Esemplare ’18: Ignorance in the face of terror

Staff Columnist
Friday, March 25, 2016

Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels are a tragic reminder of the world’s vulnerability to acts of terror. Despite investments aimed at preventing terrorism, the nature of such attacks makes them difficult to completely eliminate. Their continued presence in the world’s consciousness is a testament to the resilience of terrorist organizations. In the modern era, it is difficult to have a dispassionate conversation about terrorism for obvious reasons. Senseless violence induces fear, and fear demands action. Such is the cycle that drives American counter-terrorism.

Logically, you already know that terrorism induces fear disproportionate to the threat it poses. In a world governed by rational, statistical reasoning, terrorism would not exist in its current state — terrorism isn’t effective because it kills people; it’s effective because it scares them.

There’s no question that terrorist attacks are scary. But it’s important and helpful to ask exactly how scared of them we should be, statistically speaking. The death of 31 innocent people is always tragic, but so are the deaths of the 3,287 people that die each day in car accidents worldwide. Before you let terrorism disrupt your travel plans, consider that you are a lot more likely to die on your way to the airport. Since 2002, terrorist attacks have been the cause of fewer than five deaths per year in the United States.

But this fact hasn’t stopped the terrorist attacks in Brussels from becoming a polarizing political issue. Shortly after the attack, Donald Trump tweeted opposition to what he saw as Hillary Clinton’s willingness to “let the Muslims flow in.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, called for increased “patrols” of Muslim areas in the United States.

Somewhere, I’d imagine, a terrorist smiled.

These suggestions are frighteningly reminiscent of past American embarrassments of fear-mongering and human rights abuses, like Japanese internment and, to go back further, the Salem witch hunts. Replace “Muslim” with “Jew,” and you’re hearing echoes of Adolf Hitler.

In America, terrorism has done much more than kill people. Time and again, we as Americans have been tragically ready to abandon our values, our morals and our humanity in the face of terror, and our politicians have been all too eager to play on the fears of their constituents. What should be solidarity and mourning is replaced by finger-pointing and violent backlash, and as such, the death of a small number of civilians disproportionately alters political discourse.

But excessive responses to acts of terror don’t just highlight the incompetence of many American politicians; they also provide the only realistic framework in which terrorism is effective. The reaction of the American political system perpetuates terrorism.

It is sometimes difficult to take a logical viewpoint on the issue of terrorism, but doing so is of utmost importance. In an ideal world, the United States could effectively crack down on terrorism and eliminate the relatively minor physical and tangible threat it poses to American citizens. But everything in this world has a cost. The costs of counter-terrorism efforts in this country are quickly exceeding the benefits.

From increasingly invasive surveillance to enhanced interrogation to outright discrimination, efforts in the United States to stop acts of terror have taken a toll on the values and freedoms that we claim to be protecting. The adage “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” has never been more true. It is fear — and fear alone — that turns 30 deaths into discrimination against millions.

Nicholas Esemplare ’18 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


  1. Appreciate the point you are making about gauging risk–similar point made by NYTimes columnist N. Kristof in column last week – “Overreacting to Terrorism?” – where he writes, “The basic problem is this: The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them….Our visceral fear of terrorism has repeatedly led us to adopt policies that are expensive and counterproductive, such as the invasion of Iraq.” Kristof goes on to explain that there are many very real issues that need attention and investment – such as climate change – but its less imminent and visible nature doesn’t shock us into action.

  2. Man with Axe says:

    How many terrorist attacks would there be without any of the counter-terror actions we have taken, including undercover investigations of potential Muslim terrorists, or airport security, or the hunting and killing of potential terrorists wherever they are in the world?

    Do you have this same attitude toward deaths due to terrorism (that they are so few) toward deaths of unarmed blacks shot by police? Or school shootings? Do you write them off as statistically meaningless because they are a handful compared to traffic deaths? I didn’t think so.

    • The Brown editors have silenced my voice. This is what today’s journalism has come to. Freedom of press? Not so much so.

  3. I guess if terrorism is not a real problem, then we can dismantle airport security lines and go back to the way we were before 9/11. Lets face it, terrorists are cool, much more so than law abiding Americans

    • Looks like Brown’s editors are deleting my comments. The PC police doing what’s expected. Journalists have become such cowards.

    • Tom Butler says:

      Terrorist are cool? Why not become one and then see how cool it is when some ODA kicks down your door in some mud hut in the ME? That would be REALLY cool!

      • Terrorist are cool? ……….thats what Demoncats think

        • Tom Butler says:

          Really? Because I’m a Democrat and I’ve fought more than a few terrorist.

          • perhaps you should inform your leader that there is a phenomenon of terror inspired by radical Islam. He doesnt get it

          • Tom Butler says:

            You are aware that under President Obama, more SOF units are now operating in the ME than in the last ten years, correct?

          • I am aware that ISIS has arisen on Obama’s watch, the Taliban controls nearly all of Afghanistan, and Bowe Bergdahl is considered the ideal soldier by Obama. He edited out a reference to Islamic terror in an address by Francoise Hollande. He called the terrorism at Fort Hood a work accident

          • Tom Butler says:

            1. Unless you want to keep U.S. troops in A’Stan indefinitely, the Taliban or something similar will take over that country. It’s inevitable.
            2. ISIS could be eliminated quickly if Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf States would jointly get invlolved militarily.
            3. Actions speak louder than words.

          • We are still in Germany, Japan, and South Korea after WWII and Korea. How did we expect that we would need to stay 70 years in civilzed countries and make it work in Afghanistan for just a few years?
            ISIS can be eliminated if we sealed off the Syrian/Turkish border. The countries you mentioned wont get involved militarily as there is a lot of support for ISIS among the general population there

          • Tom Butler says:

            And the fighting in those countries had ended. Fighting in A’Stand will never end. They’ve been at war since Alexander fought there. What makes you think we’re going to make them stop. If they were’nt fighting us, they’ll fight each other. It’s what they do. And if there’s a lot of support for ISIS in those countries, why do we support them?

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