Winds of Change.NET: Terrorism and Legitimacy

by Armed Liberal at December 9, 2004 03:17 AM

I've never been to Israel, but pretty much every one I know who has gone there says it is a nation full of bad drivers.

In 1997, Israel had 530 motor vehicle fatalities. In 2002, Israel had 525 motor vehicle fatalities.

Assuming this rate as a baseline, in the 42 years between 1961 and 2003, there would have been as many as 21,000 road deaths in Israel. (I'll stipulate that this number is doubtless pretty high)

Just as a comparison, according to the Department of State publication I cited earlier, there have been approximately 381 deaths in Israel caused by Palestinian terrorism form 1961 to 2003.

But...I doubt that a government in Israel (or the United States) would fall - would be voted out of power - because of traffic deaths. Even though each of those deaths is as wrenching to those close to the person who died.

So what's different enough about deaths from terrorism (as opposed, say, to deaths in traffic accidents) that they occupy such a central place in our political dialog? Why will we marshal the resources of a country to battle terrorism while we - largely - ignore other issues which may cause more deaths?

I honestly don't know why they are (and they are, both in my reaction to them and in the polity's), and acknowledge that I'd better start thinking about it trying to come up with an explanation.

I think that this explanation is going to be a key to unlocking my own difference of perception with many of those who see the issues of the war differently than I do.

I'll suggest that the direction to look in is because deaths from terrorism - particularly organized terrorism - threaten the core legitimacy of the societies in which we live.

In my view, societies can function because they command the loyalty of their members. This explicit legitimacy is undermined severely when the basic social fabric collapses (as it has in failed states) or, I'll suggest when the perception is created that the society can't defend it's members.

I'm careful here not to explicitly say 'the government' can't defend it's citizens.

But it may be that societies are very vulnerable to a 'loss of faith' by their members.

Some library time is in order.

[Update: I completely spaced and should have credited a comment by blogger Bill Roggio - who did how own post on Why Terrorism and not Car Accidents? back in August.

Winds of Change.NET: Terrorism and Legitimacy


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