Terrorism Denial on the Left

At the end of last year I attended a large conference of social science academics and researchers in Melbourne. Speaking on a plenary panel in front of hundreds of attendees was the director of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Australia’s primary refugee advocacy organisation.

Here’s another good article on the Bathtub Fallacy, focusing on the tendency of some Progressives to pretend that terrorism is not an issue, because – in this case – more people are killed by their husbands than by terrorists:

But what is most spurious about these numbers is that they ignore the deaths prevented from security and counter-terrorism measures that managed to thwart attacks before they occur. Every day the US and other Western countries are fighting the war on terrorism. They are saving lives before it becomes apparent to the rest of us that they ever needed saving. This may sound dramatic, but it needs to be understood if people believe that the war on terror is a fantasy, or less of a threat than bathtubs. The relatively low death tolls from terrorism in the West are, in part, due to the success in thwarting attacks, not because there is no threat in the first place.

In this respect, terrorism denial commits the same faulty reasoning that the anti-vaxx movement uses to deny the reality of the threat posed by infectious diseases and pandemics. Anti-vaxxers argue that the small number of deaths caused by infectious diseases in recent times is evidence of them posing no threat. However, those who understand the underlying science recognise the nature and scale of the threat, and the critical role that vaccination and pandemic prevention play in neutralising it. Were we to stop vaccinations — or counter-terrorism — it’s clear that the death toll from both these threats would rise significantly.

This isn’t to say we should be consciously fearful about terrorist attacks on a day-to-day basis. Yes, there are legitimate debates to be had about the balance between intelligence gathering, national security, and civil liberties. We should be skeptical of political leaders who seek to capitalise on the fear of terrorism for cheap political gain. We should be careful to recognise their rhetoric and bombast about being ‘tough on terrorism’ when it’s a substitute for actual knowledge about the threats posed by it.

But claiming that the war on terrorism is ‘fictitious’ is conspiratorial and irresponsible. When the left cites misleading death tolls in order to play down the terrorist threat, it discredits itself in they eyes of anyone who knows better.

It would be hugely mistaken to think that Trump’s ability to plug into the fear of terrorism can be countered by pretending that terrorism is not, or should not be, a genuine concern.

We’ve previously discussed why mass casualty attacks are not similar to unconnected people suffering domestic accidents.

If the best counterargument is “you shouldn’t be concerned” or “there isn’t a real problem with terrorism”, then Trump will win.

Far better to acknowledge the threat, explain how best it can be addressed, and explain why Trump’s actions are less effective than what you have to offer in its place.