Our prime minister is quoted as saying that “jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced” (see article here).
Bigger than the threat of MAD during the Cold War?
Bigger than the Nazi onslaught of the 1930s and 1940s?
More dangerous than climate change or run-of-the-mill violence? (homework assignment: compare the annual rates of death from terrorism and those from murder over the past 20 years. Then throw in heart disease, communicable diseases, and illnesses stemming from a lack of clean water. Then add car accidents. Then bathtub drownings. Let me know what you come up with)
Hyperbole such as this (and his use of “jihadist”) lead to several significant problems.
First, the threat is real and serious and needs to be dealt with (see below) but it is far from the exaggerated threat suggested by the PM. Over-hyping leads to inaccurate analysis, bad policy and over-reaction, not to mention fearmongering and panic.
Secondly, it takes away from the very good work done by CSIS, the RCMP and others in detecting and neutralizing the current threat. Ill-informed criticism notwithstanding, our security and law enforcement agencies are doing an amazing job on this (full disclosure: I worked for CSIS for almost 15 years and worked alongside the RCMP during the same timeframe).
Thirdly, the narrow terminology used (“jihadist violence”) suggests that it is only one kind of terrorism that threatens us. This is far from true. While there is no question that Al Qaeda-inspired extremism (btw a much better term in my view) is the single largest terrorist threat in 2015, it is not the only one. The word “jihadist” also makes collaboration with Canadian Muslim communities – a very important partner in this struggle – more difficult.
Just how is this threat the greatest faced by Canada? How many Canadians have died in this country through terrorist attacks by “jihadis” in the past decade (answer: 2 – not including the terrorists themselves)? How many Canadians have joined likeminded groups in the same time period? A few hundred according to CSIS. How many Canadians have died from lightning strikes?
And this is the “greatest threat”? Don’t get me wrong. Groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab and others do pose significant threats to the areas in which they are most active (Syria-Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia), but they do NOT pose nearly as high a threat to Canada or most of the rest of the world. We need to do something but we are not faced with an existential danger to who we are and what we have built in Canada.
So, let’s allow the necessary agencies identify people who belong to these groups or are inspired to act by them and take the necessary action. And let’s get creative on solutions to radicalization.
But let’s not play Chicken Little.