There is no question that we are not getting the “war on terrorism” right. We have come up with a slapdash set of policies, actions, programmes, theories, conferences, seminars, self-styled expertise, real expertise, etc. In other words, a real mess. This is not to say that there have not been some outstanding successes at a number of levels, but the whole thing still needs work.
One measure of how badly we are doing is to take a look at how our actions are perceived by others. No, this is not the only metric and for some aspects of countering terrorism it is generally woefully inadequate (especially when it comes to how our intelligence agencies do as their failures are broadcast for all to see while their successes are all too hidden most of the time). Nevertheless, since stopping terrorism is a broad effort, and one that relies in many ways crucially on what people think about terrorism, it is instructive to examine how what we do is viewed as effective, ineffective, or worse.
This applies in a big way to counter-radicalisation since true experts realised long ago that governments cannot create and deliver these programmes unilaterally but must work hand in glove with communities, since the latter are usually the first to see radicalisation in action. So, if communities aren’t buying what governments are selling, we have a problem.
Case in point a recent op-ed in ipolitics.ca by Monia Mazigh and Azeezah Kanji. Their article is in itself slapdash and full of sloppy quotes, but I will leave the reader to make his/her own judgment. What I found worrisome and disappointing was the proverbial rant that governments see all Muslims as potential terrorists and that counter-radicalisation efforts are “thinly-veiled exercises at targeting Muslims”.
I have to admit I feel exasperated when I read things like this. Can we not get past these issues? Can we not at least agree on the following fundamental truths?
a) a small number of people will embrace radical ideologies
b) an even smaller number of these will plan acts of serious violence
c) a subset of b) will be Muslim
d) doing nothing is not an option.
What is so problematic about this? How can anyone who cares about Canada not see this as a priority? No, it is not our top priority and never will be, but that nevertheless does not mean we an ignore it.
I know that a number of serious missteps have been made (i.e. every time Donald Trump opens his mouth) and that the programmes that have been initiated have not been perfect (the UK’s PREVENT strategy comes in for some particularly scathing criticism). But I also know that there are some who seem to stop at complaining and don’t offer anything helpful in exchange. This is not going to help us solve this problem.
A few things need to happen. Governments have to work much more closely with communities, religious leaders, teachers, doctors. social workers, parents and anyone who is in a position to observe radicalisation at work and who wants to play a role in countering it. Communities need to get off their “woe is us” bandwagon, acknowledge there is a problem that needs fixing and stop denying reality. We all must figure out ways to move this dialogue beyond finger pointing and acrimony.
If we don’t people are going to continue down the path to violent extremism, leaving behind traumatised families and broken communities, and others are going to die.