This is why we are more scared of a terrorist attack than a road accident

Is traffic on the road more dangerous than a group of terrorists planning to blow up your neighborhood mall?

Statistics say so, and this post makes a strong argument about the threat of terrorism being blown out of proportion.

If statistics say that more people die in road accidents and not in terror attacks, why does terrorism scare us more than driving? Why doesn’t stopping people from dying on the roads become a hot political issue, and why stopping terror attacks does.

The answer is two pronged: most of the contemporary terror attacks are ideological attacks, fueled by a strong belief. This is one reason. The other reason is that in front of a terror attack, you feel helpless.

It’s all about perception.

It’s like, seeing an animal eating another animal can be scary to some and not scary to some, but seeing an animal eating a human being is definitely going to scare you even when the number of animals being eaten by animals is far greater than humans being eaten by animals. What about a human eating a human? Stuff of nightmares, isn’t it? Even when the number of humans eating humans is far, far less than animals eating animals, or animals eating humans.

Our ideologies and beliefs are dear to us. When someone attacks our ideology and belief, we feel an existential danger. If you want to harm a society, hit at it’s ideology, hit at its core belief (exactly what Leftist intellectuals do).

Recently we were concerned when our building guard told my wife and me that he was on double duty. One duty for them is for 12 hours so double duty meant 24 hours. When he told us that they were not being fed my wife collected a few things from the fridge and told me to go down and give them to him.

I was intrigued when he hesitated for a few seconds. Then he very shyly told me that since he was on Navaratra fast, he won’t be able to have anything non-veg. Since we don’t have non-veg at home anyway I told him everything was safe to eat. He hadn’t eaten for hours, but still when I gave him something to eat, he was concerned about his belief. This belief is more dear to people. I’m pretty sure that he would have rejected my offering had I offered him something non-veg or if I had made fun of his belief even when he was in a fix.

One mistake that arguments like “more people die in road accidents than in terror attacks” commit is that they simply focus on the numbers. Terrorism is not a problem of numbers. It’s a problem of a belief system.

Unless an accident is caused to commit murder, when a vehicle hits you, the intention of the driver is not to kill you. She doesn’t hate your religion or your government or your way of life or the country you belong to, or the clothes you are wearing or whether you have a beard or not. It’s either an error of judgement or a machine related problem, or simple recklessness, or drunken driving.

A terror attack is a cold blooded murder. It goes through an elaborate planning. It is (normally) not an attack on person A or person B. It is an attack on a thought, on a way of life, on an ideology. It’s an onslaught on your existence. The seeds of a terror attack are sown in the soil of deep hatred, watered by the strong belief to decimate a particular community or a way of life. It’s the hatred that scares us.

The average person driving on a road might be reckless or might even be a totally inconsiderate person, but at that time when she hits someone with her car (again, unless the intention is to kill someone) there is no hatred, there is no specific intention to kill. The presence of an intention to kill in a terror attack is scarier than the absence of the intention even when people are dying in both the cases. It is the intention, the hatred, that makes all the difference.

The number of people dying in terror attacks are an indicator of how the hatred is growing. The number of people dying in road accidents simply tell us that we need to be more careful. We know that someday the number of deaths caused by road accidents is going to come down because people will learn to drive better and in the case of auto-driven cars, the errant drivers will be totally taken out of the equation.

The traffic deaths don’t scare us because deep down we know that no matter how many people die on the roads, the deaths do not originate from a deep desire to kill and eliminate. In most of the cases, unfortunate as they are, they just happen.

Deaths in terrorist attacks, we all know why they happen.

When a terrorism attack happens, whether people admit it openly or not is another matter, they see it as an attack on their belief, on their way of life. It’s a manifestation of a hate-filled ideology, right in front of you, gawking at your face, screaming at you, mocking your sense of the world. When people die in accidents, or even during a random shooting, they don’t see it as an attack on the belief.

The sense of helplessness scares us. When you’re driving on the road you neither want to die nor you want to kill. You just want to reach your destination or you just want to take your kids to their school. If something happens, it was unintended, it was unforeseen, it was unexpected. There is nobody waiting around the corner with her car or with her truck to smash into you.

When we are behind the wheel, we feel in control. We know that when we want to stop, we will be able to stop, when we want to accelerate, we will be able to accelerate, when we want to turn left or right, we will be able to do so. We are in complete control. We also know that if we are careful, we can avoid getting into an accident.

Also, when you’re walking inside a mall, or sitting in a cinema hall, you know that there is almost 0% possibility that you are going to be run over by a truck or a car. But, if security is not strong, there is a great chance that someone may plant a bomb. Popular perception is, terrorists plant bombs. If you think it’s just a fear, do you really want to experiment with people’s lives just to try out a hypothesis?

What about random shootings by disturbed individuals, you may ask? They can shoot you anywhere. They can shoot you in your school, in your college, inside a cinema hall, inside a mall, inside a hospital, or even in your neighbourhood park.

The above-mentioned post says that there might be more deaths due to random shootings by mentally disturbed individuals than in terror attacks. Then, the writer asks, why are we more scared of terror attacks than of those random shooters?

Of course random shooting attacks are scary. At least in America it’s a self-inflicted problem. If they stop selling guns openly the number of random shootings in malls, schools and colleges can be drastically reduced. Here in India we don’t have shootings at schools and colleges because guns aren’t easily available (we have no shortage of psychopaths and fanatics).

Coming back to terror attacks, there might be thousands of things in the world that might be killing more human beings than terrorists (corrupt governments, for example) but people feel more scared of terrorism because it’s hatred of one ideology for another, and violence of one ideology against another. When your overall existence is threatened, you obviously feel scared.

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