‘Counter’ terrorism policies that breed more terrorism are not smart

When it comes to terrorism we all have a role to play.  Citizens have a responsibility to call authorities when they see suspicious behaviour (‘See it, Say it’ is one such campaign) or notice those on the possible pathway to violent extremism and get in touch with those who have CVE (countering violent extremism) programs (even if these really don’t work or where the results are hard to measure).  Security intelligence and law enforcement agencies are there to investigate and neutralise real threats.  And then there is the state, which is supposed to bring it all together, whether that is through funding or some kind of coordinating function.

Why, then, do states sometimes do stupid shit that only makes things worse?

A few recently surfaced stories have reminded me that on occasion the decisions made by those who should know better are really dumb.  Here they are:

  • Iraq’s Shia-dominant government is lashing out at that country’s Sunni population based on the misguided belief that all Sunnis collaborated with Islamic State (IS).  Demography is complicated in Iraq and this is not the first instance of state-led sectarian unrest, but this new campaign is doing nothing but fuel Islamist extremist ideology.  For a nation that is enjoying  a ‘post-IS’ time (not really but let’s go with that for now), pissing off a large part of the population and feeding deep-seated Sunni extremist hatred of the Shia is probably a bad idea.
  • Several Israeli governments have carried out the destruction of the homes of Palestinian terrorists (as if the homes were guilty of violence).  This policy has apparently extended to a bill which proposes ” the forcible relocation of the families of Palestinian terrorists from their homes.”  If families are complicit in the commission of terrorism crimes, charge them. If not, why would you expel them, thus ensuring resentment and possibly more terrorism down the road?  At least the Israeli Attorney General is pushing back against the bill, which he says “infringes human rights and defames Israel”.  No shit.  For the record, Israeli PM Netanyahu backs the measure.
  • Into this mix I would add all those who advocate the revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists.  Citizenship should be removed – and only where there is a second one to fall back on as no one should be rendered stateless – when it can be demonstrated that it was obtained fraudulently.  Any crimes committed by new citizens have to be dealt with by the state that granted that status.  These crooks or terrorists are our problem, not someone else’s.  Taking away citizenship may feel good but it is pointless.

I understand that governments want to appear tough on terrorism.  I also get that they want to keep their electorates safe since any government that fails to do so won’t remain in power for very long. But counter terrorism actions, whether these be ‘kinetic’ (i.e. military), law enforcement, legal or otherwise, have to be carefully calculated so that they don’t make matters worse. Every time a leader, politician, or senior bureaucrat comes up with “Hey!  Why don’t we do this?” there should be an immediate sanity check for the possible repercussions, good, bad or neutral. Anything that smacks of punishment solely for punishment’s sake or overly general punitive measures should be deep-sixed – stat!

We really need to get a lot smarter ASAP in our response to terrorism.  The ill-named ‘war’ is not going well and it ain’t gonna go any better until we stop calling it a ‘war’ and stop implementing counterproductive policies.  Reversing the ones mentioned above would constitute a good start.

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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