece is a mystery, but if it was intending to make the case that reactions to the Paris attacks have been alarmist, it failed.