Two years ago I wrote about expatriation and terrorism, arguing that global mobility professionals pay increasingly more attention to terror-related issues. Unfortunately in light of the recent ‘wave of terrorism’, be it the Nice attack in France, the Ansbach bombing in Germany, or the Orlando nightclub shooting (quite honestly, you name it), the case of terrorism on the global mobility agenda becomes merely stronger. Reading or watching the news, it feels like there is ever more terrorism. Indeed, just going for a week of vacation ‘offline’, one is very likely to return to hearing about yet another incident. What is more, it feels as if terrorism is striking increasingly close to home, whether it is in the area of your childhood, in the town your friend once lived, or in the famous summer resort you planned to visit. Sadly, valid stats and reports indicate a similar trend.
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index report provided by The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) states that in 2014 we have witnessed the largest yearly increase in terrorism for the last 15 years, and that terrorism continues to rise. In 2014 there was an 80% higher number of deaths from terrorism than in 2013, and since 2000 there has been over a nine-fold increase, rising to 32,685 deaths in 2014. Although the numbers in themselves can be shocking, what we (in the Western world) often don’t quite realize is that attacks of the likes in Nice or Orlando are just the tip of an iceberg, as the majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West, but are highly concentrated in just five countries. Specifically, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria account for 57% of all attacks and 78% of all deaths from terrorism. Apart from these five countries, the top ten countries with the highest impact of terrorism included also India (6), Yemen (7), Somalia (8), Libya (9) and Thailand (10).
Looking at the overall trends in terrorism over the past 15 years, report data highlights the slight shift in the distribution of targets, with a decrease in targeted religious figures and worshipers, and increase in the death of private citizens. I would suggest that this shift is one of the important factors to influence general public anxiety, and hence overall terrorism-related issues of people mobility.
Specific to Western countries, terrorist activity is mainly carried out by lone wolf attackers, who account for around 70% of all deaths in the West. This is closely linked to another report finding, which highlights different terrorist motives when comparing wealthier and poorer countries. Namely, in wealthier countries terrorism correlates with socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment, confidence in the press, faith in democracy, drug crime and attitudes towards immigration. As the report authors highlight, these factors drive the radicalization of individuals, which results in more incidents of lone wolf terrorism. In poorer non-OECD countries, the main drivers of terrorism seem to be strongly linked to the history of armed conflict, ongoing conflict within the country, corruption and a weak business environment. Such factors relate to larger group dynamics and, hence, organized terrorist groupings.
Naturally, with the increase in terrorism, there is also an increase in the economic costs of it. In 2014 the economic costs of terrorism reached their highest level, showing a 61% increase from 2013 and a ten-fold increase since the year 2000. What is important though, is that the costs of preventing terrorism are more significant than the direct costs of its consequences.
The authors of the report mention that although the stats may paint a disturbing picture, this changes in the broader context. In fact, 13 times more people die due to homicide than due to terrorism. Yet, such facts feature much less prominently, and the disturbing, almost weekly images of terrorism prevail, right? I would argue that we speak about terrorism and, at time, feel overwhelmed by it much more than in the case of other forms of violence due to extensive media coverage. Also in terms of global mobility influences of terrorism are much more visible than those of homicide. For example, after the Paris terrorism incidents the city lost ground in ranking among the best cities to live in the world. Clearly, this has direct implications for global mobility professionals in terms of expatriate recruitment, risk assessments and hardship allowances.
Still, terrorist incidents are only a symptom of underlying, more deeply ingrained societal and political issues. As actors in a globalized world, whether it is as organizations or individuals, we have a responsibility in working towards eliminating these underlying causes. In fact, global mobility and global work pose a critical opportunity for creating MORE cultural bridges and links rather than solidifying the increasing ethnic divides we seem to be witnessing.