Using Math to Calm Fears about Terrorism
These days, many people are afraid. We’ve been hearing a lot of scary news from the media. It’s easy to imagine that bad people with guns are everywhere.
Nobody likes being afraid, but it also causes big problems because it makes people act in dangerous ways. Just in the last week, there have been 19 hate crimes against Muslims (people who practice the religion Islam) in America (source 1). Innocent people have been beaten up, vandalized, and even firebombed just because of their religion.
People in our country need to understand the facts before they jump to conclusions. This is a case where math can help us see a few vital points:
- Islamic State is very small compared to the world population.
- Most Muslims have nothing to do with what’s going on.
- The chance of anything happening to you personally is very small.
Here’s what you need to know. First of all, it was a group called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, that took responsibility for the recent violence in Paris, and a number of other terrorist attacks. How big is this group? People aren’t exactly sure, but experts estimate that they have about 60,000 fighters worldwide (source 2).
Most of those people live in Iraq and Syria, but even if they all lived in our small state, Massachusetts (which they don’t, of course), this pie chart will give you a sense of the numbers:
Can you see how many people are hurt when we assume that all Muslims or Middle Easterners are terrorists?
The vast majority of Muslims do not support “Islamic State.” Most are angry that they call themselves Islamic. Even in Iraq, where this group has a fair amount of power, 91% of Muslims say that “suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified” (source 4). There are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, so when I make a pie chart for the fraction of Muslims who support Islamic State, the slice is too small to even see!
We can’t judge a whole religion by this small group of people. In fact, 21% of the world practices Islam.
Islam is a very peaceful religion — 5 out of 12 of the last Nobel Peace Prize winners have been Muslim (source 5). In the United States, we just don’t know a lot about this religion because it’s a minority here.
Most Muslims live in other parts of the world.
Are people just afraid of what they don’t know? It’s not even true that terrorism is most often commited by Muslims. According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks in the United States (since 1980) have been committed by people of other religions (source 6).
The big thing to remember is that the chance of a terrorist attack in the first place is extremely small. For example, if we look at statistics from recent years, do you know some of the things that are more likely to kill you than a terrorist (source 7)?
Chance of dying in a car crash: 1 in 8,000
Chance of dying from getting struck by lightning: 1 in 5,500,000
I could on and on. Based on recent statistics, being killed by a terrorist is less likely than drowning in your own bathtub, being crushed by a piece of furniture, or even being shot by a toddler who accidently picked up a gun.
Do you want to live your life afraid to get in a bathtub? Of course not!
The next time you see something scary in the media, remember to question what you are seeing, and remember that most people around the world are kind. The world needs more positive action and less fear right now. If you hear your friends jumping to conclusions, speak up.
Note: Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity. There are some helpful resources on the ING website.