I went to a football game yesterday (Canadian – not American – football – not soccer). The local professional team, the Ottawa Red Blacks, was playing against the Hamilton Tiger Cats for the honour of going to the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League championship, in Winnipeg next Sunday. It was a glorious late fall day: sunny with the temperature in the low single digits. A perfect day to watch football outside.
And what a game it was. The visitors tied the game with 2 minutes left before the Ottawa quarterback launched a pass that ended in the game-winning touchdown. The crowd went nuts.
And the only violence was the controlled version that takes place on a football field.
As I walked in to the stadium I reflected on how easy it would be to carry out a terrorist attack (NB thinking this way is the curse of a life in counterterrorism). 25,000 people milling about inside and around the grounds. No security to get to the stadium and a cursory pat down before you walk inside. Several vantage points from which to cause mass carnage. It’s not as if we haven’t seen other sports venues targeted lately – the Paris attacks began at the Stade Nationale and a football game was cancelled in Hanover, Germany the following night over a terrorist threat.
But nothing happened in Ottawa yesterday.
I submit to you that worrying about terrorism in our everyday lives is counterproductive to living. Yes, something can happen at any given time or place. The recent history of terror attacks across the world shows that nowhere is safe: malls, restaurants, schools, streets, etc. If you were to eliminate all the places a terror attack could occur you would be left with nowhere to go, nowhere to live. You would not leave your house, curled up in a ball in your basement with duct tape sealing the windows.
I am not suggesting that terrorism does not represent a threat. Half of my career in intelligence was spent immersed in terrorism and helping to prevent extremists from carrying out their plans here in Canada. So of course I believe the threat to be real.
But even with all that I know and all that I saw, the threat of terrorism has not caused me to change one single aspect of my life. I still travel. I still go to movies (although not often enough). I still go to large sports events. I still go out for dinner. And I still support bringing Syrian refugees into Canada. It is the right thing to do.
We are fortunate to have very capable and professional agencies like CSIS and the RCMP on the job. They will catch the bad guys most of the time. Leave the worrying to them. And get on with your life.
As US terrorism scholar Brian Jenkins once said “terrorism is theatre”. If we don’t buy tickets to the performance, the play closes down. Let’s close down the fear of terrorism.