If you have nothing helpful to say about terrorism do us a favour and be quiet

I am pretty sure that each and every one of us were taught as kids the following phrase/advice by our parents/teachers/elders: “If you can’t find anything nice to say best say nothing at all”. This is a good adage in that it should make us think twice before we open our pie holes, especially if we are angry and our first response to that anger is to lash out. Ranting and raving is seldom a pretty sight after all.

Don’t get me wrong. There are obviously times when something is going badly off the rails and someone has to speak up critically to draw attention to it. Saying nothing in the face of wrongdoing is also a problem. I suppose the best maxim is to exercise our dismay or disgust when required but to do so judiciously.

We also live – well, most of us live – in societies where we are allowed to express our opinions freely and this is a relatively recent development in humanity, and one that we should both cherish and protect. Some countries take this freedom to what I see as unnecessary extents (the US 1st amendment strikes me as far too accepting of truly abhorrent speech) but overall I think we get it right. The alternative – i.e. a lack of free speech – is far worse than an overzealous protection of hateful diatribe.

The same goes for terrorism. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion and everyone should have the right to express that opinion, no matter how ill-informed it is. There are times, nevertheless, when dumb things are said or posted online that one would normally dismiss as ignorance but which, in an era of ‘fake news’ and growing conspiracy theorists have the very real possibility of doing damage. A good example was the fictitious DC pizzeria/Clinton child sex ring scandal that led one idiot to carry a weapon to the restaurant to rescue the non-existent suffering children.

Here is a more recent example. The vice chairperson of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in southern Ontario decided to issue a FaceBook post on New Year’s Eve in which he repeated a whopper of a fib that sharia law was taking over the US. James Kaspersetz shared a contribution by a US conspiracy theorist that went as follows:
“77 years after Pearl Harbor, it still hurts but 17 years after 9/11 we are moving them here and adapting their laws in places?”

For his part the Mayor of Hamilton wrote that the post “did not reflect the city’s views” (I hope not!) while the NPCA official responded to queries on what possessed him to post this garbage with a bland statement that he was looking forward to discussing “environmental and indigenous issues in the Niagara Region” he says he is dealing with.

Now I suppose that Mr. Kaspersetz is entitled to do whatever he wants in his spare time as we live in a free country. But is it proper for a public official to put this lie online? I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that sharing terrorist conspiracy theories is not part of the NPCA job description. Some morons will see a statement by someone in authority and hence give it greater credence. Or am I stretching things too much here?

In a similar vein, leaders in northeastern Kenya have warned school officials that further delays in releasing certificates of education will push some youth into the arms of the terrorist group Al Shabaab. Yes, AS does recruit in that part of Kenya and yes sometimes economic failings can be a factor in the decision of some to join terrorist groups, but is it just me or are these officials using scaremongering to pressure schools to just do their damn jobs? Do they really need to wave the terrorist spectre to get things done? Will a particularly smart student threaten “Give me an A or I join AS! I’m serious! Just watch me!”?

Many people already have a disproportionate fear of terrorism and fear makes us do dumb things. False information can also lead to violent scenarios as we saw in the ‘pizzagate’ incident cited above. Do we really need more of this crap?

I’ll end this blog with advice I am fairly certain I have already offered. When you read anything on terrorism, ask yourself the following questions:

  • who is writing?
  • what experience/authority do they have to make the claims they do?
  • what else have they written – is there a pattern or agenda here?
  • is this really someone whose advice you want to use?

Of course these hints apply to many spheres of life. When it comes to terrorism we really need to be smarter consumer of information. Terrorists are already violent enough and we should not needlessly respond with violence against shadows.

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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