Last year, according to an article in The Independent, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London,* said that “he believes the threat of terror attacks are “part and parcel of living in a big city” and encouraged Londoners to be vigilant to combat dangers.” He, in fact, was speaking about a year ago, just after another bombing in New York and before the four separate terrorist attacks in his own city in 2017.
Is he right? Are terrorist attacks the “new normal” for big cities?
That notion has some logic. Cities are ideal “soft targets.” No matter how large or effective the police and security services might be, no matter how extensive the CCTV coverage, the very size and complexity and bustle of a big city makes it a nightmare to protect from a determined attacker … even from a not very skilled one. The two attackers in the very recent Parson’s Green tube attack are suspected to be 18 and 21 years old … recent refugees from the Middle East, hardly trained, seasoned terrorist bombers.
Reports (from 2016) say that “The world’s most developed countries have suffered a dramatic increase in deaths as a result of terrorism in the last year, according to the new Global Terrorism Index, despite a drop in the global number of terrorism-related deaths …[and] … The index shows Isis is now officially the deadliest terrorist group in the world, overtaking Boko Haram, after claiming responsibility for 6,141 deaths through attacks in more than 250 different cities in 2015 …[further] … the number of countries in which Isis has carried out attacks more than doubled, from 13 in 2014 to 28 in 2015.” Now, there is some question about whether Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS is really responsible or just inspired or just took credit for lone wolf attacks but there is no question that many of these attacks are accompanied by cries of “Allahu Akbar” ( الله أكبر ) so the Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS narrative likely has some input to them.
Canada, of course, is not immune … and sunny ways will not make us safe, but nor will closing our borders to immigrants from, say, the Middle East. We will be shooting ourselves in the foot if we actually allow the dunderheads who believe that “focusing on equity and inclusion” means getting rid of Shakespeare and Golding’s Lord of the Flies and, presumably, consigning Margaret Laurence, Morley Callaghan, Alice Munro, Hugh MacLennan and William Butler Yeats to the academic dust bin too. Instead, we need to teach young Canadians, old and new alike, that we have a history and tradition of liberal-democracy which is rooted, firmly, in about 1,500 years of Anglo-Saxon, Nordic and British custom (often defined in our literature), that includes respect for the rule of law which is rooted in ancient Rome, and cultural and philosophic roots that stretch back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle but which also include the teachings of Lao Tzu, Moses and Zoroaster. Canadians are not and must never be defined by skin colour ~ you are not special because your eyes are slanted, nor are you, automatically, a victim because your skin is dark. Your religion is, totally and completely, a private matter between you and your conscience. The state has no place in the pulpit and the reverse is equally true. You are free to believe what you will; your rights to give verbal or physical effect to your beliefs might well be limited, but those limits apply to one and all. Your religion confers no rights that are not available to all but nor may it ever be used to restrict your rights. Teaching children that they are special (or victims) because of race or creed is an act of domestic terrorism that is, arguably, more damaging, especially in the long term, than bombing subway trains … it’s also sublimely stupid, but then so is racism as anyone who, like me, has lived and worked around the worked understands.
Obviously we, Canada included, have some severe societal problems when young men (they’re almost all young men) are so alienated and see their society as so hopeless that they will turn to murderous, often nihilistic violence. We can do things to address the societal problems but they are slow, long term “fixes” and we can be 100% sure that for every step we manage to take forward we will take one back and at least one to each side … it’s a bit like a complex Latin American dance routine where you end up back where you started … if you don’t trip and fall on your face. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We can, and should, take better security precautions. We need to understand that economic immigrants, those admitted to Canada legally, using our points system, which I described yesterday, are no more likely than a native born Canadian to be “radicalized” and become terrorists. But it’s not the same for refugees, many of whom will have fled their homes, in fear of life and limb, because of political or sectarian hatred, and we can hardly blame them if they bring their fair share of that hatred here with them, can we? We need to focus domestic security-intelligence and police resources on threats that we know to exist: districts, communities, even institutions with a “record” of producing radicals. But our own liberal instincts ought to keep us from going too far. “Eternal vigilance,” may, indeed, be “the price of liberty” but we know, already, that we can never be vigilant enough … not without intruding far too far into the private lives of Canadians. There is a need for good, solid, domestic security-intelligence; there is an equal, even greater need for Canadians to be left alone.
I think Mayor Khan is right: domestic terrorism is, now, in 2017, part of the “fabric” of urban life in the big cities of the liberal-democratic West. We need to take steps ~ short term security steps and long term social steps ~ to contain and reduce the the impulses that drive domestic terrorists into existence and towards acts of violence. We also need to strengthen our domestic security systems without compromising the fundamental right to privacy ~ the right to be left alone ~ of all Canadians. A good first step might be for leaders ~ political, bureaucratic, police, academic and media leaders ~ to get their heads into the game and make some smart choices.
* NOT the Lord Mayor of the City if London, that’s someone else, entirely