Terrorism Is Not an American Event
Dyer, Gwynne, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The formula is quite simple: the bigger the media pack, the tighter the world's focus on a particular event, the smaller the actual bomb has to be. Thus a primitive pipe-bomb in a knapsack that caused two deaths at the Olympics in Atlanta gets as much global coverage as the vastly bigger and more sophisticated explosive device that probably brought down TWA's Flight 800 from New York earlier this month and killed 230 people.
It's just a slight re-working of the old newspaperman's adage about "news values." The New York version goes: "one dead New York cop is as newsworthy as a dozen raped Irish nuns or a thousand Chinese peasants drowned in a flood." In Beijing, the list runs in reverse order, but the particulars are just as coarse. And terrorists make exactly the same calculation.
The whole point of terrorism is publicity, and you get more bang for the buck if you stage your attack where the public is already looking. Everybody knew that the Olympic Games were a high-profile target, and everybody was right.
But it's not just Atlanta and New York. It has been a hell of a month for terrorism. Sixty-three people killed by two bombs on a commuter train in Sri Lanka on July 24. Nine killed in Pakistan by a bomb at Lahore airport on July 22. Thirty-five people, mostly British tourists, wounded by a Basque terrorist bomb at Reus airport, near Barcelona in Spain, on July 20. Thirty people hurt in bus bombings (presumably Chechen) in Moscow in the previous week.
Run the tape back from July, and you wind past two dozen Americans killed by a truck bomb in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia in June, and 18 elderly Greek pilgrims machine-gunned by Islamic fundamentalists in Cairo in April, and the slaughter of 59 Israelis by suicide-bomber attacks in February and March. Not to mention the horror in Oklahoma City last year and 5,500 people injured in the poison-gas attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995.
They even tried to murder the prime minister of Ukraine this month. A remote-controlled bomb exploded as he crossed a bridge in Kiev on his way to negotiate with striking coal-miners in the eastern Ukraine. But Pavlo Lazarenko takes the precaution of travelling in an armored car, so he survived.
The world begins to feel like a cross between "Blade Runner" and "The Road Warrior," with a script by Oliver Stone in misanthropic overdrive. If you want to stay in touch with reality, you have to keep reminding yourself that these, too, are media events.
A useful starting point would be the U.S. State Department figures on international terrorism, which suggest not a huge upsurge in the phenomenon, but rather a steady decline.
According to the State Department, the peak year for international terrorism, defined as "terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country," was 1987 with 665 incidents.
By 1994, the total had halved to 322 incidents, killing only 314 people. …