The recent attacks in Paris have once again got everybody fretting about the terrible scale of Islamic terrorism, and the extraordinary danger it poses to Western, in particular European, society. But how dangerous is terrorism really? The chart below from Maclean’s magazine, based on the statistics of the Global Terrorism Database, provides the answer:
As you can see, the number of terrorist incidents in Western Europe has increased since the low point of the mid-2000s, but the number remains well below that of the peak period between 1975 and 1995. There are presently about half the number of incidents per year that there were in the 1980s. Moreover, despite four mass killings in the past 11 years, the average death toll from terrorism is substantially lower than it used to be. In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, terrorists regularly killed 100-300 people a year in Western Europe. Nowadays, most years they only kill about a dozen. The facts are clear: terrorism is much less of a threat today than it was in the past.
It is true that when religiously-motivated terrorists strike, they tend to be very lethal. Fortunately, they strike rarely, as the charts below show.
As for North America, you can get a sense of the evolution of the threat from these pictures:
In June I gave a talk saying that by historical standards the world is not a dangerous place. I stand by that thesis.