It has long been recognized that there must be one constant limit on free speech: That nobody should be allowed to scream ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theatre.
When we were children most of us were told the instructive story of the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ It was a helpful and satisfying conclusion to the tale that the boy, who falsely screamed that the wolf was coming for his own amusement, was finally devoured when the real wolf turned up and nobody came to help him as a consequence of all his false alarms.
So, what to do when it turns out that the person who screams that a fire has broken out in a movie theatre actually wants several dozen people trampled to death in a rush for the exits? What are we to make of it when we are confronted by a boy who cries ‘Wolf!’ and is actually working in collusion with the beast — and that the alarm call is to test our defences until such time as we refuse to react anymore?
Over the last two years (as was partly mention in the ‘Games Jihadists Play’ column in our January 2005 Newsletter), there have been a number of strange activities inside those Western nations that have been threatened by Al Qaeda. For example, in Australia in early 2004, a Pakistani man arrived in Canberra on a tourist visa but without any luggage. That night, Australian police arrested him pacing around their parliament buildings with a GPS set, tracing out the exact coordinates of the building.
Last year, paramedics in seven US cities described being approached by young ‘Middle Eastern-looking’ men (more racial profiling at work no doubt) and being asked questions about how much weight their ambulances could carry, what were the procedures for crossing a police barricade, and could anyone buy paramedic uniforms somewhere?
In March of 2005, a similar series of incidents occurred in six US hospitals (three of them in New Jersey) where unauthorized visitors attempted to ‘inspect’ or visit children’s and emergency wards. In each case, they left as soon as they were confronted and their prepared cover stories were rejected.
A little earlier, a group of eleven musicians from Syria amused themselves on a domestic American airline flight by suddenly congregating in the front passenger section — almost, but not quite, making it look as if another 9-11 style hijacking was in the offing. The flight was diverted, but the musicians claimed they were merely all stretching in one go, and really didn’t mean to frighten anyone, honest… As US authorities could find no direct connections among them to any terrorist group, no charges were laid, but many of the passengers insist that the act was malicious and that the musicians knew exactly what effect they were having.
In Toronto in early 2004, Kassim Mohamed, an Egyptian Fundamentalist Muslim was noticed videotaping in the subway, around the CN tower and at other landmarks. Although a Canadian resident, he had earlier sent his children back to Egypt, apparently because he disliked the secular qualities of Canada’s education system. When detained at the airport by CSIS officers when he was about to leave the country, he explained that he had taken the footage because his children were ‘homesick’ and missed Toronto. The CSIS officers made a copy of his tape and had a translator go over it while the Egyptian was en route to Cairo, via Athens. At Canada’s urgent request, the Greeks detained him and returned him to Canada for questioning.
After a couple of weeks of interviews by Canadian police and security officials, the Egyptian Fundamentalist was allowed to depart, but our inquiries evidently tipped off the Egyptian police that he was a subject of some scrutiny here, and he was jailed on arrival in Cairo. Evidently, he was abused while in Egyptian custody — although all Jihad sympathizers are instructed to always claim that this is the case, just as every arrest or detention is invariably claimed to be the result of racism or racial profiling. On returning to Canada, this individual launched a million dollar lawsuit against our government, and has threatened to leave Canada altogether… one can only hope.
The members of our police intelligence organizations and security agencies seldom get a chance to defend themselves in public, and the inevitable accusations of racism and abuse by Jihadist suspects and sympathizers go almost entirely unanswered as a matter of policy and habit. Privately — say when grousing in their beer at a quiet conference — the other side of the story can come out amongst themselves… How homesick would a child have to be to find three minutes of footage of subway track engrossing? How enthralled would the little tykes be by the details of the fire exits from the CN tower? And just who was telling the cameraman (in Arabic) to point the camera down as somebody was looking?
It might seem that other children must also intrigued by detailed footage of the front of Bnai Brith’s Toronto headquarters — all that lovely frangible glass! Sure hope nobody ever plans to demolish the place with a truck bomb — thus creating a blizzard of razor sharp glass shards. There have been other filming incidents reported at some Ontario chemical plants and Jewish schools — where the staff tend to be more aware of the threat than are many non-Jewish Canadians. For those who grow complacent, remember Jihadists have bombed several Christian churches and contemplate some large scale attacks against Cathedrals; for all we know some public schools and hospitals may have been reconnoitred too.
Some of the frontline workers in our Border Agency have also interrupted the possible entertainments of other children in far-off countries. One caught a traveller from an Islamic nation coming through a Canadian airport with dismantled Casio digital watches (as endorsed by the time bomb-makers of the Provisional Wing of the IRA as far back as 1983). It was later noticed that another such traveller was filming the interior of the same airport with his brand-new pre-activated Canadian cell phone and transmitting the footage as he did so.
In an environment where every cry of ‘Wolf!’ needs a response, there is the perennial question: Is this a real attempt at reconnaissance by an al Qaeda sympathizer, or is it just an attempt to yank the chains of our guard dogs and see if they will react? Every reaction is expensive, and provokes the inevitable accusations of racism and complaints of abuse from those who get scooped up. Presumably, the day we don’t react will quickly lead to an even more costly day…
In counter terrorism, the nation that is challenged by a terrorist is always presented with a “Heads I win — Tails you lose” dilemma. The terrorist despises the vitality and strength that only an open and free society can generate and so hopes to punish it; to protect that society, some measure of its normal freedoms and conveniences are curtailed. Hopefully, this curtailment is temporary, but then the temporary tax measures and government regulations generated by the First and Second World Wars haven’t gone away yet, have they?
Canada’s new anti-terror laws and regulations are dangerously flawed, but in the current environment they are also necessary. Our Senators and MPs are right to periodically review them to see if they are still needed. Some of the new laws do make enormous sense — it is now, for example, illegal to make your own biotoxins and nerve gases in the privacy of your own home (strange how we missed this before 2002, given our state’s predilection for rigid gun control). Some laws are practical only in the context of an anti-terror campaign, and disturbing otherwise — such as those that address front organizations and fund raisers who work on behalf of a terrorist campaign. Some new capabilities, like the ability to detain some suspected terrorists for years without a trial, are abusive and potentially dangerous to all of us — Habeas Corpus must not be set aside so casually.
Yet perhaps we do need one more law… for those who seem to be crying ‘Wolf!’ on behalf of the wolves. We need a law that prevents somebody from tacitly threatening a whole building or planeload of passengers, and then putting on a silly “Who, me?” look when the cops turn up. Let’s return a joke for a joke, only our punch line is either instant deportation or imprisonment.
There is adequate provision in Bill C-36 for criminal charges for aiding and abetting a terrorist attack — including undertaking reconnaissance activities or by participating in the planning of an offence. Filming public buildings in itself is not an offence — tourists are expected to do so, but those acts that rouse the suspicion of astute citizens or the police because they are unusual perhaps should be considered as part of terrorist planning. Ordinary citizens don’t drive up to obscure office buildings and photograph every inch of the façade; don’t take minutes of footage of fire exits from public buildings; or don’t act in a way that they know will intimidate people. If somebody wants to pretend to be a Jihadist, let’s take their pretence seriously. If they really are working for Jihadists, so much the better.
In short, if you want to act for a wolf, then you should pay the consequences. If you want to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre, then we should exercise our freedom to prevent you from ever doing it again.