Terrorism is a constant fear for many Americans and one that we have been trained to be constantly aware of. The war on terror is not something that only exists in the US though, but instead a global problem that every country in the world is currently facing. So what is the situation when it comes to terrorism in Europe? How does it compare to terrorism in the US? And is it on the rise or on the decline? Here we will look at some figures and come to some conclusion.
‘All Terrorists in Europe Are Muslims’
Ask the average Joe what a terrorist looks like and they’ll no doubt draw you a picture of a guy in a turban – even in Europe. The fact of the matter is that terrorism in the Western world – not just the US – is largely considered to be caused by extreme Islamists. The reality though is actually quite different and if you look at the statistics in Europe as illustrated in the ‘EU Terrorism, Situation and Trend Report’, you’ll find that only a miniscule 0.4% of terrorism in the continent is caused by Muslims. In fact in 2008 the EU only suffered one EU attack (a bomb in the UK).
So who are these European terrorists? Well the most common culprits are Separatists in France and Spain, and the extreme left wing (less so) in Greece and Italy. In the UK the main trouble comes from dissident Irish groups which include the RIRA and CIRA.
So who are the Separatists? Well essentially ‘Separatism’ is a blanket term for any group (usually defined by race, religion or politics) that wants to be separate from the rest of the state. In some cases the goal is full political secession, while in others it is merely segregation.
Individual Terrorism in Europe is on the Rise
So now the big question: is terrorism going up in the EU? Or is it decreasing? The bad news is that the same report for 2012 seems to suggest that, at least when it comes to ‘lone wolf’ attacks, the numbers are going up. Now more than ever, Europeans are at risk from individuals working alone – such as in the case of the tragic killing spree in Norway, July 2011.
Another trend that came to light in this more recent report was the use of the web as a means of communication among terrorists and extreme groups. This could explain the increase in solo acts as more extreme ideas are able to spread and propagate internationally.
The Gulf Between Perception and Reality
So most terrorist acts have nothing to do with Islam and are now carried out by lone individuals, so why is the perception so different?
One reason for this is of course propaganda. This is particularly true in the UK which is actively involved in the Middle East – in order to get the general public behind those actions a degree of propaganda is to be expected. At the same time, Islamist attacks have received more media attention partly for being more unusual and more dramatic. Of course 9/11 in the US received huge coverage in Europe simply due to the unprecedented scale of the attack – nothing like it had really occurred on Western soil before. In July 2005 the UK experienced a similar attack on a much smaller scale which is often referred to simply as the ‘London bombings’. The nature of these attacks and the damage caused sets them apart from other terrorist attacks and results in them receiving a lot more attention. The EU themselves also focus more heavily on Islamist attacks and have a separate set of sanctions for Al-Quida, the Tabliban and ‘associates’ – despite acknowledging 24 other terrorist groups.
Another thing to consider here is the definition of terrorism. Many people wouldn’t consider the Norway attacks as terrorism for instance, due to the fact that it was carried out by a loan and mentally unstable individual. The official definition however describes terrorism as ‘the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’ which covers a much wider range of acts – including the recent riots potentially even.
And therein lies the real problem we face in our ‘war on terrorism’. Terrorism is simply far too broad and vague a term to really describe a legitimate target. Terrorism is unfortunately an aspect of human nature and one that can never be fully extinguished, as well as a term that is too easy to manipulate for potential political ends.