Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Ice Cream Suicides

This is part two in my attempt to "prove" that the invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of worldwide terrorist attacks. In part one, I arrived at these figures for worldwide terrorist attacks using US government statistics:
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208
2004: 3,192

As I said, these figures don't prove anything on their own. We need to make some assumptions about them if they are to be useful.

First, are they consistent, objective, accurate figures? Well, the straightforward answer is no, they are not. They are only the "judgement" of the US government. I'm going to assume that these figures are representative enough to be useful. Can this assumption be challenged by those with a different view of the invasion? Well, it'd be difficult for the US government to challenge it. US officials insisted today that "our numbers are not representative". No, I think it's a pretty solid assumption.

So now, we are left with a huge rise in worldwide terrorist acts in 2004. In fact, the 2004 figure is over 9 times as high as the 2001 figure. I suspect most people think that 2001 was the worst year in the history of terrorism. Just to be clear, according to the US government in 2004 there were 9 times as many attacks as in 2001.

Suicide and Ice Cream

(Another blogger used this example a while back, but I'm afraid I can't remember who it was.)
It's important for me to understand why these figures on their own still don't prove anything. Here's why.
In Scotland, it appears that an increase in ice cream sales causes an increase in the suicide rate.
Of course that isn't actually true but if you look at the figures, it might seem that it is. In Scotland, ice cream sales increase in the summer and decrease in the winter. This is pretty obvious. Suicide rates also increase in the summer and decrease in the winter. [Link for doubters]
More Ice Cream = More Suicide

Now that's clearly a nonsense and we see why. The seasons are affecting suicide rates. This coincides with an increase in ice cream sales, but there is no causal link. Ice cream doesn't make people suicidal (to my knowledge anyway).

So, at this stage we've just got the figures showing the huge rise in terrorist attacks in 2004. There may be only a coincidental relationship between the invasion of Iraq and this increase. Can I assume that this isn't a coincidental relationship?

Let's try some tests. Is there another explanation for the increase which doesn't involve Iraq? Well, here are my thoughts.
1. It was going to happen anyway.
This is a difficult argument to counter. It's also a difficult argument to prove. In the end, we have to make a judgement here. Without Iraq, would the number of terrorist attacks have increased ninefold in 2004. I say no. I think we can discard the idea that an unprecedented 3,192 terrorist attacks would have occurred in 2004 even if the coalition had not invaded Iraq. It seems self evident.

2. Another independent factor coincidentally occurred around the same time as the invasion.
My question is, what was it? I suppose it could be argued that just fighting the "war" on terror has caused the terrorists to conduct more attacks. But that rather supports my point that the "war" on terror and invasion have increased the number of attacks. If this is the case, we've surely got to ask if there had been a better way to catch these people before they became active. If they were content to bide their time we might have caught them by more subtle means. Why start a "war"? To flush them out? That's not a very good way to protect the 28,433 people the terrorists killed in 2004. Wouldn't it have been better to get the CIA, SIS, Mossad and other such organisations to track them down quietly while they pottered about thinking they were safe? If the intention was to "flush them out" it's an intention which has killed a great many people who would otherwise be alive.

There may be other independent factors but I can't think of any at the moment. Any other suggestions for what caused the 2004 figure to be so high?

Now, let's look at it from another angle. Can I construct a plausible explanation as to why the invasion of Iraq caused terrorist attacks to increase? This is from a comment I made in an earlier post:
3 or 4 years ago... there were a few small groups of nutjobs and a whole lot of people who'd heard their hate filled rhetoric but had rejected it. Then came the "war" on terror, and the invasion of Iraq. Suddenly, the hate filled rhetoric of the nutjobs starts to get through to more people. "Look, they have invaded a sovereign Islamic country without provocation" the extremists will say. And they'll go on "these evil imperialists truly do hate all muslims. You who had not believed me before, come now and see by their actions. They will not rest until every Muslim bows to their false god..." This is continued indefinitely, and then repeated indefinitely just for good measure.
These hypothetical extremist's words are a distortion, but a powerful one. So, does this seem plausible? Again, to me it is self evident that this has occurred many times since March 2003 . Many people have now accepted the extremists rhetoric who would otherwise have rejected it.

Is this speculation? Yes, it is. It's not easy to understand* what motivates someone to accept an extremist position. It is the most crucial factor in preventing it happening more often. Is this the best explanation we've got for the 3,192 terrorist attacks in 2004? I say it is.

I see that this doesn't "prove" my position because we've had to make some assumption on the way. I believe that they are all reasonable assumptions. Is it persuasive? I really don't know.

*Be warned: Any attempts to redefine the word "understand" in this context to instead mean "sympathise" will be treated harshly. I may understand why someone would do it but I won't be sympathetic. Knowledge is power. Always.

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