How Big Is ISIS? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Our video team created a slick animation about “the exaggerated influence of ISIS,” featuring a voiceover from Kathy (who recently took charge of our Global section):

This reader believes that ISIS has been blown out of proportion:

Obama was right. They are the JV league: A few thousand combatants, a territory the size of Maryland, no air force, no nukes, no navy, very little armor or artillery. And yet we have blown them up into this existential threat.

The reader is referring to the president’s now infamous comment to The New Yorker: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Another reader isn’t so sure about that analogy:

It is a JV team that has gotten events cancelled across Europe for security reasons, has European neighborhoods resembling war zones, is costing Europe and the U.S. billions of dollars in security measures, and has cost the lives of hundreds of innocent people in Europe and ten’s of thousands in Africa and Asia.

Obama was wrong.

Uri points out that the president seems to have revised his analogy: In our current cover story, “The Obama Doctrine,” he compares the Islamic State to the Joker in the Dark Knight Batman movie.

Analogies aside, is size really a good metric to use for terrorism? This reader doesn’t think so:

The nature of asymmetric warfare is that they can much more easily change our way of life than vice versa. It is not territory controlled or a body count; it is the number of potential targets. A major airport out for a week is a big deal. Paris in panic is a big deal.

Another reader contrasts the ISIS debate with the gun debate:

We Americans are a curious bunch in that we quietly accept the mass carnage in our cities and neighborhoods caused by gun violence. But at the same time, we’re frozen with fear if one of those killings happens to be carried out by a radicalized Muslim.

According to CDC numbers for the nine-year period from 2004 through 2012, there were roughly 316,500 Americans killed by firearms in the United States. Contrast that with the number of Americans killed by terrorism here and around the world during that same period of time: around 310.

Fact-checking that reader’s claim real quick: Back in October, Rolling Stone reported similar numbers for a slightly different range:“316,000 firearm deaths between 2004 and 2013, compared to 313 terrorism deaths.” (CNN reported in December that there were 406,496 firearm deaths and 3,380 terrorism deaths within the broader range of 2001 to 2013, which encompassed 9/11.)

Back to our reader:

In spite of these lopsided numbers, ever since the San Bernardino shootings in early December, Americans have been on high alert and terrorism is the number one issue on voter’s minds, surpassing healthcare, the environment, and the economy. [That was true according to a mid-December Gallup poll in the wake of the San Bernardino and Paris attacks, though by early February, the economy had overtaken terrorism as the key concern, according to polling from NBC News].

Some of our bold elected leaders, not content with “small ideas”—like closing the gun show loophole, restricting the sale of assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines, or restricting gun sales for people on the no-fly lists—have instead keenly zeroed-in on the real solution to the problem: Offering their thoughts and prayers.