London has another terror incident in the underground
(Flickr/Andrea Bongiorno) London

Today’s London underground explosion seems to be another terror attack. The explosion reportedly injured 22 people.

Also, this week we observed the sad anniversary of September 11. Three of the victims of 9/11 were my former students.

The terrorism bookends of this week have made me reflect on an often-unasked question. Who benefits from terror?

Three groups come to mind. Perpetrators, the press, and polarizers gain from terrorism.

Terror Perpetrators

Obviously, perpetrators benefit from terrorist attacks in many ways. Of course, they gain from successful strikes. But even unsuccessful incidents can promote their goals.

The very word “terror” clues us into one fundamental goal of terrorists.

That goal is to strike fear into people. Under threat of terrorism, people fear public gatherings and transportation.

Fear also draws attention. Many movements use terror to draw notice to their causes.

Terrorists’ motivations may be diverse. Whether we agree or disagree with the cause, a terrorist incident forces us to delve deeper into the reason.

As investigators have discovered, terrorist groups often use the attention and alarm from attacks to fund-raise and recruit. In doing this, these groups are not that different from many other groups.

Disasters are often an opportunity to raise awareness about the needs of charities and non-profits. However, the nature of terrorism means that terrorists can rely on a couple of other actors to magnify attention and panic.

Terror: Manna for Media

There’s a saying in the news business: if it bleeds, it leads. When terrorism leads to injuries or deaths, the media is all over it – most of the time.

Media attention to terrorism seems to depend on various factors. Three important factors are location, number, and the identity of the perpetrators. The media has double standards when it comes to terror.

Terrorist attacks in the West get more coverage. Attackers who use Islam as a motivation get more notice. And a higher number of casualties in the West perpetrated by “Islamic” terrorists attract the most attention.

There is a good business reason for media coverage of terrorism. Evidently, we eagerly devour news and analysis of terror incidents.

In the aftermath of terrorism, the media also gives a forum for those who want to divide and stoke fear.

Terror and Polarizers

Especially after an “Islamic” terrorist attack, we see a procession of commentators and politicians who use the media to divide us.

President Donald Trump’s tweets after the London attack are examples of this. For polarizing politicians like Trump, this enables them to stroke their base.

Further, terrorism provides an excuse to boost military expenses and surveillance. Keeping fear alive is profitable. For many in the military-industrial-surveillance complex, terror attacks lead to economic gains.

Someone is pocketing the $150 billion the US government spends annually on responding to terror. In other words, the US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts.

Anti-terrorism responses of the wrong kind also benefit terrorists by providing them with ideological ammunition for their cause.

We must react wisely to terror. Resist perpetrators by refusing to be afraid. Watch a movie instead of news about terror. And encourage bridge-builders, not polarizers.

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