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The Coronavirus And Global Terrorism: Two Surprisingly Similar Phenomena

On Sept 11, annual memorial ceremonies for the victims of 9/11 and terrorism were held worldwide. With countries around the world starting to experience second waves of COVID-19 cases, most of the ceremonies were held under unique circumstances, and some of them, with unique messages. 

  • One of virtual ceremonies was held online by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), an NGO and academic institute which facilitates international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism.

In Short: While there were all the usual aspects of the 9/11 memorial- the moment of silence, the national anthem and speeches from U.S. officials- Professor Boaz Ganor, the founder and executive director of the ICT, shared a timely message about the common denominators he has observed between the phenomena of global terrorism and the coronavirus.

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So many people have been affected by the coronavirus in one way or another. Ganor’s message on what unites both victims of the coronavirus and victims of terrorism, makes terrorism, and other situations which lead to hardship and instability, more understandable and relatable.

Ganor argued that although the current pandemic is distinctive in many ways, it is not as unique as we think. 

  • Rather, he suggests there are six similarities between the global phenomenon of terrorism and the global phenomenon of the coronavirus.

1. They are both legal Phenomena

  • Between 2007 and 2017, an average of 21,000 deaths from terrorism were recorded annually by the researchers at Our World in Data.
  • In the past 6 months, close to 950,000 people have died from Covid-19.

While the death toll is not even close to equivalent, Ganor explained it’s not just about the fatality of the threat, but that both phenomena have vast reach across the world. 

“The coronavirus does not recognize any borders,” said Ganor. 

Just as coronavirus is a cross-border phenomena, so too is terrorism. While we can easily link the initial cross-border spread of Covid-19 with international travel, for terrorism today, the spread can be partly attributed to the use of both the mainstream media and the dark web.

  • Through these online resources, global terrorists have the ability, more than ever before, to infiltrate and access people and their communities in every country around the world.

2. Both phenomena spread anxiety

“We understand that both phenomena are random phenomena which actually multiply the fear and anxiety cause it might happen to anybody, anytime, everywhere,” explained Ganor. 

3. Both cause a deep economic impact

Not only are people refraining from spending money due to uncertain times, which results in a number of industries such as tourism and air travel plummeting, but state spending increases significantly, explained Ganor. States now need to invest in financial plans, medical needs and security. 

“We’re talking about billions and billions and billions of dollars which are being spent in order to contain with those two challenges and two phenomena,” said Ganor.  

Unfortunately, when states are unable to meet the needs of their citizens and community, an economic downturn can cause the collapse of government, or healthcare services in extreme cases.

4. Both are challenging to contain while upholding liberal democratic values

It’s a constant struggle; how to preserve people’s rights but also keep them safe.

Ganor refers to this problem as the ‘democratic dilemma’. This dilemma is an effort to find the right balance between effective counter-terrorism activity (or effective Covid-19 prevention and containment measures) and liberal democratic values. 

“You want to preserve the right of the people at large to live, that’s why you need to find effective tools to contain terrorism, the same with coronavirus,” said Ganor. “We need to find tools that sometimes, unfortunately, impose restrictions to the liberal democratic values. Think about privacy, think about the right to movement or gathering.”

Inhibiting these rights, while also heavily amping up surveillance, data sharing and the restriction of privacy, inflicts significant harm on liberal democratic values, said Ganor.

5. Both require cooperation

“We have this saying in counter-terrorism,” said Ganor. “It takes a network to beat a network”.  

He explained that whether it’s fighting terrorism or the virus, one state, one agency, one community, one ministry cannot contend with the phenomena alone. 

In both cases, inter-agency cooperation is also essential; health, defense and education ministries need to constantly cooperate with municipalities to protect the community they serve.

Ganor said this is especially important considering that while Covid-19 does not explicitly choose its victims, as is the case with terrorism, some people are more vulnerable than others depending on a variety of social, economic, racial and geographical factors. 

  • According to the recent Statistics Canada report entitled Experiences of discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrants and groups designated as visible minorities (such as Black Canadians and Filipinos) formed a larger proportion of front-line workers, including nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates. This suggests that some groups of Canadians are at greater risk of exposure to the virus compared to others.
  • Similarly, according to Our World in Data, terrorism is geographically focused. They reported that of the 26,445 global deaths from terrorism in 2017, 95 per cent of those deaths occurred in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia. Additionally, less than 2 per cent of deaths occurred in Europe, the Americas and Oceania combined.

6. Both phenomena require early prevention and the adoption of a learning curve

Intelligence information and identifying early warning signs in communities is crucial in order to successfully put into place successful prevention measures said Ganor. 

Since both phenomena are changing and adapting daily, governments need to communicate with the public to build trust in uncertain times. 

Bottom Line: While Ganor explained there are many things which separate the coronavirus from global terrorism, the similarities are vast.

Considering these similarities allows people who have been affected by the coronavirus, but untouched by terrorism and violence, to better understand just how troubling, problematic and life-altering terrorism, or the fear of terrorism, can be for people around the world.

Perhaps some of the conditions experienced during the time of the pandemic such as instability and fear have actually united people globally with others who have been experiencing these same types of conditions for a long time.

“We are all facing the same challenge, the same threat of Covid-19 and global terrorism, this is the time to unify our effort,” explained Ganor in his closing statements.