Representative Peter King (Bigot-NY) is chairing Congressional hearings on “homegrown Islamic terrorism.” Terrorism is usually seen as a national security issue, but as a physician, I also wonder how terrorism might impact health. If we are going to devote time, resources, and cause irreparable harm to our morals and to our image in the Islamic world, we should at least know the extent of the problem.
Public health problems, such as emerging infectious diseases, accidental deaths, and homicide can be tracked, and interventions can be designed to mitigate these problems. The largest mitigation effort for terrorism has been law enforcement/national security, as it probably should be, but at the pointy end of each terrorist act is a dead or injured person. What is the public health impact of terrorism? Leaving aside anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological factors, how many Americans are injured or killed by terrorists? What proportion of these terrorists are “homegrown Muslims”?
According to once source, terrorism injures and kills very few Americans each year. In fact, since 9/11, thirty-three Americans in the US have died as a result of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. Eleven Muslims were responsible for these deaths. In that same time, there have been about 150,000 murders in the US. Most terrorist plots in the US involving Muslim American perpetrators are disrupted early in the planning stage, often from sources within the Muslim American community.
In other words, national security and law enforcement, along with significant help from American Muslims, prevent most attacks, attacks that would constitute a small percentage of yearly homicides in the US. Rather than being a major threat, the Muslim American community seems to be a major ally to law enforcement and national security. Either way, there are so few acts of terrorism perpetrated by American Muslims that it is a theoretical threat to public health rather than an actual threat.
What about terrorist acts not perpetrated by Muslim Americans? According to the FBI (as reported by the Council on Foreign Relations) 95% of terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslims. Now, one could argue about “percentages”, that is what percent of the Muslim community vs. the non-Muslim community is involved in domestic terrorism, but there are so few total terrorist acts that this statistic is probably meaningless.
Any rational human being can see that King’s hearings are bigoted political grandstanding. But from the point of prevention of terrorism in the US, they are also useless.