Countering terrorism: legitimate criticism and outright denial

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 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.


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.

4 replies on “Countering terrorism: legitimate criticism and outright denial”

I remember reading that article as well and the first thing that struck me was partisan politics. It’s well known that Monia ran for the NDP in 2004 and perhaps is taking an opportunity to take a shot at the Liberal government.

I fully agree with the woe is me attitude if communities plus I think the “hey, what about that guy” attitude. When one is either dinner pointing elsewhere, or in denial, first it achieves nothing and it dismisses any notion that anything is wrong at home.

Finally, in my opinion (and I’m no expert) but I think given the fluid nature of how this problem is evolving doing nothing is not an option. This office is the notion of doing something different. If it ends up being the same as the Kanishka project, were may be in trouble. Kanishka produced some great ( and some not so great) research, but it ignored a significant stakeholder, communities. This office will need communities to be the focal point of the work they do.

First, hi Kam!!! My kids loved your talk and we definitely need you to come back next year because YOU ARE AN EXPERT and have much wisdom to share.

Second, I see several problems that I believe we are all starting to rectify. Those problems came out a sad reality: terrorism research in this country was largely moribund before Kanishka came along. What Kanishka did, and did successfully, was bring a lot of people into the fold who might otherwise not have gotten involved in this field (I’m one and Phil may or may not disagree whether that was a good thing!).

Five years later, we all recognize that we need to move on from theories of radicalization into a more praxis- or practically-oriented approach. I don’t know anyone in the community who doesn’t think this or support some version of this. That approach needs to be mindful of two things, I would suggest:

1. terrorism is a young people’s game and countering it cannot solely by the work of old fogies. We need a youth voice and not one directed by geezers;

2. evaluation, evaluation and more ****ing evaluation. No programs without responsible, carefully designed, independent evaluations built into them.

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