Ottawa Attacks Reveal Public’s Confusion About Terrorism
The US media and news-consuming public are known for their short attention spans when it comes to domestic events. A novel major story quickly refocuses attention, often leaving important issues without context or follow-on reporting. This phenomenon, one that I like to call “Issue Attention Deficit Disorder (IADD)”, is exacerbated when the event in question is not domestic. Major issues in Africa, Asia and Europe are simply underreported in the US media, and though they often do not, major events in Canada should merit our attention. Ottawa is only a 9-hour drive (471 miles or 911 kilometers) from Washington DC, the rough equivalent of driving from Detroit, MI, to Marquette, MI (455 miles), or from Nashville, TN to Chicago, IL (471 Miles).
Canadian media coverage of the recent attacks in Ottawa involving the gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau has revealed a glimpse of the Canadian public’s attitudes about terrorism. Two stories that ran recently in the National Post provide some valuable lessons for followers of homeland security trends. First, according to a poll conducted in Canada of over 1500 citizens, only 36% of those that responded would characterize the attack on Parliament as terrorism. Second, in a propaganda magazine ISIS took credit for inspiring both the attack on Parliament and an earlier attack on a Canadian Warrant Officer by another individual said to be a “jihadist”.
Homeland security professionals have been heard to lament the “‘nothing happens until something moves’ effect” of support for homeland security. The idea is that only after a disaster or major event, like a terrorist attack, is attention refocused on the support of homeland security goals and objectives. Based on this report, even serious attacks may not drive the public’s support of security priorities. If an attack on the seat of government does not qualify as terrorism in the eyes of the public, but qualifies as supporting the mission in the eyes of the terrorist group, then something is awry. Even if our neighbors don’t use the phrase “homeland security” as we do, a fundamental issue remains. Getting the word out about what terrorism is, what homeland or domestic security is, and how to support resilience in our communities and institutions should be a focus that we maintain beyond the next headline.