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how me, you, and Western media empowered

ISIS & Co. and the Trumps of this world





Accepting the Unacceptable: a Little Bit of Terrorism Is Inevitable

life can't be drained of all its risks 

Disclaimer: This article is the second part of a three-piece mini-series titled “Terrorism Is What We Make It.” The idea is to level out our skewed Western view on terrorism, what psychological and public phenomena are responsible, and how our emotional reaction deals right-wing populists into play. The way most of us use the term “terrorist attack” is terribly flawed in itself, as elaborated in the third part of this series. For the sake of argument, I will use it for now as it is commonly used: Jihadist terror killing Western civilians on Western soil. I will touch on the three misconceptions that seem most relevant to me in this context and dedicate one article to each issue.



   If one of those prehistoric, traveling salesmen would arrive at your doorstep with a briefcase full of bubble wrap, targeting a significant chunk of your savings by frightening you with the possibility of getting killed by a piece of your own furniture, without being able to give you an absolute guarantee for your safety – would you bite? Possible answers you might be mulling are:

 “Yeeeah right” (soaked in sarcasm)

“Mhmhmh, I see where this is going, haha, very well, very well indeed”

“Shut your pie hole and get to the point.”

This one is no toughie. It’s a rhetorical question, so obvious in its intent, so undeserving of an answer. And yet, this rhetorical question is not entirely uncalled for, considering that many of us buy into something just as far-fetched and ominous, and our government spends our household money on minimizing a risk that is just as negligible.

Let’s drop the cryptic act. Since 9/11, Western governments have pumped trillions of dollars (yes, that’s your tax money) into the War on Terrorism; a war that, if it were ever to successfully rid the world of terrorism, would have accomplished as much as eliminating the risk of us getting killed by our own fridge or TV. Indeed, that’s the likelihood-neighborhood we’re talking here.

But there’s another catch:

There is no such thing as absolute security in this world (which is a good thing as I will argue in a bit). Astonishingly, ​this fact seems to have no bearing on our maneuvering when it comes to terrorism and has slipped our attention almost altogether. Only one small sentence in John Cassidy’s New Yorker article hints to this:


“They want absolute assurances, which no government can provide.”

But it’s not only the government who can’t provide it; such certainties are simply not granted by the universe we live in. No matter how much we want this world to be predictable and safe, we have to accept that complete certainty, and with it, complete security, are complete illusions. Even physicists, who live off predictability and stringent formulas, have to admit at the end of a day in the lab that coincidence and probabilities guide and guard the most fundamental realms. No absolutes there. But let’s not get too theoretical here. We are all familiar with our human dimension where a bus could hit us tomorrow, and a cancer diagnosis might await next year. Hopefully not. But hope isn’t related to certainty.

We know these things. We know and we accept. Why do we have such a hard time accepting that we could get killed by terrorism, even though it is far less likely than that bus or that cancer? We are trying to eradicate a risk that is miniscule to begin with and cannot be eradicated in its entirety at the end of the day. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t react at all, but we shouldn’t be delusional about the outcome. The sooner we accept that this world doesn’t offer guarantees, the sooner we can focus on threats with higher risks, may that be on a personal scale or on a public policy level. 

"No matter how much we want this world to be predictable and safe, we have to accept that complete certainty, and with it, complete security, are complete illusions."

We’re more likely to prolong our lives if we try staying out of heart attacks rather than terrorist attacks. Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, and there’s more: heart disease and its runner-ups like diabetes or car accidents are well within the domain of our control and something we can counteract anytime by altering our diet or driving slower.

As for the public domain, we’d do good to redirect the money the War on Terrorism gulps towards heart-disease research or marketing campaigns advertising healthier diets. Now, that could save a significant number of lives. Even if we can’t completely weed out the risk of disease either, there’s just more leeway in the numbers of lives to salvage. Don’t worry, I understand. I’m not on that healthy diet either and avoiding a heart attack isn’t as newsworthy as fighting evil itself. But if we don’t change our focus, we’ll just keep dying a million unnecessary deaths, while chasing that one elusive death we so desperately want to drive to extinction.

Whenever we voluntarily allow peril in our lives – when we climb a ladder, cross a street, smoke and drink – we accept the risk. Sometimes we even seek the risk for adrenaline’s sake. And that’s good. I’m a firm believer in the beauty of our world’s uncertainty. If everything in life was foreseeable and set in stone, this planet would be a pretty dull place. It was German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who minted the idea that we live in the best possible universe, even though there is evil. He believed that a universe with free will and evil is still better than one of pure good but determinism. I agree. But, even if wouldn’t agree, that’s the universe we live in. Like it or not, beggars can’t be choosers. It is a universe of free will and as such it gives odds, not guarantees.

"We’re more likely to prolong our lives, if we try staying out of heart attacks rather than terrorist attacks."

This is not to say that we should ignore terrorism. But we should react to it based on rationale, not emotions. Basically, we shouldn’t be overreacting. This sounds like a poor choice of word, but our answer to terrorism is the very definition of the word “overreacting:” “respond more emotionally or forcibly than is justified.”

We spend our whole lives on a quest to universal answers, may that be in the happiness department or in the creed realm. But whenever we do find a universal truth, an absolute certainty, we try escaping it. The inevitability of a certainty scares us, like the one of our pending ending. We make up whole religions and fairytales in our denial of death’s certitude.

Still, we know this much: death will get us eventually. And some of us will meet it in extraordinary ways, highly unlikely and surprising; maybe that be due to asphyxiation by atomic wedgie, being beaten to death with a bible, or even laughing. I didn’t make these up. Yes, sitting under a swaying palm tree in some worldly Eden, a handful of us will get killed by a falling coconut. Quite a lot of us will die by the hand of another human being, to be sure, but hardly ever will the motive be Jihadist terror.



Puerto Viejo / Costa Rica   dangerous Eden


So what can we do me and you?

We can make peace with the fact that there are no safety guarantees in life. We can even embrace this notion as the beauty of life or as the best possible universe, like Leibniz did. More at ease now, we can focus on hazards with higher likelihoods. There’s much more personal wiggle-room to reduce the risk of a heart attack than the risk of a terrorist attack. You can change your diet, but you cannot hide in your house for the rest of your life (where a piece of furniture might crush you).


from the same series



how me, you, and Western media empowered
ISIS & Co. and the Trumps of this world


reads | life

Part I of III

Just Another Day Without Terrorist Attacks

our poor, emotional judgement of likelihoods has dire consequences in the real world

And everyone who lets emotion kidnap rationale will get the false impression that there is a realistic assailant threat in the West, when it is factually less than lottery-realistic. From there, it’s only one slippery step to a landslide fear of immigrants, and, next thing you know, Donald Trump is president of the United States. read more

reads | life

Part III of III

Of Muslim Victims, White Terrorists, and Indifference towards Faceless Strangers

​how we overlook the real victims and perpetrators of terrorism

How do we arrive at such clouded conclusions, mistaking us for victims and actual victims for perpetrators, in an age where all the facts are readily available? read more

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