When I say that we are over-reacting to the threat of terrorism, I am occasionally challenged to explain what an appropriate reaction would be, how we can quantify it, etc. Documents such as Europol’s EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (via Lenin’s Tomb) are a good start. (See also this article for a view of the situation in the US.)
The tables below list all the terrorist incidents in 2006 (the first one), and the number of arrests made (the second one). Sorry I’ve included them as images because WordPress seems to have difficulty with copying and pasting tables in and I didn’t want to write them out by hand.
The first thing to notice is that of 498 terrorist attacks, only one was identified as ‘Islamist’. On the other hand, close to half of the arrests made were of people suspected of ‘Islamist’ terrorism. On the other hand, ‘Separatist’ terrorism (such as ETA in Spain) accounted for 424 of the 498 attacks, but accounts for less arrests in total than of ‘Islamist’ terrorism.
I think it’s reasonable to conclude that our anti-terrorism resources are not being used efficiently.
UPDATE (2nd May 2007): Actually this conclusion is not such a reasonable one to make because the statistics below don’t tell you about the number of casualties per incident. See the comments for more details.
The tables and the rest of the report make interesting material to study. Most of the 2006 incidents were due to Basque separatists in Spain and Corsican separatists in France. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t give figures for the number of casualties, wounded, and the amount of property damage caused by these incidents, but it does repeatedly refer to the fact that casualties were usually low. Given this, it becomes appropriate to consider terrorism as an economic cost, and therefore the resources given to combat it should be proportional to the damage caused. Similarly, restrictions on civil liberties, legislative changes, etc. cannot be justified based on the costs of terrorism compared to other forms of damage to society (cars, pollution, etc.).