In times like these, it is easy to become downhearted by global events. Another horrific and appalling terrorist attack in Europe has caused many of us to feel that we live in an increasingly violent and turbulent world.
Looking at the data, it is true that Islamist-related conflict has prompted a rise in the global rate of so-called “battle deaths” in recent years, while the number of civil wars has also increased due to widely-reported hostilities in Iraq, Syria, and several other states in the Middle East and beyond.
The recent increase reverses decades of movement in the opposite direction, however – and it is crucial to remember that the world, overall, remains significantly safer than during most periods of modern history. Just a few months ago, an excellent analysis from US current affairs magazine Slate crunched the numbers and concluded: “The rates of [global] violence are still well below those of the 1990s, and nowhere near the levels of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s.”
The rate of battle deaths was recorded at between five and 10 per 100,000 people during much of the 1970s and 1980s, yet remained below one death per 100,000 between 2010 and 2013 despite an uptick.
The growth of global media, and certainly social media, magnifies the strife and chaos that occur in many parts of the world – but this is by no means a bad thing. Terrorism is at its most destructive in countries beyond Europe’s borders; an awareness and understanding of this devastating problem is crucial if we are to overcome it. Ignorance does not always lead to bliss.
The severity of the situation mustn’t be understated, but at the same time we should not believe that the world is a mess. Measures of human wellbeing continue to improve – longer life expectancy, lower rates of child mortality, less malnutrition, more widespread school attendance.
Heading into the Easter break, one can dwell on the fact that while many people in today’s world have an agenda of conflict and destruction, far more are quietly going about their lives with a commitment to peace and prosperity.
Within a framework of liberal democracy, their hard work is dramatically improving the lives of fellow citizens across every continent. That remains the defining story of our time, more so than any number of murderous atrocities.