Jihadist terrorism is falling in the US. The right-wing threat is rising. And fear remains high


“America saw only one death from jihadi-linked terrorism in 2018”. That was the first sentence of Daniel L. Byman’s piece on terrorism in The New York Times. The article featured on the Brookings website too, perhaps because Mr Byman researches terrorism, Iran and Middle East security issues at the Brookings Institution.

That piece should have run everywhere – in newspapers that serve small-town America;  as part of talk show chatter in ‘Flyover Country’; much beyond the coastal bright-lights areas. For, Mr Byman offers extraordinary detail about important truths.

For instance, the sole jihadi-linked death of 2018, he says, was in Florida. There, a teenage propaganda-inspired youth stabbed his 13-year-old friend to death during a sleepover.

As Mr Byman writes, “far more Americans died from right-wing terrorism (15) in 2018, and even the Incel—involuntary celibate—movement was responsible for more terrorism deaths [than jihadis], when one of its adherents killed two people at a yoga studio.”

What does this mean?

** Donald Trump’s hype about the threat of terrorism is little more than fear-mongering.

** Americans’ fear of the terrorist threat is disproportionate compared to reality, but that’s not particularly surprising considering Mr Trump is US president.

That said, make no mistake, terrorist attacks are not a thing of the past.

As Mr Byman noted, “worrisome, right-wing violence is surging in the United States”. That is terrifying, just as much as jihadist violence and should be called what it is – terrorism.

Finally, of course, it’s worth adding context to a low jihadist terrorist threat in the US. It does not mean the end of mass violence. It does not mean that someone within America – Muslim or non-Muslim; white, black or brown – won’t go berserk tomorrow and either shoot dozens, or find some other way to kill lots of people. There’s no guarantee too that the attacker won’t [if he or she is Muslim] yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ when they perpetrate their criminal act of violence.

‘Allahu Akbar’ is a pious sentiment in Arabic. It means God is great and the phrase features in the Muslim call to prayer, the azaan, as well as in the prayers said by 1.2 billion Muslims across the world five times a day. However, jihadi attackers have been using ‘Allahu Akbar’ for some years almost like a battle cry. The effect has been calamitous for such a gentle devotional sentiment. Many people who don’t know what ‘Allahu Akbar’ means, or very much about Muslims in general, become terrified when they hear someone say the phrase in a public setting.

So here’s where we are:

Jihadist terrorism is falling in the US. Right-wing terrorism is rising. And the level of fear remains high.

Part of America, as Mr Byman said, still views the terrorism threat “through the lens of 9/11”.