Don’t Fear Terror, Fight It!

Unable to conduct traditional military operations, extremist groups such as ISIL attack civilian populations with the aim of inducing fear and terror and polarizing communities to further their harmful ideology. As extremist groups choose to use terror as a weapon to engage in asymmetric warfare around the world and to take the fight to their enemy, we as a society, need to decide what we can all do to fight back.

The sudden, unpredictable and very violent nature of terrorist attacks along with the fact that they are carried out in environments that are typically considered to be benign, serves to amplify the feelings of fear resulting from the attack. By attacking people as they go about their everyday lives, at a time when they feel safe, terrorist can cause a level of fear that is disproportionately large in relation to the size of the actual attack. An attack on the transit system in one western city can cause transit users in another western city to fear that they are also a target in the same way that those attending sporting events or enjoying a meal in a pavement cafe might. Using our own inclination to draw lines between distant events and ourselves terrorists can spread fear across thousands of miles and international boundaries.

Despite the aggressive nature of terrorist attacks, and without wanting to downplay the significance of the attack for the casualties, their families, friends and associates, the actual number of casualties is relatively low, particularly when compared to the effect caused. That being said, the effects of it will be felt far and wide, changing perceptions and prompting reactions by individuals, communities and governments that may not even be directly connected to the attacks or their location. Terrorism as a methodology seeks to create the maximum impact in relation to the number of casualties resulting from each attack and an attack resulting in less than 200 casualties can create a reaction in 10’s or even 100’s of millions of people.

The effect that the terrorist seek to create is twofold. The first is fear in the greater population and the second is the polarization of communities. And it works. Each terrorist attack prompts reactions around the world. Since the Paris attacks a soccer match has been cancelled in Germany, flights have been diverted and Brussels has effectively been locked down. On a wider scale many, many people are seeing the world differently and some will never behave the same way again. More alarmingly, there have been unprovoked attacks on innocent Muslims, and even people incorrectly identified as Muslims neither of which have any tangible or theoretical links to the radicalized terrorists that attacked Paris. The Paris attackers have succeeded in causing feelings of fear and polarizing communities across the western world.

So what can we do to fight back? Governments and security forces across the world are actively engaged in operations to tackle extremist groups both in their homelands and in ours. And they are enjoying considerable success, although we don’t hear much about it. For every terrorist attack that happens there are several that would have happened but didn’t as a result of being disrupted during their planning or training stages or through having their logistics interrupted. But that does not necessarily reduce the efficacy of those that do happen or the fear and polarization that they create, and it is here that we can all make a difference.

By resisting the fear that terrorist seek to create we can all play a role in fighting terrorism. While it may not always be easy, if we remember that that likelihood of each of us actually being the victim of a terrorist attack is very low we can resist the fear and continue to live our lives as we choose. In doing so we are denying the terrorist the use of one of their primary weapons, fear. And more important than resisting fear we must resist polarization. It is often said that ‘all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing,’ but i t is even worse when good people say nothing. Through speaking up against polarization we deny the terrorist the use of another weapon.

If we resist fear and we resist polarization we drastically reduce the efficacy of terrorist attacks and we can all do that to fight terror.