With the most recent terroristic act in San Bernardino at the hand of Muslim Syed Farook and his wife, one can anticipate the fear and paranoia about “radical Islam” will continue to grow. To be sure, like any other radicalized ideology, radical Islam is a reality against which one must be vigilant. However, I worry that the fear and paranoia that is produced by evil actions such as the San Bernardino massacre is out of proportion to the perceived threat.
Remember just over one year ago when North America — and indeed, much of the western world — was gripped by a fear of the Ebola virus. Okay, “gripped by a fear” may be an overstatement, but not by much, I suspect. There was a lot of fear at the time. To note one example, there was the case of the Maine nurse, Kaci Hickox, who returned to the United States after fighting Ebola in west Africa. Though she showed no signs of ill health, the government attempted to place Hickox under quarantine. And she was hounded by reporters when she dared to leave her house for a quick jog. Now that’s paranoid.
To be sure, Ebola is a very serious disease, and the world discovered that an outbreak needs to be treated with great care and vigilance. Nonetheless, the fear of Ebola in North America was all out of proportion to the threat.
So see what a more palpable threat looks like, consider the annual impact of the lowly seasonal flu. According to Canada’s chief public health officer reported that within Canada 2000-8000 people die every year from the seasonal flu and its complications. (source) Granted, this is a guesstimate as nobody really knows what the numbers are. However, a guesstimate is sufficient for our purposes.
As for the United States, according to the CDC:
“It is estimated that between 5% and 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and it is estimated that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized) on average for flu-related complications each year. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.” (source)
With thousands dying every year and tens of thousands hospitalized, the seasonal flu is a far more serious public health threat in North America than Ebola has ever been. Suffice it to say, North Americans who opted not to get the seasonal flu vaccine whilst obsessing about a Maine nurse who showed no symptoms of Ebola were engaging in a completely irrational assessment of perceived threat.
If “radical Islam” is the current paranoid equivalent of Ebola virus, gun violence simpliciter is the equivalent of the seasonal flu virus. On average, there is at least one mass shooting in the United States every day. According to an outstanding essay in Mother Jones titled “The True Cost of Gun Violence in America”, there were more than 10,000 gun-related homicides and assaults in 2012.
To focus on radical Islam rather than the unmitigated plague of gun violence simpliciter (as so many are wont to do) is precisely as irrational as obsessing about Ebola rather than the devastating seasonal flu.