Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Terrorism Seminar and...Wallaby Smuggling?

...not at all related, thankfully.

Tonight I attended a seminar at UT entitled "Terrorism and the Exaggeration of the Threat". It was held by John Mueller, a National Security professor from Ohio. It was an interesting presentation, and definitely food for thought. His main thrust was the various elements in the West, including politicians, the media and various think tanks and private security organizations have grossly exaggerated the capabilities of the al Qeada group. He used various statements and figures to illustrate his point. It was entertaining for sure (he was rather animated) but thought-provoking. The real point that he was trying to make was that by overeacting to terrorism, which in essence I think we have done, we have in fact furthered their cause. Terrorists aim to, well, terrorize, and the fact that the media and politicans jump all over every single terrorist incident or development does nothing but create additional fear for those of us who watch these broadcasts or read these newspapers. It also helps to spread their ideals indirectly, and creates somewhat of a mythology around their escapades. I think he had a point.

Don't get me wrong. As a student of intelligence and counterterrorism I understand the very real and dangerous threats that various groups may pose. However, I have always been concerned that we seem to linger and overanalyze terrorism in public far too often, and pay little attention to other geopolitical issues as a result. Daniel Byman, a respected terrorist analyst who assisted with the 9/11 Commission amongst other things, indicated once that he loses more sleep over issues like Pakistan than he does terrorism, and he is a full-time terrorist analyst! The thought of a "well trained, sleeper cell" being activated and setting off bombs on public transport systems in friendly nations (Madrid, London) seems to catch people's imagination and curiosity far better than a conventional conflict. This is probably why so many people I know love "24".

In any case, it was an interesting lecture and something I'll think about for a long time.

In other news... Two wallabies were found being smuggled from Texas to Mexico. They are apparently healthy. I swear I had nothing to do with it.


Observer said...

You have to be careful these days with thoughts like that. If you were a politician, Rush Limbaugh would say something like, "See, when the terrorists hit us on 9/11, people like me wanted to go after them and make them pay a price. People like Phil just wanted to understand them, to feel their pain."

The media plays such a huge role in shaping our perceptions and governing the behavior of our leaders (and the voters). That's why I'm always going on and on about it. Media people can bug the hell out of me like no politician.

Phil said...

The chap who presented that lecture said something very similar to that, actually! While he was a tad cynical, he made some very good points. He's releasing a book on the subject in a few months time and I'll post its availability here in case you're interested.

Yes, the media really does have a lot of power these days. I personally can't stand the sensationalism and drama that the networks offer these days (thinking about grand introductions involving music and flashy graphics for EVERY single story they present!). I stick to reading foreign news sources that I can find easily online. Sure, the opinion and sensationalism is still there but not at the grand scale that exists here.