Political commentator George F. Will suggested the massive commemorative displays on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 hijacker attacks involved "media ravenous for content and . . . today's historical and self-dramatizing tendency to think that eruptions of evil are violations of a natural entitlement to happiness" ("Sept. 11's self-inflicted wounds," Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2011).
"It also represents the search for refuge from a decade defined by unsatisfactory responses to Sept. 11," he wrote.
It also reflects insularity focused on victimization of Americans after 10 years of increasing terrorist violence primarily outside the United States. The 2,982 people killed in the jetliner crashes on Sept. 11, 2001, were the largest number of casualties from a single terrorist plot. It deserves commemoration.
But Americans dealing with the threat need to recognize that violent death at the hands of terrorists is far more likely in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and Israel. Islamic terrorists are killing many more Muslims - or Israelis and Russians - because of proximity.
The United States' decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 boosted Iraq to the top of the charts for attacks on civilian populations. Before Iraq, Russians were the most likely to be killed by terrorists, including 214 in six incidents in 2003 and 520 in five incidents in 2004 ("High Casualty Terrorist Bombings, 3/11/92-3/10/11," Center for Systemic Peace, www.systemicpeace.org).
Civilians in Iraq became terrorist victims by the hundreds beginning in 2003, peaking to more than 2,700 in 2007.
Iraqi civilians are killed by military actions, but many more die from terrorist attacks, according to a Feb. 15 report: "Violent deaths of Iraqi civilians, 2003-2008: Analysis by perpetrator, weapon, time and location," Public Library of Science, www.plos.org (Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks, Hamit Daragan, Gabriela Guerrero Serdan, Peter M. Bagnall, John A. Sloboda, Michael Spagat).
The data had 92,614 civilians deaths recorded from March 20, 2003, through March 19, 2008, of which 74 percent (68,396) were killed by unknown perpetrators; 12 percent (11,516) were killed by Coalition military actions; 11 percent (9,954) were killed by anti-Coalition forces.
"Most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003-2008 of the Iraqi war were inflicted by unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions," the analysis says.
Middle East researcher Michael Knight notes Iraqi terrorism involves factions seeking control through "local strikes by disparate cells."
"Insurgents are now focused squarely on the struggle for dominance of the neighborhood police force, the sub-district council, the district courtroom, or vital pieces of terrain with local significance. They are fighting to dominate local communities while the dysfunctional government is in flux" ("Iraq's relentless insurgency, the fight for power ahead of U.S. withdrawal," Foreign Affairs, Aug. 22, 2011; www.foreignaffairs.com).
Islamic fanatics will harm Americans, but sociologist Charles Kruzman of the University of North Carolina ("The Missing Martyrs") notes: "There aren't very many Islamist terrorists and most are incompetent. They fight each other as much as they fight anybody else and they fight their potential state sponsors most of all."
He notes a 2008 al-Qaida video complained that Muslims were not responding to appeals to jihad. Thousands of Muslims joined, but Kruzman notes "more than a billion Muslims - well over 99 percent - ignored the call" ("Why is it so hard to find a suicide bomber these days?", Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2011; www.foreignpolicy.com).
Fanatics need to be taken seriously. But Kruzman suggests many, like the Times Square bomber who couldn't rig his bomb correctly, are likely to be incompetent.
"But even if they succeed in killing thousands of us, attacks like these do not threaten our way of life, unless we let them," he says.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.