Terrorizing World – "Enough is enough"

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Terrorism guide

Posted by :) on July 30, 2009

Source : One World .net
Terrorism is the cruellest of crimes; it feeds off the personal suffering by luring governments into actions that abandon hard-earned freedoms of modern civilisation. Gargantuan budgets committed to security mock the lives lost in poor countries to preventable disease and hunger. The dark complexity of suicide attacks has exposed inadequacies of security forces, moral philosophers, psychologists and theologians alike. Failing to take advantage of the universal revulsion at the events of September 2001, the “war on terror” has instead magnified the global threat of terrorism.

The Elusive Definition of Terrorism

Rebels, insurgents, paramilitaries, separatists, militants, guerrillas, insurrectionists, fundamentalists… are these all terrorists? Or does terrorism claim its own exclusive niche? The exasperating inability to define terrorism is betrayed in the UN 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy – “we, the States Members of the United Nations…strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes”.

UN Blast in Baghdad
UN Blast in Baghdad © Amnesty International – International Secretariat

The UN has been striving for decades to find a wording for terrorism which, instead of “all its forms and manifestations”, narrows down to a specific profile of violence which can be condemned regardless of the circumstances. The absence of an agreed definition matters for many reasons. It blocks the possibility of referring terrorist acts to an international court, as for genocide and other war crimes; it leaves individual countries free to outlaw activity which they choose to classify as terrorism, perhaps for their own political convenience; and crucially it enabled the Bush administration to conjure in the public mind parallels between the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. The vocabulary of terrorism has become the successor to that of anarchy and communism as the catch-all label of opprobrium, exploited accordingly by media and politicians.

The Just Cause Conundrum

Mandela's cell on Robben Island
Mandela’s cell on Robben Island © Peter Armstrong

The difficulty in constructing a definition which eliminates any just cause for terrorism is that history provides too many examples of organisations and their leaders branded as terrorists but who eventually evolved into respected government. This has applied particularly to national liberation movements fighting colonial or oppressive regimes, engaging in violence within their own countries often as a last resort. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya spent years of his life in peaceful independence advocacy with the British government before his involvement with the Mau Mau rebellion. Another convicted “terrorist”, Nelson Mandela, wrote in his autobiography: “the hard facts were that 50 years of non-violence had brought (my) people nothing but more repressive legislation, and fewer rights”.

All countries must deplore indiscriminate acts of terrorism which kill and maim civilians and which create a climate of fear. Countries from Africa and the Middle East have however proved reluctant to endorse any definition of terrorism which fails to place such acts within the broad sweep of history. The dilemma for the international community lies firstly in assessing whether a cause is “just” and therefore capable of remedy by political negotiation, and secondly in identifying which “terrorist” organisations are capable of emerging into the legitimate political process.

Hamas Logo
Hamas Logo © Radio Netherlands

For example, a central aim of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – to reunite the northern and southern counties of Ireland – was never regarded as a just cause by the UK government, whilst other grievances linked to fair government in the north were accepted as negotiable. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, is now part of an elected power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. In the Middle East, the vision of a Palestinian state is considered a just cause by all stakeholders but world leaders have so far preferred to negotiate only with the Fatah party. This approach chooses to ignore the electoral success of Hamas which was based on its proven competence to govern at local level, an attribute equally associated with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

These extreme sensitivities in the dividing line between recognition and condemnation are found in other longstanding internal conflicts around the world. Despite a decade of outrages committed by the Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist (CPN- Maoist), its leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, is now the head of a democratically elected government. By contrast, longstanding peace negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka have stalled, with the group recently proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union. Potential negotiation dilemmas may also flare up with separatist groups in Kashmir, Mindanao in the Philippines, and in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq.

Global Jihad

Simultaneous bomb attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 followed by the 9/11 tragedy in 2001 marked the globalisation of terror in which a populist and possibly negotiable cause within the nation state becomes subservient to principled grievances against the world order, communicated through the tools of globalisation led by the internet. Both attacks in Africa were traced to the group headed by Osama bin Laden known as al-Qaeda. Its ideology is shaped by the belief that Islam is being degraded and humiliated by “western” values, with particular disgust reserved for those Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which are close allies of the US. The plight of the Palestinians is a rallying call for al-Qaeda whose central goal is to expel Americans from Muslim lands and dismantle pro-US Middle Eastern governments. To this end all US citizens and their sympathisers are to be killed, regardless of whether or not they are Muslim.

This extreme form of fundamentalist Sunni Islam adopted by bin Laden and his closest associates is often described as jihadism and is believed to have been inspired by an Egyptian radical, Sayyid Qutb, who opposed the Nasser regime. Fighting alongside the conservative Taliban in Afghanistan may have been a further influence on bin Laden. The manic ideology of al-Qaeda has no roots in mainstream Islam which shares core values of peace and tolerance with the world’s major religions. The Koran teaches that the killing of innocent humans is a crime and that suicide is unacceptable.

The Jihadis

Guy Fawkes, one of the most infamous terrorists in history who came within a whisker of destroying the English monarchy and parliament in 1605 was, like the modern jihadis, acting in the name of a maligned and misunderstood religion. King James presented a list of questions to the torturers, headed by the demand to discover “as to what he is, for I can never yet hear of any man that knows him”. Four hundred years later the nightmare of suicide terrorism has likewise prompted frantic efforts to understand the psychological motives of individuals who are prepared to strap dynamite around themselves and trigger the detonator whilst surrounded by defenceless citizens.

Although suicide attacks are particularly associated with al-Qaeda ideology, they have been adopted by the Tamil Tigers, by militant groups in Iraq and also recently by the Taliban. Attention is focused on the influence of institutions of Islamic education which in a small minority of cases advocate extreme views which “radicalise” students into beliefs which are inconsistent with mainstream Islam. This is believed to flourish especially in Pakistan where inadequate funding of state education has allowed unregulated madrasa religious education to take hold. About 1.5 million children attend madrasas in Pakistan, some of which are also open to foreign visitors. A number of terrorists belonging to the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group in Indonesia have been identified as alumni of religious schools there known as pesantrens. In the UK attendance at the radical Finsbury mosque has been traced to a disturbing proportion of known terrorists.

Attempts have been made to construct psychological profiles with proven susceptibility to indoctrination. In Islamic countries such interest focuses on the sense of political impotence created by inadequate democracy and corrupt governance. In Europe, there are suggestions that young Muslims from immigrant families suffer identity problems in reconciling differences between western lifestyles and their upbringing. As yet these theories remain in the realms of speculation. Likewise, media tendencies to brand Pakistan as a source of world terror have been countered by a remarkable petition “Say no to Terrorism” which has been signed by over 60 million people in the country, more than the number of voters in the recent election.


Counter-terrorism is a massive global industry which takes place at various levels, ranging from local police investigation of terrorist acts to the invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaeda leaders. National border control is fraught and trying for all concerned – over one million names feature on the US Terror Watch list of suspects, an FBI compilation which lost all credibility during 2008 with the discovery that it contained the names of Nelson Mandela and his ANC colleagues. Western countries also publish lists of proscribed terrorist groups which link to laws prohibiting membership and movement of funds. Fear of nuclear or biological attack inevitably dominates counter-terrorist thinking and explains the obsessive attention to perceived “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran.

Over the last 20-30 years the UN has approved 13 Conventions which attempt to eliminate terrorist activity, culminating in 2006 in a broad Global Strategy to Defeat Terrorism which promises a coordinated plan of action thanks to “unique consensus achieved by world leaders”. Such claims to consensus are however undermined by those states that have abused their monopoly of legitimate violence. Although often conducted at arms length, violence sponsored by governments such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe has unquestionably instilled fear into their own populations, perhaps encroaching into the domain of terrorism and adding complexity to its classification.

Washington rally to oppose the use of torture
Washington rally to oppose the use of torture © Amnesty International USA

In the absence of a comprehensive UN treaty, national laws remain a basic tool of counter-terrorism. Led by the US Patriot Act, such laws too often undermine freedom of speech and association, introduce prolonged detention without trial and intrude on standards of privacy. Some ideals of human rights may indeed have to undergo temporary compromise and laws updated to address the crisis of terrorism, but there is an inherent contradiction. The new UN Global Strategy declares that countries which are “conducive to the spread of terrorism” are those characterised by the “lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization, and lack of good governance”. Many counter-terrorism imperatives share common ground with these shortcomings.

A Tragedy of Errors

The failure of the tools of counter-terrorism to prevent the destruction of the World Trade Center led to the introduction of rhetoric as an additional weapon. The Bush administration packaged counter-terrorism as “the war on terror” with references to a crusade. In choosing language which conjured the spectre of a clash between Christian and Muslim civilisations, the Americans reinforced rather than undermined al-Qaeda ideology, uniting rather than exploiting the deep divisions within Islam. It is no wonder that European leaders were horrified. References to a crusade were swiftly abandoned but it was not until the latter part of 2006 that the US moderated its warrior imagery of counter-terrorism.

Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq © Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep

The disaster of the Iraq war has presented unimaginable gifts to the terrorist cause. The decision to invade the country reinforced al-Qaeda accusations of western interference in Muslim territories whilst the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib undermined US claims to moral superiority. Whilst considerable damage has been inflicted on al-Qaeda fighters attracted to Iraq and on the al-Qaeda leadership and its organisational capacity in Afghanistan, the ideology has proved capable of cloning itself. There are “affiliated” groups in North Africa led by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and countless small local cells of potential terrorists. In the UK alone the authorities claim to have detected around 200 separate plots of indiscriminate criminal activity.

The Precipice of Fear

Global terrorism threatens to undo a generation of multilateral endeavour for human development, inspired by principles of social justice and human rights. Foreign aid budgets are struggling in the wake of security priorities. Whilst there have been no major terrorist incidents in the US since 2001, the US counter-terrorism budget for 2008 is $142 billion, a figure which dwarfs the shortfall in annual funding required to meet the Millennium Development Goals which would assist almost a billion people in extreme poverty. Such dysfunctional spending priorities reflect the imperative of calming a country’s collective fear, the soft underbelly of emotion that terrorists are most adept at exposing.

Jerusalem's disputed Old City
Jerusalem’s disputed Old City © Out There News

A window of opportunity may exist for a new approach. The Bush administration is entering history and there are new leaders in Europe who might bring more resolve to implement the roadmap to a Palestinian state. Perhaps the blunt instruments of eavesdropping technology and counter-terrorism laws will give way to more intellectual exposure of the al-Qaeda ideology for its medieval undertones and deep anti-Semitism. In Indonesia, success against JI has been attributed in part to the advocacy work of converted terrorists to “deradicalise” their former colleagues in prisons. A UK government programme, Preventing Violent Extremism, is dedicated to “winning hearts and minds” in a civic environment.

Nevertheless, real doubts linger over the capacity of politicians. The fundamental adjustment of attitudes necessary to neutralise terrorism can perhaps be engineered only by good citizenship. We may need to devote more energy to the integration of mixed ethnic communities and to the inequalities that are inseparable from modern economics. If we cannot convey to politicians that global fairness, peace and human dignity matter more than the comforts of consumerism, then our fate may indeed be akin to the vision of Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy in which the English poet reacted to British government-sponsored violence in 1819:

And each dweller, panic-stricken,
Felt his heart with terror sicken….


One Response to “Terrorism guide”

  1. […] here to read the rest: Terrorism guide « Terrorizing India – “Enough is enough” Tags: choosing-language, christian, clash-between, conjured-the-spectre, muslim, spectre, […]

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