9-11 By The Numbers

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment


The tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2011 attacks upon the United States has inspired academics attempting to diminish its importance to get uncharacteristically quantitative.  “According to the National Counterterrorism Center, terrorism peaked in 2007 with 23,000 fatalities, half of them in Iraq—a terrible toll, but not a leading cause of death,” UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist Charles Kurzman wrote in an essay which appeared in The Chronicle Review on August 12, 2011. “In the United States, 15,000 people are murdered each year. Islamic terrorism, including the Beltway sniper attacks, has accounted for almost three dozen deaths in America since 9/11—a small fraction of the violence that the country experiences every year.”

“Probably fewer than two dozen people have been killed by terrorists on American soil since 9/11, a death toll that is dwarfed by those from wars, automobile and household accidents, and other causes of death we routinely tolerate,” Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in an article which appeared in that same issue of The Chronicle Review. “Perhaps many terrorist plots were foiled by color-coded alerts, the confiscation of nail clippers at airports, and the girding of rural post offices with concrete barriers. But it seems just as likely that something was systematically wrong with the prediction that terrorism posed an existential threat to the West.”

“The toll would have been higher if the perpetrators had been more competent; for example, if Faisal Shahzad had used higher-quality materials in his Times Square car bomb,” Kurzman states. “Even so, the number of perpetrators has been relatively low. Fewer than 200 Muslim-Americans have engaged in terrorist plots over the past decade—that’s out of a population of approximately two million. This constitutes a serious problem, but not nearly as grave as public concern would suggest.”

“When scholars in Middle East and Islamic studies point that out, we are accused of being apologists for terrorism.” If so, it hasn’t hurt their job prospects. “Universities are hiring—there were more than 40 tenure-track jobs last year in Middle East and Islamic studies,” Kurzman relates. “Federal research grants are plentiful, especially from the military and the Department of Homeland Security.”

Arguably, we are not getting our money’s worth. “Egyptian protestors accomplished in 18 days what Al Qaeda failed to do in more than 18 years: topple a core regime of the Arab world,” Scott Atran wrote in The Chronicle Review.

It remains to be seen whether the incumbent Egyptian regime is more moderate than the rulers it replaced. Atran is a visiting professor at both the University of Michigan and John Jay Criminal College.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org