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Terrorism at all-time low, US gov says

But bloodshed is up

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The forces of righteousness are winning the war on terror, if not the war on violence and mayhem. Still, the security outlook has rarely been brighter: terrorist activity worldwide is at a low point not seen since 1969, according to the US State Department.

"There were 190 acts of international terrorism in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks that occurred in 2002, and a drop of 45 per cent from the level in 2001 of 346 attacks. The figure in 2003 represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969," the Department says in a cheerful report on patterns of international terrorism.

"A total of 307 persons were killed in the attacks of 2003, far fewer than the 725 killed during 2002. A total of 1,593 persons were wounded in the attacks that occurred in 2003, down from 2,013 persons wounded the year before."

Of course this does not mean that the world is any less violent. The Department holds to rather strict criteria for determining what is and is not terrorism.

For example, "coalition" forces killed on duty in Iraq were excluded. Only "attacks against noncombatants, that is, civilians and military personnel who at the time of the incident were unarmed and/or not on duty, are judged as terrorist attacks," the Department says.

But different people define terrorism in different ways. A number of governments define it as any violence within their borders that they haven't perpetrated themselves. Others might see it as any violence meant to intimidate a government or a populace, regardless of who the victims are. So some will take issue with the Department's criteria. However, so long as these criteria are kept constant, then the overall trend is probably real.

Or not.

The Department allows that the lion's share of violence has been occurring in Iraq. And since police forces are [at least supposed to be] civilian outfits, it might be reasonable to include the several hundred hastily created policemen in Iraq who have been killed for appearing to be collaborators. These incidents seem to qualify as attacks against noncombatants for purposes of intimidation, which in turn qualifies them as terrorism, even under the Department's criteria.

Furthermore, if there should ever come a time when Iraq has got a freely and fairly elected government, then that government will have standing to sanction the occupation on behalf of the people, and attacks against military personnel should then reasonably be included, creating a dramatic spike in terrorist activity, although little will have changed in terms of the mass violence in which the world is currently wallowing.

So, in a nutshell: terrorism is down while bloodshed is up. No doubt the numbers for 2004 will be equally encouraging. ®

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