Imagine you wake up in the morning and open the curtains. It is another ordinary day. Traffic is moving. People are walking along the streets. The street vendors are behind their stalls. Then you open your email because everyone knows that is absolutely one of the first things to be done in the morning. It is like Christmas Morning. Who has left a little present under the tree?
The other morning, I opened my email and found something called The Terrorism Risk Index (TRI) developed by a James Bond sounding company named Maplecroft. TRI which had released a risk ranking for 162 countries. Since the days of David Letterman, most people focus on the top ten list. No one is all that interested on what country ranks 37th or 119th on the list. They are definitely out of the medals.
So I scanned through the top ten list:
Iraq (1), Afghanistan (2), Pakistan (3) and Somalia (4), top the ranking of 162 countries and are rated, along with Lebanon (5), India (6), Algeria (7), Colombia (8) and Thailand (9). These are listed as extreme risk nations.
The first eight countries, I nodded. I can see that. Though having just been to India, where problems seem to be localized. Countries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 all could be fitted inside India and if you combined their population is only a fraction of India’s population. So, yeah, there are some details that are a bit spotty in this assessment.
That’s not what I found the most upsetting. It is the Number 9 spot.
Thailand is an Extreme Risk Nation? This has to be a misprint. Someone has been into the sauce. Other explanations are incompetence, stupidity, or madness.
I look out the window again at Bangkok. No tanks. No columns of smoke rising. No sound of gunfire or explosions. The TRI says the Index measures not only the risk of an attack but also the chance of mass casualties.
The extreme risk of mass casualties in Thailand? What were the authors of this report thinking? That a cartel of tuk-tuks drives has plans to run down foreigners on Sukhumvit and Silom Roads? The implications are immense. I suspect most expats, if they have insurance, have some kind of clause providing the insurer doesn’t have to pay a dime if the insured is stupid enough to sustain damage or loss in an extreme risk nation.
Imagine the conversations all over North America about holiday plans.
“Darling, about that trip to Thailand, did you know it is an extreme risk country?” he asked.
“God, cancel the flights. I told you we should go to Mexico. But you wouldn’t listen,” she said.
“You’re right, dear. We’ll holiday in Ciudad Juarez,” he said, sighing, knowing that he had lost the battle once again.
Keep that Mexican travel brochure in your mind, because I will come back to it—that is to Mexico.
Let’s put this discussion into a larger perspective. Terrorism in 2010 is a label like communism in the 1950s, everyone was afraid of it and no one was quite certain what it meant other than the people involved were evil, blood-thirsty and had access to weapons that could kill loads of people. Beware of labels that everyone throws around like a beanbag but hasn’t a clue as to what is inside the bag.
Why, for instance, isn’t Mexico on the TRI list? Give us a break. This country has a major civil war being fought in the northern states right next to the American border and yet it is Thailand (yes there is an insurgency in the South) gets #9.
It’s all in the terminology. When pundits write articles about the drug cartels in Mexico they don’t use the word terrorism. Instead they use “criminal insurgency.” Not that criminals and their insurgency is any cause to make you feel safer.
In 2009, 7,500 Mexican died in this inner raging drug war.
Thailand, in the number 9 position, making it an extreme risk nation had no way near that many people killed by armed insurgents in 2009. Why are drug cartels with a heavily armed militia of thugs appear to be deemed less of a threat than terrorists? Because people are conditioned to fear terrorism, and if terrorists are involved, then somehow the murders by the stadium load, seem to be a natural phenomenon like an earthquake. Suicide bombers strike fear into the heart of the TRI audience while an army of machine gun wheeling cartel thugs is ignored as if were just a sprang ankle.
Most countries have criminal enclaves (places pundits like to call slums) where criminal fight over the turf, kill each other, and bystanders, and the authorities by and large stay outside the perimeter. I suspect America has many such enclaves, and given the death annually by handguns, there is a low-grade war going on inside these enclaves with the statistics reported out to the larger community. In terms of body count, terrorism casualties are about as common as bathtub drowning, when compared with the kill rate in the world’s criminal enclaves. Such enclaves are dynamic. There is every indication that North America may be in period of accelerated expansion of such criminal enclaves as unemployment is slated to remain at all time highs for years to come. See Don Peck’s How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America.
The authors on this blog write about crime and violence. Our books develop political and social (as well as economic) connections to crime. This linkage is what makes crime fiction interesting and compelling. The best crime fiction is a war report that takes readers inside one of these criminal enclaves, shows the pathways to the larger community. Most members of society are delusional about the true nature of risk, because they can’t properly identify how such risk comes into existence, the tenacity of the underlining problems, and the corruption and double standards that undercut the rule of law. These enclaves are awash in money. Drug money mostly. It bends and snaps the rule of law. Yet people feel, by and large, safe. It is those foreign terrorists that give them nightmares and not the organized cartels, the gangs, freelance criminals circulating in their own economy five miles away.
The problem with concentrating on terrorists is that, in the larger scheme, their crimes are a drop in the bucket compared to the ongoing criminal insurgency raging across the planet. Terrorism is a sideshow. And always has been. The main event, where the extreme risk pops out right under everyone’s nose happens inside that criminal enclave that you glimpse on the TV news, usually with police and emergency service vehicles angled in the street, lights flashing, bodies being taken out and a reporter telling you the police are investigating the crime. That is every day. Day in and day out.
The risk of you becoming a casualty is much greater at the hands of one of the discontented and poor young men who have no prospect of jobs who turn to crime as the only available option. This new army of angry, young recruits may not be fueled by the hatred of a jihad. The fuel of despair and hopelessness are the precursors to hatred and you don’t need a religion to motivate such young men. Wanting status and the material stuff that a material society proclaims is essential for your manhood is the new scripture.
Inequality, corruption, and violence are valid risks to assess. But you should look in the right place. The TRI is a distraction. It draws one away from the main risks we all face. Terrorism is ugly and frightening, but it isn’t in the top ten of real risks that any ordinary individual will likely face.
They are in a criminal enclave within spitting distance of your backyard. Don’t worry about the terrorists; worry instead about the young man with a gun and nothing to lose.