Muslim Terrorism in the US: A Public Health Threat?

Mar 14 2011 Published by under Medicine, Politics

Representative Peter King (Bigot-NY) is chairing Congressional hearings on "homegrown Islamic terrorism." Terrorism is usually seen as a national security issue, but as a physician, I also wonder how terrorism might impact health.  If we are going to devote time, resources, and cause irreparable harm to our morals and to our image in the Islamic world, we should at least know the extent of the problem.

Public health problems, such as emerging infectious diseases, accidental deaths, and homicide can be tracked, and interventions can be designed to mitigate these problems.  The largest mitigation effort for terrorism has been law enforcement/national security, as it probably should be, but at the pointy end of each terrorist act is a dead or injured person.   What is the public health impact of terrorism?  Leaving aside anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological factors, how many Americans are injured or killed by terrorists?  What proportion of these terrorists are "homegrown Muslims"?

According to once source, terrorism injures and kills very few Americans each year.  In fact, since 9/11, thirty-three Americans in the US have died as a result of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims.  Eleven Muslims were responsible for these deaths.   In that same time, there have been about 150,000 murders in the US.  Most terrorist plots in the US involving Muslim American perpetrators are disrupted early in the planning stage, often from sources within the Muslim American community.

In other words, national security and law enforcement, along with significant help from American Muslims, prevent most attacks, attacks that would constitute a small percentage of yearly homicides in the US.  Rather than being a major threat, the Muslim American community seems to be a major ally to law enforcement and national security.  Either way, there are so few acts of terrorism perpetrated by American Muslims that it is a theoretical threat to public health rather than an actual threat.

What about terrorist acts not perpetrated by Muslim Americans? According to the FBI (as reported by the Council on Foreign Relations) 95% of terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslims.  Now, one could argue about "percentages", that is what percent of the Muslim community vs. the non-Muslim community is involved in domestic terrorism, but there are so few total terrorist acts that this statistic is probably meaningless.

Any rational human being can see that King's hearings are bigoted political grandstanding.  But from the point of prevention of terrorism in the US, they are also useless.


11 responses so far

  • My own state's reps spent their limited time in congressional sessions trying to pass legislation critical to the immediate safety of their constituents. They focused on two key pieces:

    1. some bigotry against loving same-sex couples..because if you outlaw sex, only outlaws will have sex...or something. I didn't quite follow the line of unreasoning.

    2. outlawing Sharia law. Because that's a huge problem here in Wyoming.

    Meanwhile the actual public health threat here comes from significant air pollution from the gas wells on the Pinedale Anticline. Which they deliberately ignore.

  • Dianne says:

    I remember a talk on bioterrorism a few years ago at (IIRC) an EHA meeting. It included, among other things, a discussion of the probability of a bioterror attack and the conclusion was "pretty unlikely." However, the talk concluded, this does not mean that the preparations and research into how to deal with an attack were useless because nature is the biggest bioterrorist around.

    Forget Muslims, forget militias, forget the illuminati. The real threat to public health is new biological agents that evolve to take advantage of the huge biomass that is humanity. More research into how to deal with new infectious diseases, cancers, and other real problems of modern life instead of fighting the monsters we seem to think live under the closet.

  • Vicki says:

    Peter King is an embarrassment not only to the citizens of New York state, but arguably to the entire human race. If he was concerned about the safety of his constituents, he would do better to worry about chemicals in the water supply: Long Island gets its drinking water from the aquifer below it, which is contaminated by gasoline additives, among other things.

    On the other hand, asking that IRA supporter about white Christian terrorism can be interesting. (Not all white terrorists are Christians--consider the Unabomber--but the IRA certainly are.)

  • William Wallace says:

    95% of terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslims.

    You know the saying about statistics. But don't worry, we are all already suspects, which is always a goal of liberalism (spreading the misery around to everybody, equally).

  • James Sweet says:

    So, two things (neither of which contradict the thesis that Peter King Is A World Class Tool, but anyway...):

    1) It may not be a public health threat, but there are other massive costs associated with it. Airline disasters are not a public health threat either, but we spend a lot of money trying to prevent them because if the public perception is that air travel is dangerous (even if that is false) then there are all sorts of economic ramifications. Preventing terrorism is a priority to keep people from being terrorized, not to minimize deaths (because as you rightly point out, if the latter were our goal then the money could be better spent elsewhere).

    2) I may be wrong about this, but I think in Israel death from terrorism is actually non-trivial. In a cursory bit of Googling, I'm getting about 300 terrorism-related deaths per year for a population of 7 1/2 million. If my numbers are accurate, that would work out to the equivalent of about 12,000 annual deaths in the US -- so that's non-trivial.

    My numbers might be all wrong, though. And in any case, Israel is a special case. Neither of these points detract from what you are saying in this post.

    • James Sweet says:

      Oh, and to be clear, both of those points I am making apply to terrorism in general, not to Muslim terrorism. Non-Muslim terrorism in the US is a scandalously overlooked problem.

      • mxh says:

        Actually, if a non-muslim does it, it's never called terrorism.

        • Dianne says:

          I'm not sure that's entirely true. I'm pretty sure Timothy McVeigh was considered a terrorist. But the bar is much higher for non-Muslims. People who shoot doctors who may or may not perform abortions or bomb clinics aren't generally called terrorists, for example.

          • Daniel J. Andrews says:

            I was going to comment on that too...what constitutes "terrorism" seems to be flexible depending on the ethnicity of the person committing the act.

          • Fuad Kamal says:

            I, Fuad Kamal, own Anaara Media, which is a website devoted to bisexuality and homosexuality issues within the Islamic world. Traditionally, a Muslim who confessed to homosexuality or bisexuality would be banned from practicing his religion forever. This view is still the norm, but because of contemporary acceptance of alternative forms of sexuality in most of the world, I hope to educate others to the importance of tolerance.

          • Percy says:

            You can read more about Fuad Kamal and Anaara Media at Fuad Kamal is dedicated to his work.