Terrorism is a disease that has plagued the society for a long time. The main objective of most terrorist organizations and individuals is establishing an atmosphere of panic and fear among the members of the public. As a result, the public turns their fear to the government pressuring them to make policy changes with the aim of avoiding future terrorist attacks, an outcome not easily attained by terrorists individually. Resilience plays a huge role in preventing terrorists from attaining the power of controlling the public and the government. Adopting ways of strengthening the public’s resilience towards terrorist acts has been identified as crucial for preventing local and international terrorism. A lack of resilience often causes the public to react immaturely to terrorism, such as blaming members of a particular minority group or overreacting. Hence, governments have formulated various policies directed at educating the public on terrorism as well as reinforcing the citizens’ physical and psychological resilience.
A resilient public has the capability of resisting the psychological effects among other possible disabling impacts of terrorist attacks on the society, depriving the terrorists of a significant weapon of creating fear. Strengthening the resilience of the public towards terrorism has been established as significant to every counterterrorism activity of a state. Creating a resilient public enhances the chance of retaliating against the efforts of terrorist activities of intimidation and undermining a state’s social cohesion.
Terrorist Attacks and Public Reaction
Terrorism is a global threat that affects the public in numerous ways. Almost every nation across the globe has experienced some form of terrorist attack emanating from either local or international insurgent groups. Countries like Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen have constantly made headlines based on some form of terror occurrence. Even though the attacks have a uniform result of deaths and injuries, how the public reacts to these acts has been different based on a country (Singh, 2017). For instance, public reactions to attacks in nations like Israel have been different from those in the United States. How the public reacts to these attacks is often determined by media coverage. For instance, a story making the front page of the newspaper is often deemed as serious or eliciting fear among the public, compared to an attack highlighted at the middle or back of the newspaper.
However, reactions might be different for nations where civilians show some sort of solidarity towards an international attack, as observed in the Paris attacks where countries donned colors of the affected nation. After a terrorist attack, the public often slips into stress for days or weeks, which is a normal response to an irregular state. The stressful reactions are exhibited in emotions, such as sorrow, anxiety, anger, shame, hopelessness, and resentment. However, other reactions often appear to promote the terrorist’s agenda. Some of these reactions include.
Discrimination Against Immigrants
One of the most evident reactions following a terrorist attacks is blaming immigrants that share similar religious beliefs or originate from the same nation as the terrorist organization. For a long time, any terrorist activity has seen the public turn against members of the Muslim or Arab community, due to their possible affiliations with certain beliefs or origin (Jones, Woolven, Durodié, & Wessely, 2006). The public often starts singling out the immigrants based on their possible link to the terror groups, an occurrence that usually slows their assimilation to the society, provoking frustration in the process. In some instances, the discrimination increases the grievances and victimhood of the immigrant or minorities that could result in some of them turning into terrorists, a result often warranted by the terrorist organizations. Likewise, it has been shown to affect security efforts when these immigrants or minorities fail to assist authorities in identifying culprits.
Panic and Fear
Fear is a common public response to terrorist activities. In most cases, fear could act as a survival mechanism whereby fear of an impending terror attack encourages the public to adopt the required precautions. However, as described by Bakker (2014), fear of terrorism results in numerous unnecessary and unwanted effects when it is not balanced with the actual threat. The study further establishes that fear of terrorism results in a change towards dogmatic thinking often involving the ‘us versus them’ mentality, discrimination, stereotyping, and the shortage of nuance that results in a cruel system that promotes responses which may be more negative than positive. For instance, the study established that the public had a more negative perception of Muslims and their religion two years after the September attacks in 2001. There is a broad consensus that panic among the public members is one of the most disruptive effects of terrorism, particularly attacks involving chemical, biological or radiological (CBR) weapons. Terrorists have for a long time fed on the public’s panic to accomplish their objectives. However, there are basic distinctions to be shown between panic and fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. Durrodie and Wessely (2002) identify two issues when dealing with panic. One of the issues is ways in which states can prepare the public prior to attacks without minimizing resilience and the second issue is approaches to consider to prevent panic after an attack.
Most literature on psychology identifies that while general reassurance presents short-term beneficial effects, offering instant decrease in anxiety, the overall long term effects, if ignored, will result in reoccurring anxiety at greater degrees. For this reason, Durrodie and Wessely (2002) recognize repeated reassurance as increasing sensitivity and anxiety, and obstructing instead of promoting adjustment. Their results propose the need of methods that clarify the values of individuals instead of focusing on their vulnerabilities. Panic is often triggered by vagueness and generality that sensitizes individuals. Durrodie and Wessely (2002) present an example of US reactions to the anthrax and Washington, D.C. sniper incidents to depict the consequences of uncertain, generalized, and contradictory messages. The study relates the increase of public anxiety to the inflated risk assessments, associated with vague clarifications regarding the necessity for a calm public, while the security forces Congress to close and relocated the Vice-President to a secure location. Therefore, assuring the public safety without first presenting proof, has been linked to increased panic reactions. Another instance is observed in the IRA’s semi-coded references and the absence of implications on civil society formulated by UK leaders during similar fears of an anthrax epidemic. This clarifies the point, probably through appealing to resilience and national stereotypes.
Releasing confusing, inaccurate, or inconsistent information often results in increased demoralization levels, in addition to lack of trust for the authorities. These communication failures could result in a form of misinterpretation, doubt, and rejection of future warnings that eventually affect the resiliency of the public. Durrodie and Wessely (2002) posit that government actions and warnings in addition to the ones of non-governmental organizations and businesses, send significant signals to the public. Without adequate communication to the public, panic is enhanced and the public becomes victims of fear created by terrorists. Studies into various technological and natural disasters, in addition to the terrorist acts like the World Trade Center’s bombing in 1993 and subsequent attacks in 2001 propose that generally adaptive and effective coping mechanisms and collective actions are often present. For instance, the Scud-missile attacks experienced in Israel’s Gulf War show that anxiety and intensified utilization of health-care services was present following the initial attacks, but after some days, the actions had reduced since the public had adjusted to the new realities. Panic was evident during the first utilization of chemical agents in World War 1, but succeeding attacks recorded different responses from the public. Similar occurrences could be observed with the implications of area bombing during World War 2. However, Durrodie and Wessely (2002) highlight exceptions to the perceived response of the public, in particular the fear induced by radiation can result in an increased demand for health-care services. Furthermore, the study identifies an increase in panic from the public in confined spaces that lack spacious exits. Accordingly, the lack of any explicit panic while individuals were being evacuated in the World Trade Center may have been due to the fact that individuals concerned mainly identified one another earlier.
Lately, security experts across the globe have been promoting the concept of resilience as being among the most noticeable concepts presented in the discussion on the effects of terrorism on the public. Resilience specifies the capability of persons, materials or biotopes to repel abrupt shifts or stress, in addition to the capability of recovering and returning to a normal situation (Bakker, 2014). From the counter-terrorism policymaking’s perspective, resilience can be a significant approach to curbing the fear or negative effects of terrorism by the public. According to Bakker (2014), a resilient public has the ability of coping with and recovering from terrorist attacks. The study further postulates that a terrorist organization will experience difficulties attacking a resilient public based on the failed attempt to establish an impact and attain their objectives. Essentially, the notion behind a resilient pubic could be considered as the opposite of the vulnerability paradigm. Nations like Israel have for a long time used resiliency as an approach to counter-terrorism efforts. According to a report by Singh (2017), over 30% of terrorist actions have been frustrated by the Israeli citizens, from bystanders of every age group and social background, to Tel Aviv intellects and ultra-Orthodox individuals.
A popular case was observed where a citizen decided to go to the extreme of using his phylactery as a defense against a stabber. In a different situation, an artist threw his guitar striking a potential terrorist and immobilizing him. There have been numerous instances of bystanders throwing chairs towards terrorists or utilizing pepper spray while others use firearms. In all instances, Israeli citizens seem to be more resilient, while very few run away in fear or panic. In various instances, resilience has been effective when governments have combined the positive support of public into the emergency plans, instead of excluding them based on their presumed lack of knowledge and expertise on matters concerning disaster response. The public has been shown to be more resilient when they know how to react in the event of a terror attack (Lucini, 2017). For instance, if a terror attack involves a chemical, biological or radiological weapon, vast statistics of non-critical and probably even tainted casualties can optimally be secured within a similar setting by capable individuals. Approaching the issue by including the public provides purpose to the majority of civil-society agencies that individuals might require assistance from during these occurrences. In addition, agencies should also identify the myriad inter-linked networks that individuals belong to and depend for data and assistance during an attack (Lucini, 2017). In particular, the training of these groups requires the identification and preparation of approaches for precise and operational distribution of required data through the widespread media.
Strengthening Public Resilience
Strengthening public resilience towards terrorist activities is the main aspect of counter-terrorism strategies of numerous states. The main objective of states is establishing an environment where individuals and communities have the ability of withstanding violent extremist beliefs, and where the public is resilient in the event of a terrorist attack.
Likewise, the counter-terrorism strategies of states is directed by the ideologies of respect for the rule of law and human rights, treating terrorist activities as crimes, adaptability and proportionality (Singh, 2017). Governments across the globe have been observed establishing partnerships as part of their counter-terrorism strategies. These partnerships consist of collaboration with a state’s international partners, provincial and municipal security intelligence, federal law enforcement agencies, civil society, and every other form of government (Singh, 2017). Specifically, the association between law enforcement communities and security intelligence has been reinforced with time. The unified cooperation is still crucial to tackling threats made by terrorists. For most states, resilience policies have involved governments notifying the public intensively, regarding the nature of modern terrorist threats and ways of spotting possible conspiracies (Singh, 2017). In addition, these policies have involved governments establishing community preparedness plans exhibited in various offices on ways of responding to attacks. They also include the development of mobile-phone applications or presenting phone numbers for use by the public to alert authorities in case of a terrorist attack. Resilience policies in some states have entailed a collaboration with the media to prevent the publication of terrorist acts or plots to the public.
According to Mcgee (2009), citizens of nations like Israel developed a social and psychological resilience due to the reluctance of the media to cover terrorist attacks intensely. The study speculates that the constant reporting of terrorist activities in the front pages of newspapers or on television has a damaging effect to the public psychologically. The claim was experienced in the American context setting where a report conducted following the events of 9/11 established that the individuals that constantly watched for hours on a daily basis during the attacks were more inclined to psychological and physical issues over time, despite the absence of trauma. Basically, individuals tend to move on quickly when there are no constant headings on terrorist attacks. During a terrorist attack, the actions of the emergency managers and support workers have been shown to establish the duration and extent of context-sensitive issues among the public. Their main responsibility is filling the information vacuum, prior to the development of myths, rumors, misrepresentation, and eventually hoaxes. In most cases, panic has spread across the public due to rumors on the extent of a terrorist attack or the rate of mortality. Prompt, sensible, clear, and recurrent facts and information requires being delivered to the public by trusted sources.
Prevention Strategies to Strengthening Resilience
The counter-terrorism attempts of most states often emphasize on prevention. The strategy is reliant on robust associations and collaboration at the national level, efficient information sharing, and efficient engagement at the global level. Presently, most nations have sought to advance their intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies, with most of the state administrations formulating steps to enhance their capabilities and sharing of information (Singh, 2017).
For counter-terrorism strategies of nations like Australia, the creation of a National Intelligence Coordination Committee has guaranteed the optimal integration of its intelligence effort to the new arrangements focusing on national security, both domestically and globally. Furthermore, the nation has established a new Counter-Terrorism Control Center that ensures the optimal integration of the general counter-terrorism intelligence capacities. For most nations, the prevention aspect of counter-terrorism strategies has emphasized on establishing associations with individuals and groups in the society. Close partnership with the local-level partners assists in fostering an optimal recognition of the preventative and intervention approaches to stopping the radicalization process resulting in violence. The most fundamental approaches to forming a resilient public have focused on community engagement (Jerard & Mohamed Nasir, 2015). State’s approaches to the prevention strategy revolve around helping the public to recognize and challenge violent extremism in appropriate means. Furthermore, it has assisted in identifying the international, national or local events and issues that might drive individuals to supporting violent terrorist activities. Training and inclusion of support programs have been linked to resilience approaches. Prevention entails training staff working with the public or with families and individuals to spot those that might appear to support terrorist activities and refer them to a support channel (Jerard & Mohamed Nasir, 2015).
Regarding operating support programs, various programs could be established to evaluate individuals that are susceptible to terrorism or those that support terrorism and are offered multi-agency support. In a community setting, skills and resources associated with highly positive adaptations to stressors can be refined and practiced. Based on the precise terrorist acts that the public experience frequently, deliberate programs have been shown to enhance their resilience level through the introduction of reaction skills, strategies, and methods of coping with the crisis (McGee, 2009). The approach has been shown to enhance the ability of returning to the normal functioning with reduced psychological trauma, physical damage, and interruptions to daily life. States often enable public knowledge on resilience through the investment in different programs . This empowers the citizens in diverse ways with tools and knowledge to become active defense agents against several terrorist attacks. Another approach adopted by states across the globe is the direct participation and representation of the public in certified mechanisms in which emergency-related conclusions are formulated, as well as the initiation of programs (Singh, 2017). The approach enables the development of a sense of ownership by the public to the problem and solution. Therefore, robust engagement of the public in civil defense might be the most efficient remedy to the negative effects of terror acts on the resilience and morale of the public. Suitable initiatives and programs endorsing greater involvement of the public in civil defense could function as the measured counterterrorism approach.
Education and De-radicalization Efforts
States have focused on education as a counter-terrorism approach to creating public resilience. According to a study by McGee (2009), education is not the ultimate cure of preventing individuals from performing terrorist acts, but the inclusion of quality education has been shown to establish the conditions making it hard for the proliferation of violent extremist beliefs and acts. Most of the time, education policies guarantee that learning institutions are not a breeding ground for terrorist ideologies. It could also be essential to guarantee that the teaching techniques and educational content advance the resilience of the learner to violent extremism. For this reason, education has been essential in creating the conditions for establishing defenses rather than intercepting violent extremists or identifying the people that might develop into violent extremists. The education on defenses assist in strengthening the learner’s commitment to peace. Authorities in nations like Israel have identified that the most optimal approach to strengthening the civilian population’s psychological resilience is minimizing the fear of terrorist acts by the public. Educational programs revolving around the nature of terrorism and approaches to dealing with the outcome have been shown to increase the morale of the public. A report by McGee (2009) shows that educating the public on matters concerning terrorism is effective for the public to have the ability of placing terrorism in accurate context regarding additional threats to homeland security and personal safety. Essentially, education has the capacity of fighting the discouraging consequences of terrorist acts by reducing irrational fear and panic from the public, which is the main goal of the terrorists. Public education has been shown to function as a practical purpose.
In nations like Israel, there is a “civic duty” for civilians to assist with readiness and preparedness efforts (McGee, 2009). All the citizens are expected to accept personal accountability for identifying terrorist threats and learning ways of behaving to enhance their forecasts for survival. For this society, preparedness does not fall on the government only. Instead the public are expected to minimize their level of susceptibility that assists the government in properly handling their plight during emergency situations. Certainly, it is the joint responsibility of the state providing suitable education of survival tactics and threat reduction, while the public operationalizes a sense of preparedness. In an attempt to create a resilient public, states have added de-radicalization policies in schools to counter extremist ideologies. A resilient public involves approaches to ensuring the public is not easily swayed into adopting extremist ideologies. States like Singapore, Yemen, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia have been at the forefront in implementing ideological-based de-radicalization policies and program. The goals of these programs aim on shifting the beliefs presented by the terrorist insurgents and ultimately allowing the learners to develop resilience and identify well with the society.
The majority of factors observed in the de-radicalization policies in educational institutions are the same as the ones involving the disengagement from various anti-social behaviors, such as involvement with gangs and cults. The approaches necessitate the engagement in ideological debates, providing reintegration avenues, and utilizing peers and families as support networks.
For a long time, acts of terror have been fueled by the reaction of the public to their occurrences, which often involve fear and panic. The terrorist groups often attack at random with the aim of catching the government and the public in an unexpecting state. The aftermath of these events is what creates fear, confusion, panic, and anxiety of the possible attacks in the future. In turn, the public start responding in different ways that can lead to negative consequences, such as discriminating a certain religious group or minority to a point they start embracing the stereotypes and extremist ideologies. For this reason, states across the globe have focused on strengthening the resilience of the public as part of their counter-terrorism strategies. A resilient public has a higher chance of foiling a terror act or conspiracy, making it hard for terrorists to achieve their objectives.
One of the approaches involves partnering both at the local and international level. The public requires access to credible information that addresses the threat in a straightforward way, fostering a profound recognition of why specific actions are required for responding to threats. Education has been shown to play a significant role in building resilience. An educated public will be aware of how to avoid extremist ideologies in addition to ways of responding in the event of an attack.
- Bakker, E. (2014). Towards a Theory of Fear Management in the Counter-Terrorism Domain. Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies. doi:10.19165/2014.1.02
- Durodié, B., & Wessely, S. (2002). Resilience or panic? The public and terrorist attack. The Lancet, 360(9349), 1901-1902. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11936-2
- Jerard, J., & Mohamed Nasir, S. (2015). Resilience and Resolve: Community Engagement to Community Resilience. Resilience and Resolve, 1-15. doi:10.1142/9781783267743_0001
- Jones, E., Woolven, R., Durodié, B., & Wessely, S. (2006). Public Panic and Morale: Second World War Civilian Responses Re‐examined in the Light of the Current Anti‐terrorist Campaign. Journal of Risk Research, 9(1), 57-73. doi:10.1080/13669870500289005
- Lucini, B. (2017). A Portrait of a Resilient, Healthy City: Terrorism Threats, Urban Risks and Resilience. The Other Side of Resilience to Terrorism, 51-71. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-56943-7_5
- McGee, S. (2009). Public Role and Engagement in Counterterrorism Efforts: Implications of Israeli Practices for the U.S. Homeland Security Institute, 5-128.
- Singh, S. B. (2017). Public resilience against terrorism: Policies of individual states.