A few quick do’s and don’ts for responding to a terror attack

People in the United States woke up this morning to news of a series of bombings in Brussels, Belgium that have been linked to the same group of militants who carried out the attacks in Paris. Over thirty people are dead, and over eighty are injured.

This isn’t the first time we have had to respond to news of a terror attack in Europe, and it almost certainly won’t be the last. But as grim as this is to say, for all of the practice we have responding to terror attacks, we are still remarkably bad at it.

With that in mind, here is a quick guide to what to do today, and what to avoid.

This is a non-exhaustive list of no-brainers, and may be updated throughout the day as people find new ways to say and do stupid things in response to these attacks:

If you are an individual:

Red Cross, via Wikimedia Commons

Red Cross, via Wikimedia Commons

Do: If you are so inclined, feel free to offer thoughts, prayers and good vibes for the victims of their attacks, their families and/or whoever else might be affected.

Do also: If you are serious about helping the victims, their families and/or whoever else might be affected, you’d better bring more to the table than your thoughts, prayers and good vibes. Here is the donation page for the Red Cross.

Do: Go about your daily routine as normal. Terror attacks are, by definition, terrifying, but statistically speaking you are not in danger.

Don’t: Scream internally if you see someone wearing a head covering.

Do: Make time to read this deep dive into who and what the Islamic State is, what it wants and how to stop them.

Don’t: Take any of these arguments seriously:

If you are a news organization:

Do: Report what you know, when you know it.

Don’t: Psychoanalyze, speculate or explain why these attacks vindicate your pet political opinion:

Do: Solicit the opinions of experts — namely, counterterrorism professionals, those with experience in law enforcement, academics (preferably university professors, not think tankers) who study terrorism for a living, etc.

Don’t: Solicit the opinion of Donald Trump:

If you are an elected official or candidate for elected office:

Do: Repeat any of the items from the above list of things to do. People are looking to you for leadership. Act like a leader. Give your followers good advice.

Don’t: Give people a reason to scream internally when they see people wearing head coverings:

Do: If there are policy changes we could make that would make attacks like these less likely, say so. Preferably, say so while explaining the tradeoffs we would be forced to make with said policy changes.

Don’t: Use attacks that were likely carried out by citizens of the country in question to call for immigration restrictions:

Follow these very, very simple instructions, and we should get through this without spurring violence against our neighbors or launching another ill-advised ground war in the Middle East. Sound good?

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Should we look for something that will make us feel bad?

  • crazymonkeylady

    DON’T Pray! It does nothing but make you feel good.

  • Americans have a higher chance of being shot by a toddler with a gun than injured in any way by a “terrorist”. Looking for trouble is what we do and have always done. Especially when we have assholes like Ted Cruz, channeling Philippe Pétain, at the forefront of our political conversation on the issue. The only option seems to be how far we want to jerk our knee, not whether we do or not.

  • barbarajmay

    Really well said.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    Knee jerk reactions have helped fuel the flames of extremists abroad and here to a lesser extent. In the USA we have a greater chance of getting hurt or killed in an automobile accident than by terrorists. However the threat still exists. Starting trouble here just fuels the flames though and does nothing to combat this horrendous ideology pervading the Muslim world. Let the leaders come to terms with the foreign threat and keep your cool here at home, don’t go looking for trouble. We can get through these trying times and hopefully not lose too many freedoms in the process. After all losing freedoms and civility will just mean we are losing the battles which says they are winning.

  • This is great. I heard people in my office say some innapproriate things and my fb time line is full of anti-Muslim racist slurs.

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