In an era, the so-called post 9-11 age, where we are obsessed with terrorism we have a very awkward question to answer, if you happen to be a Canadian (or an American I think): where are all the terrorist attacks? If terrorism is all that prevalent, as we have been led to believe, and it certainly seems to he happening in a lot of places if the measure of this is what we see in the news on a daily basis emanating from a wide number of countries (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria…the list is depressingly long), it is somewhat unexpected to see that there are actually very few successful attacks in our cities and towns. To give you just one stat, we have witnessed fewer than one attack per year in Canada since that fateful day in September 2001 (and I am using the broadest definition of terrorism possible here). Let me underscore that. Less than one per year.
It is not as if there are not a lot of juicy targets and wonderful opportunities out there (“wonderful” if you are a wannabe terrorist that is). I thought of this as I pondered the parade/gathering in Toronto yesterday to celebrate the Toronto Raptors NBA championship. Hogtown’s streets were paralysed with happy crowds craning to see their basketball heroes, a situation that one would think would be like candy to a baby for a terrorist.
And yet nothing of a terrorist nature occurred. Yes, there were some gunshots that wounded four people but none of these was – sigh! – out of the ordinary for TO. Another terrorist opportunity missed.
I was also forwarded a story by a colleague that Toronto police were responding to multiple bomb threats at area post-secondary institutions. Again, nothing to suggest a terrorism nexus.
What the hell is wrong with all these terrorists? These events are ‘slam dunks’ (sorry for the b-ball analogy) for acts of violent extremism: big crowds, hard to control, hard for authorities to monitor, etc. And yet nada. If I were a terrorist – and I am most assuredly not! – I’d pick these venues for low-scale attacks, just groups like Islamic State have been advocating for years.
So what gives?
To this question I have two possible answers, neither of which is mutually exclusive:
a) terrorists are really, really, really stupid. Based on my time at CSIS this is actually pretty accurate. They are incapable of taking advantage of some obviously low-hanging fruit.
b) there are actually fewer terrorists than many may think. This flies in the face of what we have been led to believe.
I think both are true. Thankfully, terrorists are neither rocket scientists nor among us in massive numbers. If they were one or the other or both we would see more attacks. Which we don’t. Ergo the problem is smaller than assumed.
It is important to bear this in mind. None of this suggests we can ignore a very real terrorist threat, even if it is tiny. We still need to have our protectors investigate those who intend to do harm for political, religious or ideological reasons. But we must realise that those harm intenders are not as numerous as feared.
We should hope and pray that this situation (blessing?) continues. We might want to hope and pray that terrorists do not get any more intelligent. Or more ambitious. Or more imaginative. Fingers crossed.