This piece appeared in The Hill Times on January 3, 2018 http://www.hilltimes.com/2018/01/03/need-ignore-jihadi-propaganda/129769
In the lead up to New Year’s a lot of people were very nervous that festivities would be interrupted by a terrorist attack. To be fair, the fear was not completely unfounded as at last year’s celebration in Turkey a gunmen opened fire in an Istanbul nightclub killing 39 and wounding more than 70. Some states this past new year’s banned certain parties or, in the case of Singapore, increased security measures by putting up concrete blocks and ‘mobile crash barriers’ to prevent the kind of attack we saw in 2017 in Barcelona, Manhattan and Edmonton.
- IS suggested that an operative ‘infiltrate’ the site where fireworks were being set up and move them so that they would be aimed at New Year’s crowds instead of the sky
- IS also said it would be a good idea to poison drinks at student parties since alcohol is usually left unattended on table
- Or you could hide IEDs in trashcans or ‘the snow’
- One particularly gruesome posting showed Santa Claus with his severed head on his knee
- Jihadis were encouraged to attack non-Muslims when they were ‘intoxicated and celebrating’
- An IS video showed an image of a wrapped package with the slogan “our gifts are ready”
I think you get the point. There is no end to this material online – some of which strikes me as silly to be honest – despite government programmes, including pressure on tech companies like YouTube and Twitter, to take it down. It appears with alarming regularity, not just during holiday periods.
And yet what did we see on New Year’s Eve this year?
How many attacks were carried out in the West targeting those welcoming in 2018? Precisely zero. All this encouragement to wreak havoc was for nought, and this should tell us something.
Except that there is nothing behind the vast majority of these threats. They are empty intimidation with the sole purpose of scaring us, which seems to be exactly what they are doing judging by our reaction to their taunts. We are handing relevance and legitimacy to the terrorist groups we should be ignoring.
A) we can realize that while terrorism is real it is still a rare phenomenon, especially in a country like Canada
B) we can encourage media outlets not to give jihadi threats prominence (I am not suggesting censorship), just as many newspapers and Web sites refuse to publish the names of mass shooters to deny them fame
C) we can allow our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies to monitor real threats and rely on them to tell us when something is real and we should take action.
Not reacting in a panic at every terrorist tweet or YouTube video would be a good start. We may never get back to ‘normal’ but that does not mean we can’t try.
President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. Phil worked as a strategic analyst in the Canadian intelligence community for over 30 years, including 15 at CSIS, with assignments at Public Safety Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police. He specializes in radicalization and homegrown Al Qaeda/Islamic State/Islamist-inspired extremism. firstname.lastname@example.org