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Another Voice: How we can make America safer from terrorists

By Gleb Tsipursky

How do we make America safer from suffering the kind of terrible terrorist attacks that Brussels did?

Candidates have proposed more waterboarding and patrolling and securing Muslim neighborhoods. These are great ideas, if we want to make America much less safe.

ISIS would love to see Americans torture suspects and have extra-heavy police presence in Muslim neighborhoods. These policies would radicalize Muslims, causing them to be sympathetic to ISIS.

Imagine if we “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods. An extra-heavy police presence would be perfect for radicalizing Muslims. As evidence, consider that many Muslims reacted with fear and defiance to the proposal.

Such radicalized Muslims will be willing to hide and otherwise support suicide bombers. They will also contribute money to ISIS to fund its activities, including terrorism.

This is the mix of ingredients required to create the kind of mass scale, coordinated terrorist attack that struck Brussels.

By responding aggressively with angry rhetoric, intimidation and surveillance, we make America less safe, and do exactly what ISIS wants.

So what should we do? We should not act immediately. We need to go against our intuitive desire for revenge. Instead, we need to step back and assess the situation intentionally.

Recent research shows that after any emotionally powerful event, our brains tend to assign too much weight to that event compared to what is really important to us, a thinking error called attentional bias. To fight this thinking error, we should consider what our actual goals are and how best to reach them.

Our actual goals are to decrease the likelihood of future terrorist attacks, not increase their likelihood through an aggressive response that would radicalize Muslims.

To achieve our goals, a good question to ask here is “what would make America safe again?”

On the military front, we can take covert actions against ISIS that would avoid radicalizing everyday Muslims. Our top political figures can make powerful, courageous and politically unpopular statements that all Muslims are not to blame for this attack, and that we should not radicalize the rest through unthoughtful policies. We can reach out to Muslim leaders who condemned the Brussels attacks and work together against the radicals.

We need to set aside our emotional desire for revenge and take the hard road to our true goals.

Gleb Tsipursky, Ph.D., is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State University, Newark Campus, and runs a nonprofit that helps people reach their goals using science.