The Hidden Goods of 2015

PRINCETON – If we were to judge the state of the world by the news headlines, 2015 was the year of Islamist terror, especially in Paris. It began with the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and included the much deadlier November 13 shootings in the city, in addition to attacks in Beirut, Ankara, and on a center for disabled people in San Bernadino, California.

But even if we focused on terrorism, that would be a misleading view of the year’s events. In 2015, terrorism killed more people in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Kenya than in France or the United States. And if the crash in October of a Russian civilian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai Desert was, as the Islamic State (ISIS) and Russians experts assert, the result of an ISIS plot, then that incident alone killed more people than both terrorist attacks in Paris.

In any case, concentrating on what the news media find most important to cover can give us a distorted sense of the world. The death of each of the innocent victims of last year’s terrorist attacks is a terrible tragedy for that person and his or her family and friends; but that is also true of deaths that occur in traffic accidents, which receive much less media attention.

Terrorism is shocking, violent, and makes for “good television.” If it occurs in cities like our own, or in cities we might visit, it attracts even greater interest because of the “It could have been me!” factor. From a global perspective, however, the two most important things that happened in 2015 were both highly encouraging, though only one, the international climate agreement reached in Paris in December, received significant media coverage.