The very sad events in Brussels, like in Paris and elsewhere, has resulted in the inevitable media driven search to determine whether something was missed by law enforcement or intelligence agencies that could have prevented the attack.
As other commentators are now beginning to concede, these sorts of attacks are very difficult to thwart. Terrorism is a conspiracy to commit murder. In this current age, the conspirators rarely receive anything other than inspiration from overseas. In such cases, using techniques that are not difficult to learn, it is easy to conceal a conspiracy until the attack takes place.
Whether we like it or not we now live in a far riskier climate, created in large part by erroneous responses to terrorism threats (led by our following of the US coalition) that now seem a distant memory. And as a result, it is even more important that law enforcement agencies remain nimble and responsive to leads and tip offs, as it is now even less likely that ‘chatter’ or intelligence collection will provide warnings of plots that will cause real terror in our communities.
The ineffectiveness of our agencies’ response is partly due to the fact that they have cast too wide a net in looking at Islamic communities, and by looking at too many (not prepared to let anything fall off the table), do not remain nimble enough to look at the few that emerge as threats. It is also partly because fifteen years of suspicion levelled at these communities – bordering on paranoia and constant surveillance – has driven many who may never have been a threat, to be easily influenced by others and inspired. In this way, they can in fact become a threat.
I am hopeful that changes in the policy response and therefore the rhetoric will result in a breaking down of these issues over time. But until then, how do we deal with the current threat? On the one hand we need to remove the justification for terrorism – by being seen not to be suspicious and paranoid of our Islamic citizens and residents. On the other, we need to be vigilant and report on those that might be seeking to do us harm, and act swiftly to stop them. Sadly the current need for the latter may have the same effect as our previous polices and responses. And of course, more terrorism will feed into the rhetoric of some politicians that Islam really is a threat.