Information and news about terrorism

Media Misrepresents Iran
Western media has a notorious reputation for misrepresenting developing countries. This article will discuss how the media misrepresents Iran with framing, agenda-setting and manipulation. It will also debunk the common stereotypes embedded in these examples of misinformation.

Iran as a Pro-Terrorism Country

Categorizing Iran as a pro-terrorist country is the largest example of how the media misrepresents Iran. Western media is very quick to blame Iran-based problems on terrorism and, often times, radical Islam. In fact, Iran’s legislation and government officials have clearly proven that they’d prefer Iran to be on sound terms with other nations.

Iranian citizens have been dissatisfied about government spending and its foreign ventures for over a decade now; they would rather spend money internally. To note, reformist president Hassan Rouhani was actually approved for office because of his promise to improve relations with other nations.

Both him and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are seen as national heroes for their desire for peaceful relations with other countries. To note, western media emphasizes this (false) aspect of Iran the most.

Iran as an Anti-Israeli Country

Characterizing it as a nation with a vendetta against Israelis is the next most common way of how the media misrepresents Iran. Though some Iranian leaders have verbally attacked Israel (like president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose presidency ended in 2013), Iranian citizens have proven to contradict this anti-Israeli feeling.

Larry Cohler-Esses, Jewish journalist, decided to travel to Iran for an exclusive look at Iranian citizens daily lives and genuine feelings. He found that most Iranians are, again, more concerned with domestic issues, with fears surrounding isolation and struggling economically. Indeed, individual citizens have no interest in attacking Israel, but the Iranian government does.

Iran as an Oppressive Country

Western media also misrepresents Iran as a country that oppresses and discriminates against religious minority groups. Iran is known for typically having a conservative, Muslim government that many assume oppresses other religions.

It is true that there has been discrimination against the Baha’i community, but this is because the Baha’i faith has been consider heretical since the 19th Century; however, discrimination is only directed toward the Baha’i community but not to Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and other religious communities.

Iran as a “Backwards” Nation

The media has presented Iran as an impoverished country that is struggling to modernize society. When Cohler-Esses traveled to Iran, he saw no evidence of this.

Instead, he saw a well-educated, youthful population that was fashionable, modern, and critical of their own government. The media also presents Iran as a country with little to no free press, but instead, reformist newspapers have gotten more popular over the years. While Iran does frequently have issues with legislation that constantly changes and effects freedom of press, the nation’s press ultimately has a fair range of freedom to vocalize their concerns.

The media continues to paint Iran as a country with little to no growth or progress, ignoring its efforts to modernize and industrialize society; fortunately, though, this myth continues to be disproven, time and time again.

The media landscape continues to paint blurry pictures of developing countries, but as countries continue to modernize, the reality will present itself — especially in the case of Iran.

– Chylene Babb

Photo: Flickr

poverty's role in terrorism
There seems to be a close connection between poverty and terrorism. In fact, many argue that poverty breeds terrorism. Even if it does not do so in a direct manner, one only needs to look closer to find the intricate ties between poverty and terrorism. Poverty’s role in terrorism becomes clearer when viewed through the lens of interconnectedness that unravels and unpacks the consequences of poverty. For instance, poverty often deprives people of an adequate education and can lead to marginalization in society, both of which can result in extremist beliefs among impoverished people. These 10 facts about poverty’s role in terrorism make the connection clearer.

10 Facts About Poverty’s Role in Terrorism

  1. The world’s most dangerous nations are also among the poorest. For instance, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) in 2012 revealed that lower-middle-income countries accounted for seven of the 10 countries most affected by terrorism. Nations such as Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, which were among the 10 most dangerous countries, also struggle with rampant poverty.
  2. Poverty often deprives people of the ability to obtain an adequate education, and a lack of education leaves many people vulnerable to negative influences. Oftentimes, children from low income or extremely poor families only able to receive an education at madrassas or religious schools, which are targeted by violent extremists looking to indoctrinate and recruit innocent youngsters. Additionally, the top ten most dangerous countries in the 2012 GTI consisted of nations with high illiteracy rates.
  3. Impoverished people often grow up in marginalized and poor areas, which are overlooked by the government. A deep sense of marginalization can lead such people to engage in terrorist activities.
  4. Poverty often goes hand-in-hand with poor governance in a nation. In fact, sometimes poor governance continues the cycle of poverty. Poor people in such nations often feel marginalized not only because of their status but also the hopelessness that comes with the justified mistrust in their government. As a result, they might join groups that promote extremist actions in order to feel like they are being heard and their needs are being considered.
  5. Feelings of deprivation that are caused by being unemployed or the fear of unemployment can lead to extremist thoughts in people, thereby inviting them to engage in terrorist activities. For instance, a 2005 study found a significant positive correlation between state-level unemployment and the incidence of right-wing extremist crimes.
  6. Poor healthcare or lack of access to healthcare is very common in poor countries. In fact, most of the 10 most dangerous countries in the 2012 GTI are also among the places where the most people die from preventable diseases.
  7. More than the lack of material resources, the feeling that an individual cannot make meaningful life choices to alter their living conditions can also lead some to engage in desperate acts. Poverty strips people of their dignity, opportunities and meaningful choices.
  8. Terrorist groups’ community development activities demonstrate a link between insurgency and extreme poverty. For instance, Hamas spends most of its resources providing social, cultural, welfare and educational activities for the Palestinian people, and the Taliban built madrassas to offer free education to poor children in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  9. Even among those living in first world countries, a propensity toward terrorism has been found in groups that live below the poverty line. For instance, according to a 2008 Census Bureau study, American Somalis, 82 percent of whom live near or below the poverty line, are the largest group traveling to fight with jihadist groups abroad.
  10. World leaders agree that poverty is linked to terrorism. For instance, in reference to budget cuts, Secretary of Defense James Mattis famously said, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

These 10 facts about poverty’s role in terrorism demonstrate that a lack of access to basic necessities can make people desperate enough to engage in terrorist activities. Hopefully, acknowledging poverty as one of the root causes of terrorism will help people find ways to eradicate it altogether.

– Mehruba Chowdhury

Photo: Flickr

Boko Haram InsurgencyDespite its economic and resource potential, Nigeria, the most populous country in the African region, remains a poor country with a rising poverty rate, now projected at 60.9 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Besides government planning and expenditure, the activities of the Boko Haram Insurgency remain one of the most significant problems.

The Boko Haram Insurgency, a jihadist rebel group, is internationally recognized and condemned as a terrorist organization. Its ideology stems from the concept of Haram, or a rejection of western education, social and political systems.

Consequently, the following facts encompass some of the most crucial details of the Boko Haram Insurgency.

  1. The inception of the Boko Haram Insurgency can be traced back to 2002. The group declared a supposed ‘caliphate’ in Nigeria back in 2014. Its activities are closely associated with that of a so-called Islamic State. Owing to the widespread influence of the group, the Nigerian government was forced to declare a state of emergency.
  2. The group is infamous for its influence and indoctrination of youth and for perversions against the education system in Nigeria, in concentrated areas like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The group is known to operate from its stronghold in the town of Borno.
  3. Over the course of eight years and since the beginning of the group’s activities, over 20,000 people have lost their lives, with many bodies often unaccounted for. Recently, Borno state declared that over 52,311 children have lost their families in the fight against the Boko Haram group.
  4. In 2014, the group gained ubiquitous condemnation for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Even though many of them were freed with the help of collaborative discussions between the Nigerian and Swiss governments and the rebels, Amnesty International cites that over 2000 children remain in captivity.
  5. A majority of the civilians caught in the violent actions of the Boko Haram Insurgency are often housed in ramshackle government refugee camps, where resources and necessities are scarce.
  6. Since 2009, a lot of the violence has been concentrated in the Lake Chad region. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), over 800,000 children under the age of five around the area are deemed ‘severely malnourished’. An estimated $2.2 billion is needed to address the humanitarian emergency. Fortunately, the UNDP and Germany are working collaboratively on an integrated project that could potentially reach over 20 Nigerian communities.
  7. In recent years, the Nigerian Army has been able to recover a large portion of lost territory and reduce the group’s influence in the country. The Army recently captured a Boko Haram commander and freed around 212 hostages in the process. Moreover, the U.N. has spent a lot of effort on strengthening Sahel security forces in Lake Chad.
  8. In October 2017, the U.K. government pledged its support to Nigeria in the fight against the Boko Haram Insurgency. Currently, they will help the Nigerian military bolster its capacity by providing effective training. The British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) and the Liaison Support Team (LST) will play a crucial role in further actions in Nigeria.
  9. According to a recent report by BBC News, the home of the founder of the Boko Haram Insurgency, Mohammed Yusuf, will be converted into a museum. The founder died during a police interrogation in the early stages of the group’s activities in the year 2009.
  10. According to many Nigerian researchers, a community- based approach toward combatting the problem is recommended.

Overall, the activities of the Boko Haram Insurgency seem to be at its final stages as governments and other stakeholder groups come together to mitigate the negative effects caused by the terrorist group and finally restore peace and order after many years of turbulence.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

 IranThe United States House of Representatives recently passed legislation condemning the use of civilians as human shields, a violation of internationally recognized human rights currently being practiced by Hizballah. The Sanctioning Hizballah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act is currently being reviewed by the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Hizballah is a terrorist organization originally formed by Iranian extremists in Lebanon. They are responsible for terrorist attacks all over the world, including bombings of the United States embassy in Lebanon, suicide bombings in Bulgaria and barrack attacks in Beirut. The organization has been operating in Lebanon for decades, sustaining political power by holding nearly half of the seats in Lebanon’s cabinet and National Assembly. Hizballah has maintained a reputation for being the most successful anti-Israel group in the Middle East, gaining support from Arab nationalists as well as Iran and Syria.

Hizballah is currently putting Lebanese lives at risk by placing military strongholds within Lebanese villages. They seize civilian homes, hospitals and schools and use them to store weapons and house troops. Over 200 villages are currently being used by Hizballah for military purposes, mainly in southern Lebanon. The terrorist organization is essentially using civilians as human shields to try and protect their military with no regard for their safety. If conflict were to occur between Israel and Hizballah, which is likely and recurrent, civilians will be caught directly in the middle of the violence. These practices are in direct violation of Article 58 of the Geneva Conventions precautioning against the effects of attacks, which state that parties of conflict must avoid locating military objectives in densely populated areas and take precautions to protect civilian populations.

If the Sanctioning Hizballah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act becomes law, Congress will condemn Hizballah’s use of human shields, and the United States president will sanction any person or entity guilty of using human shields, impose asset blocking and urge the United Nations Security Council to support a resolution imposing multilateral sanctions against Hizballah. This law will be an important step towards protecting civilians who are affected by Hizballah’s activity.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid to AfghanistanAfghanistan has been plagued by war since the Soviet Military Intervention of the 1970s during the Cold War era. The 16-year civil war has impacted the foreign policies of many countries over the years. The fight between the Taliban insurgency and international collation forces has resulted in mass displacement, poverty, discrimination, human rights violations and destitution.

Despite the precarious stalemate reached, there were still an aggregate 3,500 civilian casualties last year, with insuperable pressure on humanitarian agencies and aid workers. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 296,000 individuals have been internally displaced since January 2017.

Foreign aid encompasses emergency assistance, food aid, military assistance and humanitarian and development aid. Consequently, foreign aid continues to be a vital question in solving the “Afghanistan Problem”, as it has been called. Even though foreign aid to Afghanistan has been quite successful over the years, with over 2.2 million individuals reached in the last quarter of 2017 alone, it is becoming a concern for stakeholder groups, organizations and countries involved. Phantom aid is an especially significant issue in Afghanistan, as it never reaches the correct source and fails to address poverty and other associated problems.

Even though Afghanistan’s GDP has been averaging around 3.6 percent annually since 2002 and the economy is showing progress, terrorism still remains one of the most pressing issues in the country. There are many splintered terrorist groups still existing in the country. For instance, the Haqqani Terrorist Network remains one the most hostile wings of the Taliban. Terrorist groups are blocking lines of communication in Afghanistan and further destabilizing the country. Army camps and soldier are imperiled by the threat of terrorism in the country. Owing to the recent surge in violence, the Red Cross is temporarily suspending its aid operations to protect aid workers and civilians.

However, many countries are coming forward to provide foreign aid to Afghanistan. China is coming close to matching the U.S. budget of foreign aid to Afghanistan and is one of the leading donors to the country. It is working with the World Food Programme to provide emergency food aid.

India is also a vital provider of sustainable foreign aid to Afghanistan. Since 2002, India has contributed a massive $2 billion in foreign aid to the country, both in civil and military assistance. India is also very involved in reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. The Salma Dam has been an especially crucial development. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is aiming to cement stronger ties with India. The two countries will collaborate on solving key issues like terrorism, and working towards political and economic strategies.

Furthermore, over 116 community projects will be developed in 31 major provinces in the realms of education, healthcare, flood control, renewable energy, agriculture and sanitation. India is also providing aid to fund 300 small development projects and working to bolster its military aid to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

However, according to findings by Aiddata, aid efforts remain poor due to the lack of transparency and corruption in the provision of aid to the country and the motives of stakeholder groups involved. Existing immobilities in infrastructure and other aspects are debilitating the progress of foreign aid to Afghanistan. Improving two-way communication in communities in Afghanistan will greatly improve the provision of aid. Foreign aid to Afghanistan must be sustainable for the long-term recovery of the people and the economy, and building the resilience and capacity of governments and businesses.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Foreign AidThe September 11 terrorist attack resulted in the construction of development response, the act of aiding and developing an impoverished area. The goal of this strategy is to help combat terrorism. Impoverished areas produce a vulnerable environment ideal for extremist group recruitment. The presence of foreign aid in poverty-filled areas reduces the susceptibility of men and women reaching out to extremist groups for a sense of stability.

Social marginalization and poorly governed areas increase the appeal of an extremist group. Social marginalization, the feeling of being oppressed or excluded from society, creates a need for acceptance. The absence of security may lead to residents looking for an opportunity to escape oppression or economic despair. These conditions produce breeding grounds for the recruitment of terrorists. Extremist groups symbolize a promise of social status, respect, necessary services and a sense of belonging.

Yemen and Somalia are prime examples of terrorist breeding grounds. In Yemen, about 35 percent of the population is undernourished and 55 percent lack food security due to soaring food prices. Merely 2 percent of Yemen’s gross domestic product is spent on healthcare. Unemployment has increased to 35 percent and the Sunni-Shia civil clash has heightened the terrorist capacity.

Somalia, similarly to Yemen, is lacking a central government. The war zone environment has provided a safety net for those hiding from the law, giving terrorists the ability to move freely. About 73 percent of the population lives on about $2 a day. The promise of profit from extremist groups feeds the embrace of terrorist membership. Recruiters use the incentives of food, profit and even a sign-up bonus to gain members.

These nations portray the hardships developing nations face when countering extremism. They are not equipped to stop the targeting of terrorist groups. Economic security and efforts to decrease marginalization would provide a preventive measure for global threats.

In the “Assisting International Partners to Counter Violent Extremism” report, the U.S. Department of State and USAID outline objectives for counterterrorism. These objectives include engaging in partnerships, encouraging policy and employing foreign assistance tools. The recognition that youths are more inclined to embrace extremism led to the production of institutions focusing on employing youths and preventing them from joining extremist groups.

The report details that foreign aid would be spent on building institutions and strengthening impoverished nations’ international partnership. The strategic vision behind foreign aid proves that aid is more than a loan to combat poverty. The objectives can be viewed as a tactic within the grand strategy of foreign aid.

Foreign aid provides a weapon to combat counterterrorism. This strategy provides a cheaper long-term tactic that targets one of the causes for breeding ground conditions. It serves as a preventive measure and a source of international security.

The potential foreign aid budget cuts could put American national security in jeopardy. Foreign aid serves as an investment to prevent vulnerable conditions for terrorist recruitment as well as managing the likelihood of a global threat. Developmental aid is not only a valuable tool to counter poverty, but is an effective counterterrorism strategy.

Shauna Triplett

Photo: Flickr

Facts About the LRA InsurgencyKony has become a household name all over the world, but few people know much about the organization behind the infamous man. Here are 10 facts about the LRA insurgency:

  1. Joseph Kony founded the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda as a rebel organization with a military-type hierarchy in which he acts as commander in chief in 1987.
  2. The LRA’s initial purpose was to revolt against the Ugandan government and its army, consisting of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and local defense units (LDUs).
  3. In order to increase its numbers and gain more power, the LRA abducts children and forces them to become soldiers for the LRA.
  4. The LRA operates by using fear tactics to terrorize civilians and their communities. Brutal acts committed by the LRA, such as public rapings, body mutilation and murder are intended to scare potential adversaries, increasing the LRA’s power.
  5. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of Joseph Kony and his fellow LRA leaders Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.
  6. Kony has been charged with 12 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, rape and inflicting serious bodily injury. He was also charged with 21 war crimes, including directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape and forced enlistment of children.
  7. In 2006, the LRA ceased operations in Uganda. It continued its attacks in regions of central Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
  8. In 2012, a large social media campaign against Kony and the LRA went viral. Kony became a household name, and millions of people advocated for the arrest of Kony after watching a video urging the end of the LRA.
  9. Despite a large manhunt, Kony has still yet to be captured. All of his fellow leaders, except Otti, have been confirmed dead and had proceedings against them terminated. Otti is rumored to also be dead, following an altercation in which he was likely executed by Kony after planning to betray the LRA.
  10. Following increased global awareness and effort as well as the combined efforts of the Ugandan and American forces, the LRA’s number continue to decline and its power has decreased substantially.

These 10 facts about the LRA insurgency are only a few aspects of an organization that has displaced almost two million people and kidnapped more than 20,000 children. Thanks to global effort and government assistance, the growth of these numbers is consistently slowing.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: U.S. Air Force

8 Facts About JordanThe political turmoil in the Middle East captures headlines around the world. Places like Syria, Iraq and Libya are mainstays in the news cycle. However, one little-known Kingdom amid this chaos has proven to be incredibly resilient and shows promise for the future. Though faced with ongoing crises and conflict in the region, 2017 was a year of positive changes in Jordan.

“I do not know of any other country in recent history that has gone through such an onslaught of crises and found itself surrounded by so many conflicts through no fault of its own,” says Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, son and heir of King Abdullah remarked at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017. “Yet in the face of these daunting challenges, we did not back down from our ideals, or our values. We did not turn our backs on people in need.”

Jordan has been an island of stability in the Middle East even amid a wave of refugees, economic stagnation and the threat of terrorism surrounding it on all sides.

Here are 8 facts about positive changes in Jordan that give hope for the future:

1. Jordan is ranked the second freest economy in the Middle East behind the United Arab Emirates. Despite lacking the magnificent oil wealth and foreign investments of the Emirates, Jordan is ensuring that businesses are in a climate where they can grow and create jobs.

2. Jordan’s Prime Minister has made it official policy to waive all service card requirements for Syrian refugee children attending school in Jordan. This will open the doors for thousands of young Syrians who were forced to leave their country amid the violence. This greater access to education will garner huge returns on investment in the future.

3. Jordan joined a group of other Middle Eastern countries that abrogated an infamous law that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if they married their victim. This is a victory for women’s rights in the country.

4. Though overwhelmed by refugees from conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the Azraq refugee camp has recently undertaken a project to operate the camp on 100 percent renewable energy. In 2017, they finally accomplished this, becoming the only refugee camp in the world to run on solely solar-powered plants.

5. Nour Al Hassan, a native Jordanian, runs the translation company Tarjama, where over 90 percent of employees are women. Over 60 Jordanian women have been hired by the company thus far. In a region that is notorious for women’s unemployment rates, this is a positive change for the future.

6. Although one of the poorest countries in terms of water resources, Jordan is becoming a testing ground for new water-saving technologies. The Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project looks to supply water to the southern portions of the country while simultaneously filling up the ever-shrinking Dead Sea.

7. The Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) was ranked as one of the top 500 research universities by Times Higher Education. This is the first time a Jordanian higher education institution has been named to this list.

8. Queen Raina of Jordan was awarded the Global Trailblazer Award in 2017, presented by Vital Voices Global Leadership, which recognizes the leadership of women around the world. Queen Raina is a stalwart of women’s rights, education and poverty alleviation.

These 8 facts are just a snapshot of the positive changes in Jordan. In a region where good news is difficult to come by, the advancements made by Jordan are praiseworthy and are moving the country in a positive direction in the face of unimaginable difficulties.

Daniel Cavins

Photo: Google

Education and ReintegrationSince 2015, Niger has been subject to attacks by jihadist group Boko Haram. In 2016, Niger launched a new political initiative: a de-radicalization and reintegration program based on education and participation for the captured Boko Haram fighters. This strategy, also known as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), can be effective during violent times. It is the means to achieving post-war goals and maintaining order in society.

DDR, now seen as a useful tactic to countering violent extremism, has become a political strategy, one that supports education and vocational training rather than violence and imprisonment. Rather than fighting violence with violence, the idea is to stimulate peace by instilling conventional development goals for society. Despite the de-radicalization classes and vocational training in the DDR camps, jobs are scarce and poverty is still rampant, making extremism more attractive to civilians.

Structural issues in the prison system and reintegration issues in society create more obstacles for the government in maintaining peace. Niger lacks the proper legal mechanisms or sorting criteria for prisons and the DDR program. No set standards exist for distinguishing between the detainees and escapees sent to prison or to the DDR program. Without these legal processes, the Boko Haram ex-insurgents are still legally terrorists. The U.N. excludes Niger and refuses to provide them with international assistance; the U.S. also does not grant them foreign material aid.

There is a need for supporting this method at the community level as well. Many ex-insurgents find it hard to reintegrate into a society that rejects them. People need to understand that in order to thwart the threat of extremism, it is necessary to destroy the ideology and punish those who spread it, not those who were a product of it.

This initiative has been pioneered by the southern town of Diffa. Diffa governor Mahamadou Lawaly Dan Dano has requested that the University of Diffa help build the community for those in the program. With 150 people in the program, including fighters’ wives and 28 young boys, conditions in Diffa became poor. After an escape attempt, it was relocated to a refugee camp in Goudoumaria where it can expand. They now have food, water and even a small infantry.

Despite not having schools until the 1990s, this region is now receiving 12 EU-funded vocational training centers and is set to put this into action. Another DDR program is working with this effort to release some of the 80 minors detained on both sides of the border to transit and orientation centers in Diffa.

Limiting risk through a national acceptance of the larger enemy and incentivizing peace through a collaborative systematic process are how education and reintegration could save Niger from Boko Haram.

Tucker Hallowell

Photo: Flickr

Optimism Improves PerspectiveEvery news report seems to be about a new political scandal, a terrorist attack or some natural disaster. The world feels like it is getting worse, and the uplifting stories on the news appear insignificant compared to the weight of the other issues.

These positive, hopeful stories may seem trivial, even inconsequential compared to the tragedies, death tolls and what seems to be an ever increasing attitude of fear and hatred. However, the good news about bad news is that statistically, there is less of it than ever before, and the good news continues to silently grow. Remembering the good news and maintaining optimism improves perspective when faced with bad situations.

While 2016 has been deemed a “dumpster fire of a year,” the state of the world as a whole is positive. Even with all the political drama and depressing headlines, recent years are also marked by a significant decrease in death from diseases, wars and poverty. In 1999, about 1.7 billion people lived in poverty, which was 28 percent of the population. In 2013, the number was reduced to 767 million, and that number has continued to fall so that less than 10 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty today. In just more than 15 years, the number of people in poverty has declined by almost two-thirds.

There is a great deal of other good news as well. Child mortality is falling rapidly. The number of humans who have died in wars has decreased dramatically since 1945. The so-called Islamic State is weakening and struggling with recruitment. There are significantly fewer bankruptcies. The global economy is growing, leading to the decrease in poverty mentioned above. Literacy rates are going up, and the gender gap is shrinking. The list of good news goes on and on.

There are still many things to be done to improve the world and people’s lives, but the statistics are encouraging. With this good news in mind, why do people tend to focus on the negative headlines? One possible reason is that bad news happens all at once, making it easier to focus on. It is sudden, dramatic and gripping, whereas good news usually happens slowly, working quietly while disasters occupy the public consciousness.

There is also a tendency for people to weigh bad news more heavily than good news. In other words, negative emotions and events feel as though they have more of an effect than positive or neutral emotions and events. Good news seems feeble and meaningless compared to the negative feelings that come with bad news of all sorts. Psychologists call this a negativity bias. Just as optimism improves perspective, this negative, pessimistic attitude can cause a great deal of stress, anxiety and other health issues.

This focus on the negative may have been an evolutionary advantage in the past. As human ancestors fought for survival, bad news in the form of dangers and threats were the focus. Good news was welcome, but it was hardly a priority compared to threatening animals or diseases. These remnants of humanity’s past remain today, and negative events take priority.

Bad news could act as a sort of warning against worse news in the future. It could be an indication that people or societies need to change to avoid further negative events. It is important to draw attention to what is broken in the world so that people can begin to fix it.

Though bad news can be good in the long run, the obsession with bad news is still something to address. Optimism improves perspective, and it has many positive effects. For example, a more optimistic attitude is linked to a longer, more fulfilled life. A positive outlook also decreases stress and helps people cope with difficult situations and bad news.

Optimism has physical, psychological and social benefits, yet an optimistic attitude is easier said than done. Often times a pessimistic attitude can result from existing stress and anxiety, so it is not as simple a matter as suddenly deciding to become an optimist. Studies do support that, while it may not be easy, it is possible for pessimists to become more optimistic. It is likely that children and adults can both become more optimistic and benefit from a more positive attitude.

Bad news seems to be all around us, but it is important to remember the good news as well. Celebrating the victories is just as important as realizing the difficulties that still lay ahead. Everything will not always work out for the better, but optimism improves perspective, especially in depressing and dark situations. Even in difficult times, it is important to remember the good news so that people can continue pushing forward and fight the bad news.

– Rachael Lind

Photo: Flickr