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Terrorism: reporting v publicity

Publication: 
Nigel Morris-Co...
chiefofficersnet

Not long ago, it's hours not even a day, a man drove, at high-speed a rented van along pavements and up streets in the face of incoming traffic in Toronto, Canada.The man has been arrested and is in custody. He has been named as Alek Minassian, aged 26. Whatever Minassian's motive, one thing is clear: publicity was inevitable because the choice of weapon, the fact that it's in Canada and the fact that it took place only a few kilometres from a G7 ministers meeting convened to discuss developments in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Media has provided blanket coverage around the world. It's time to think about that.

Understanding terrorism is not difficult. Criminals intend to achieve an objective and governments intend to stop them.The criminals' objective is, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant. Their motives, on the other hand, inform the methods they use in pursuit of their objective. The irony is that the primary tool available to both sides is the same. In the hands of criminals we call it terrorism; in the hands of governments, we call it "the battle for the hearts and minds." But, that's just wordplay: each side want people to support their cause.

If we consider insurrection - that is the overthrowing of an incumbent government by non-democratic means - to be the simplest form of terrorism, then terrorism is as old as society itself. It's not only a human tendency: if we look at behaviour in the animal kingdom, across species and across the world we see battles to unseat the existing leader of a pack, pride, herd and so on. The tools used to prepare for the eventual conflict are, in principle, no different to the tools used by terrorists - intimidation, infiltration, siege, guerilla attacks, kidnapping (especially of females and the young).

Insurrectionists and governments both use violence, both use siege and both use the removal of persons and keeping them prisoner. Often, both use them as forced labour. Governments say they have those rights, given to them in laws; insurrectionists say they have those rights, given to them by their right to challenge governments.

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