How NOT to defeat terrorism

It is natural in the wake of a catastrophic attack for people to be upset and angry and even vengeful.  Emotions are raw and there are immediate calls to “do something”.  Problems that have been around for a long time suddenly get more attention, but rather than a sober, measured response, we leap towards knee-jerk solutions that are certainly not helpful and are actually counterproductive.

After Paris, a number of statements were made in the heat of the moment.  Some people were calling for drastic infringements on civil liberties and complete reversals of existing policies.  I cannot discuss all of these in a short blog, but here are some highlights.

  • US Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a registry of Muslims in the US.  I will not dignify his remark with a rebuttal
  • several people, including some in Canada, have called for a halt to the acceptance of Syrian refugees.  Despite the assurance of the heads of CSIS and the RCMP that the necessary security checks can be done, there are still those that raise the spectre of IS entering the West via the refugee stream.  Fortunately, most leaders reject the hateful rhetoric and are moving forward with plans, as they should
  • the French government is allegedly considering testing imams on their knowledge of Islam and French values (see story here) and forcing them to deliver khutbas in French (see article here).  Leaving aside the challenge of implementing these measures in a country where there is a strict separation between church and state, how would either move prevent radicalisation and terrorism?

I am sure there are many more inanities that have been suggested in the recent past, none of which solve anything.

We need to understand what the terrorists are trying to achieve.  First and foremost, they reject the Western way of doing things (democracy, secular liberalism, gender equality, freedom – of speech, worship, association, etc.) and want to destroy it.  Their chances of achieving this are zero. Secondly, they see themselves as the paragon of Islam and are trying to convince the vast, vast majority of this.  They maintain that the West does not like Islam and does not want Muslims in their midst.  Therefore, Muslims should quit the West and move to the Caliphate.  And here, they have some meager hope of success, if we choose badly.

For if we implement these measures, we do the terrorists’ job for them.  We tell Muslims that we mistrust them and do not want them living in our societies.  That’s what IS is telling them.  Should we be supporting IS in its mission?

As I have said many, many times, our struggle with the scourge of terrorism requires a multi-focused, nuanced response ranging from building the inclusive, welcoming societies we want to monitoring, disrupting and – yes in some cases eliminating – terrorists bent on killing us.  The approach has to include all these: none in isolation is a complete solution.

We need to get past this period of instinctive reaction and get to one of well-considered action.  Our futures depend on it.

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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