A call for civility in counter terrorism debates – achieved! Kinda…

A scant 48 hours ago I posted a blog in which I shared my dismay at the tone of some of the exchanges online and reactions to my posts on various aspects of terrorism. I admitted that the ad hominem attacks and nastiness had started to get to me and made me seriously ask myself why I wanted to continue in this space.

For the record, my comments that evening were sincere and not an attempt to gain sympathy. In many ways the points I raised – my getting further and further away from real counter terrorism work, a desire to pursue other interests – are still valid and ones that I will continue to ponder as I figure out what I want to do moving forward. There will come a day when I no longer put my views out there. That day is still not determined.

What I was uncertain about was the response I would get. I did steel myself for more rancour – suck it up sweetheart!, go away, no one cares what you think anyway!, etc. – but to my pleasant surprise none of that transpired. Instead, what I got a lot of were comments such as:

  • I love reading your stuff, please do not stop
  • you provide a valuable service, please continue
  • even if you think you are getting stale nothing substitutes for your years of experience
  • Illegitimi non carborundum (pseudo Latin for “Don’t let the bastards get you down!”)

I was deeply touched by the messages I received and thanked every one personally. That people would take the time to write encouraging notes is really something. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!

So, what has happened in the meantime? I am happy to report that a degree of civility reigned today on Twitter. I was engaged with a large group on the testy subject of what to do with Islamic State (IS) and other terrorists who now want to come home. The battle lines were drawn and the two sides defended their positions although there were a few in no-man’s land it seemed to me (i.e. they saw value in both sides). For the record, my position, stated in many, many posts and interviews, is the following:

  • states do not have a legal obligation to repatriate their citizens who turned their backs on their country, joined a terrorist group, and committed crimes in a foreign land, and who now find themselves in custody
  • the ‘moral’ obligation to do so is open for debate, although I do not think that applies either
  • nations should try to get innocent kids out and provide for them, by putting them in foster care if necessary
  • if jihadis make it home of their own accord we, at least in Canada, have an obligation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to take them in
  • citizenship revocation is wrong. Not only can we not render someone stateless but citizenship should be removed only if it can be proven it was originally obtained fraudulently. Post citizenship acts in the case of naturalised citizens are not grounds for revocation.
  • the countries where these crimes were committed must have the first right to try them for those crimes, irrespective of their citizenship.

Not surprisingly, some of these positions are not supported by others. What pleased me, however, was the nature of the debate. It was, on the whole, civil and respectful. Miracles do happen!

I am not staking any responsibility for this result but I am thrilled it did occur. This shows that we can hold different views, defend them passionately, and debate with each other, but do so without resorting to insults and personal attacks.

Well done people! Now if we could only make the rest of the Internet act that way!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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