- What is a terrorist?
A terrorist is one who meets five criteria:
- Is a member of an association or individual not under the command of a recognized military force or nation/state
- deliberately targets
- a civilian population
- through physical violence and/or the psychological impact of violence
- so as to obtain by coercion what he/she could not obtain by persuasion.
All five elements must exist for an act to be defined as terrorism. Note that the civilian population need not be the target of the violence, but can instead be the targetted audience of violence. For example, releasing a videotape of a police officer's beheading qualifies as terrorism, whereas beheading a police officer without videotape and burying him does not. Likewise, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole without videotape is not terrorism. It was the videotape that showed terrorist intent.
One might ask, what about suicide bombing? A suicide bombing is a media event. This is known to all organizations that perform such acts, and that is why the organizations typically record the suicide bomber's last words before the act is done, with the intent of influencing their own population to fight. On the other hand, the University of Oklahoma student who blew himself up outside a football game  without leaving a note or videotape explaining his actions didn't commit an act of terrorism, though it had a terrifying effect. Even if he'd blown himself up inside the stadium, his act could only be called mass murder with presumed terroristic intent, not proven terrorism, as element 4 was not publicly satisfied.
Terrorism is by no means a leading cause of death in the U.S., however it recieves a disproportionate level of attention and funding. Some arguments to this effect:
- You are four times more likely to be murdered on your vacation to Mexico than die due to American troop actions, insurgency, or crime combined (iraq deaths,mexico murders), yet there's not a day that goes by that you don't hear about terrorism in Iraq. And how many news stories are there about murders in Mexico?
- When compared to other leading issues on Google Trends, such as higher education, it appears as if people in Washington DC are disproportionatly interested in terrorism, and news coverage is disproportionate in relation to actual interest. This may be because Washington itself is at high risk of an attack, or maybe because fear politics work so well for the people in charge there.
- A common mistake is to focus on impressive single events in stead of ongoing events, even though, in the long run, the latter have much more impact on reality. A major reason for this is that media want to show news, not some something that happens every day. For example, one is much more likely to die in a traffic accident than in a terrorist attack. It took US traffic just a few months to reach the same death count as 9/11, even though that was by far the most severe act of terrorism ever. But more importantly, 9/11 was a single event. Traffic death keep occurring as they always have been, year in, year out, for almost a century now. The level of comfort you feel in a car is largely due to ignoring the dangers you are facing every second on the road. If we felt the same way about driving as we felt about terrorism, we'd have fifteen feet tall concrete barriers between lanes and have checkpoints every five miles to make sure you have correct documentation. The fear of terrorism is irrational, fueled by shocking events broadcast in full-color TV. Furthermore, fear is a great thing--it means you're still free.
- Terrorism is as old as anything else on this planet. Yet it is used to create fear (not only by those who commit it), and make people accept certain changes in their system, such as limiting your civil rights, or exceeding judicial powers. Politicians and the media give terrorism much more credit than it is due. It is the resulting fear that terrorists are after. The worst thing one can do to a terrorist is ignore his actions.
- Hurricanes are also not the lead cause of death in US, but they got more attention than let's say car accidents. Also violent crimes get more attention than car accidents, all this is within the normal media coverage choices, it also depends on the demand from the public. There's no need to judge media when it is the public who wants to get info about the terrorism.