As we sift through the carnage and horror of last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris we are already seeing the ugly underside that humans all too frequently exhibit. Republican candidate Donald Trump calls for American mosques to be closed. Other presidential hopefuls, and several state governors, have stated that will stop Syrian refugees from being resettled in the US. The anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement in Germany states that terrorism comes through immigration (only partly true: yes many extremists emigrate to the West, but the vast majority are also radicalised in the West so maybe we should ban our own societies).
Here in Canada a mosque is firebombed in Peterborough, Ontario and there is a suspicious break-in at a mosque in Calgary. There are calls on the Trudeau government to delay taking in 25,000 refugees by year’s end.
And the talk of more war. More airstrikes (which experts have clearly said won’t work). Commit ground troops. Annihilate. Destroy. Kill.
With all this, we are missing a few simple but important lessons, irrespective of what we will eventually decide to do with IS (inaction is not an option, but let’s make sure it is smart action). First and foremost, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State benefit from all this attention and have taken advantage of our ill-thought responses. It makes them look important and we stupidly promote them by obsessing on them. Remember 9/11? What was our response? Invade Afghanistan. And did that work? Is Afghanistan any better off today? Was AQ thrown on the ash heap of history?
What about Iraq? How did that occupation go? Where did IS germinate? Oh, right, Iraq – post invasion.
Secondly, terrorists exist to spread terror. And, judging by our reactions they are achieving exactly that. I understand this fear. Apparently random attacks can occur anytime, anywhere, to anyone. No one is safe (strangely, I am unfazed by Paris – not that I do not grieve for the victims. Maybe that’s what a decade and a half working counter terrorism leads to).
What we are forgetting is that with all the attacks and all the hype and all the panic, two things stand out. First, IS does not pose an existential or catastrophic threat to anyone. Yes, they can create momentary mayhem and slaughter indiscriminately – BUT ON A LIMITED SCALE. These guys are not in a position to win anything save for a few towns in Syria and Iraq and a whole bunch of desert. They are NOT the Mongol hordes amassing on the horizon. There are increasing signs that they are foundering and the group will eventually slip into the slime, never to be seen again (the ideology will remain, however, but that is the subject for another time).
In addition, and this is probably more important, we need to remember to live. Life is there for the taking. We cannot squander it worrying about the next IS (or AQ or Al Shabaab or Boko Haram or…) attack. Yes it will come, but our competent security and law enforcement forces will prevent most of them.
We need to embrace our time here. Go out. Love. Play. Interact with your neighbours and friends. Don’t allow the terrorists to take away what is important. Give them the finger or ignore them: it’s up to you. Don’t allow them to dictate what you do and where you go.
Terrorism is a blip on the cosmic timescale. We cannot let it dominate us. If we do, then we hand them victory. Is that what we want?