President Obama tried to calm fears about the so-called Islamic State in his final State of the Union address.

“They pose an enormous danger to civilians,” he said. “They have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”

In the official Republican Party response, South Carolina’s governor Nikki Haley, took a different tack.

“We are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11,” Haley said. “And this president appears unwilling or unable to deal with it.”

“I think we have to understand what constitutes an existential threat,” says Professor Mia Bloom, a terrorism expert at Georgia State University. The threat from the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the possibility of all-out nuclear was a real existential threat, says Bloom, as were the two world wars. But she adds, “this is definitely not World War III.”  

“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being killed by a terrorist,” says Bloom. “The problem is that it’s become politicized, by both parties.” She also criticises the media for overplaying the threat.

“Governor Haley was correct on one thing,” says Bloom. “When she said — quote — during these anxious times, it’s tempting to follow the siren’s call of the angriest voices and we must resist that temptation — unquote. I think this is an indication that there are elements within the GOP that understand that the vast majority of American Muslims left countries to come to America for a reason, and are extremely loyal Americans.”

“The problem that we have to understand is that by using this kind of xenophobic rhetoric that we actually might be radicalizing the next generation. ... We cannot do ISIS’s work for them by handing them on a platter an element of the American people who we have alienated and segregated.”

From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International