Kowtowing to terrorists and fear

There sure seems to be a lot of hand wringing over travel these days.  We have had two bans imposed by the US, one ridiculous (the generic ban on anyone coming from 6 Muslim countries) and one more realistic, albeit still open to question (the ban on electronic devices for passengers boarding aircraft in 10 countries, some of which are identical to the other list).  We have also heard of Canadians who have opted not to travel to the US in light of the stupid first ban mentioned above.  Everyone asked about why they have nixed travel south of the 49th parallel swear it has nothing to do with the ill-considered Trump Administration move to prevent certain nationals from entering the US, although that is hard to believe.  Those who have cancelled travel cite anxiety over having some members of their retinue (Girl Guides, school trips) turned back at the border in light of uncertainty over who is in and who is out.  Truth be told, there is some merit to that argument.  If a colleague and I showed up at a crossing and I got in (because I am a white Canadian) and my buddy was denied entry because he happened to have been born in Iran (but is now as Canadian as I am), I wouldn’t be too happy at that.

Then there are a number of cases of people who have cancelled plans to travel to the UK in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack near Parliament.  I have no respect for those who make these decisions for several reasons:

  • they are fear-based and irrational
  • they have nothing to do with the real level of threat
  • they give a cheap victory to terrorists

I can understand that in the immediate aftermath of an incident like the one last week people are afraid.  That, after all, is what terrorists seek to implant in us: fear.  Terrorism is a scary thing, especially when it dominates the news cycle as it tends to (this is NOT a dig at the media).  I am sure that there is a psychological thing going on here that when we see reports of terrorist acts bombarding us incessantly we tend to magnify the level and seriousness of the threat.  In other words, if we keep seeing terrorist attacks played out on TV and online it must be big.  Undoubtedly a fight or flight mechanism kicks in and who the hell wants to travel to Europe to fight terrorists?

However, we have to step back and think about what really happened.  The attack on Westminster Bridge was the first serious attack in the UK since 2005 (I am not ignoring the death of Drummer Lee Rigby – it’s just that his death was singular in nature).  One attack every decade or so. And this makes the UK an undesirable destination? Come on people, get some perspective on this!

More importantly, every person whose fear overcomes their desire to take a vacation in a country where terrorism is a possibility (not an everyday occurrence) is unwittingly waving the white flag to terrorists whose overarching goal is to make us so paralysed by fright that we stop doing banal things, put pressure on authorities to ‘make the killing stop’ and agree unilaterally to abandon the very principles that made us who we are (like open immigration and multiculturalism).

Look, there are some obvious parts of the world that are truly unsafe: Somalia, parts of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and  I am sure there are a few others.  I  myself would think twice about planning a holiday – and maybe even a business trip – to any of those venues and I don’t think anyone would find me at fault.  But the UK?  France?  Germany?  Really?

At the end of the day getting out of bed in the morning represents a risk (maybe even staying under the covers does too).  And yet even as we expose ourselves on a daily basis to umpteen threats – car accidents, lightning strikes, slipping on the sidewalk – we go about our routines.  Why can’t we see travel in the same light?

So please take your holidays, travel for business and see the world which is, after all, a wonderful and largely safe planet worth taking in.  It sure  beats the dystopian hellhole the terrorists want to create and impose on us.  Don’t give them that satisfaction.

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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