Opinion: Wanted: Some perspective on what Americans should fear


By Peoria Journal Star

Pope Francis condemned “blind, brutal violence” across the globe at his Easter Mass on Sunday. No doubt he was referring to terrorism of the kind that killed more than 70 people and injured 300-plus at a park in Lahore, Pakistan on the same day, though he might as well have included a Chicago that has experienced a huge spike in homicides so far this year.

Indeed, Monday press accounts were heralding Chicago’s “Easter miracle” — no murders anywhere in the Windy City on Sunday thanks in part to a coordinated effort by local churches to get pledges toward a “thou shalt not kill” Easter (though there was a smattering of shootings). We’d suggest that’s a low bar, but hey, you take your victories where you can get them.

In fact, at more than 600 shootings and 135 homicides as of Good Friday, violent deaths in Chicago reportedly are up more than 80 percent over this time a year ago.


It’s not the 1990s, in which a few years topped an astounding 900 murders — they’re about half that in any given year now — but more than a few Chicago leaders have acknowledged that the gangs are out of control. One prominent minister confided in the New York Times that he fears “a blood bath this summer.”

So when Americans feel the urge to panic regarding terrorism — is there a more appropriate term regarding the violence on Chicago’s South and West Sides? — it’s odd that so many dismiss the sort happening right in their own backyards.

But then Americans tend not to be very good at that perspective thing. President Obama got some grief recently after The Atlantic magazine reported that he’s known to tell his staff that Americans are more likely to be killed by a bathtub fall than by a terrorist, but aside from having terrible timing — publication came just before the Brussels bombings — he’s largely correct on the facts.

Indeed, if just over 3,500 people were killed by terrorists on U.S. soil between 1970 and 2014 — the vast majority of those on 9-11 — in any given single year there are three times that many violent gun murders.

An American also is far more likely to be killed in a car accident, to be felled by heart disease or cancer, by electrocution, accidental suffocation, hot weather, risky sexual behavior, obesity, medical errors, alcohol consumption, starvation, etc.

Yet by and large we don’t react to those far-more-everyday risks by spending trillions trying to defeat any one of them, or by flocking to political candidates who exploit our fears about them for personal gain. At least statistically speaking, that would be far more rational.

To be clear here, we are not downplaying the threat posed by ISIS or by al-Qaida or by the Taliban or by any of the offshoots of radical, militant Islam. Their aims are grand and their tactics evil.


The potential they pose for catastrophic and random mayhem must be taken into account. They have proven that they consider no target too sacred — hence the extreme security measures in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, hence the number of dead children at a park in Pakistan. Their membership has grown as they’ve won territory in parts of the Middle East and recruited heavily with social media efforts, even in the U.S. As such, they must be reckoned with.

That said, they also have achieved a mythic status that arguably they don’t quite merit and that does not quite square with reality.

Recent air strikes have taken out some of their top leaders, including top financier Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli last week. Syrian government forces just recaptured the ancient UNESCO heritage city of Palmyra.

Kurdish ground forces have made gains. They hurt and kill far more fellow Muslims than they do Westerners or Christians, despite their stated intentions.

They cover their faces and look sinister but they are as human as anyone else: They scatter and hide when pursued, they run when confronted by superior force, coalition forces have made a significant dent in their numbers — an estimated 26,000-plus ISIS members killed — and they are vastly outnumbered when good people stand up and refuse to be cowered by them.

Must ISIS and its appendages be defeated? Absolutely, and it may require a greater exertion of force than we see right now.

We just wish Americans would pay as much attention to the sicknesses of the soul and the terrorism right next door.

That would include those who seriously wounded 13-year-old Zarriel Trotter of Chicago on Good Friday.

A stray bullet found the young man known for appearing in a prominent public service video protesting the violence in his neighborhood, as he was not the intended target, said police.

That would include those who sometimes make living in Peoria’s 61605 ZIP code a nightmare.

Too many Americans seem “blind,” to borrow the pope’s term, to that brand of terrorism. Perhaps those running for president can offer up some proposals about how to address that, as well.


(c)2016 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

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