PUBLIC SAFETY IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA
University of Limerick (Ireland), 3rd August 2005
More and more people are being radicalized since the 9/11. Tremendous efforts made to eliminate terrorism did not yield the expected results. Either we did not identify the root causes properly, or we are making mistake in the implementation of the measures.
We will know more about the motives of the radicalization, after the perpetrators of the London bombing speak out. Most probably, the perpetrators of the London bombings are not people who lost members of their families during the occupation of Iraq or at the aftermath. So they have other reasons for getting involved in the terrorist acts. Whether these reasons are justified according to our criteria is irrelevant to the subject under discussion. The terrorists deemed it justified and they caused the death of 34 persons in London. Therefore, what is important is not our assessment of the motives, but their perception. As long as their perception remains unchanged, they may attempt again to carry out similar acts.
The security authorities may be more prepared, this time, to prevent such acts because of the lesson they learned from the earlier acts of terror, but we should not lose sight of the fact that terrorists also learn from their earlier mistakes and try to avoid similar mistakes in their future acts of terror.
If the reason of their involvement in terrorism is not an insult or a damage done to them personally or to their close relatives, what else could it be? This is what we should be trying to understand.
The common denominator that brings together these people is Islam. They may have felt humiliated because of their Islamic identity. There is a growing awareness in the Western world to distinguish between terrorists and Islam in general. Genuine efforts are made by responsible people not to identify Islam with terror. However, there are also frequents cases where exactly the opposite of this is done. Sometimes, during the demonstrations organized in various Western countries, xenophobic slogans are voiced by the irresponsible people in order to express their anger at the acts of terror that disturb the public order of their countries. Or an editorialist writes an article that mixes a religion and the act of terror committed by an individual. Such attitudes alienate Muslims living the Western countries and the entire Muslim communities in these countries are treated as potential terrorists. Those who do not want to see the difference between a terrorist and a religion may have their reasons to do so. They may be angry, because their society became victim of terror that they consider unjustified. Many innocent people were killed because of these bombings and they may not be able to control their emotions. However the same people should also try to understand that decent and law-abiding Muslims living in these countries are also entitled to be treated as good citizens and that they should not be subjected to hardship because of the wrongdoings of others.
For a potential terrorist, it is not necessary that such a demonstration took place or the article is published in the country where he lives. If he feels humiliated because of this demonstration or this article, he may still be sufficiently motivated to engage himself in an act of terror, because such a xenophobic demonstration or such an article puts the blame for the terror on an entire community rather than isolating the perpetrator and blaming him alone. As a consequence of this, many Muslims were pushed to the side of terrorists while it was possible to gain their support and recruit them to our side.
The Palestinian factor
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mentioned too often as one of the reasons of negative feelings in the Islamic world against the Western world. It is not easy to estimate the real dimensions of the share of the Palestinian factor in these feelings. However, one cannot easily say that it does not play any role at all. Because of its long history and because of the importance of Jerusalem for the Islamic faith, Muslims regard the Palestinian issue as a conflict that has to be solved without damaging the interests of Muslims.
The solution of the Palestinian problem may contribute to the softening of the relations between the Islamic world and the West, but one cannot say that, for sure, it is the only obstacle.
Occupation of Iraq
The occupation of Iraq added new dimensions to the feelings of some quarters in the Islamic world. The treatment of detainees in the Abu Gouraib prison is a special case. Nobody in the Arab, Islamic and western world denied so far its negative effects. Nonetheless, the light punishments imposed on the perpetrators of the odious acts disappointed many -but more in the Arab world. The punishments were light because it was believed, most probably, that harsher punishments would make all the more difficult the recruitment of soldiers for the Iraqi expedition in the US and UK. However, let’s try to figure out what would be the attitude of the public opinion in the Western world if the perpetrators of such acts were Arabs and the victims were from the Western countries.
The declared reason of the military occupation of Iraq was the elimination of the weapons of mass destruction in this country. Not only the claim of WMD turned out to be untrue, but also the unfolding of the operations in Iraq produced new terrorists because of unnecessary mistakes committed by the occupation forces.
There is a broad consensus, in principle, on blaming and combating international terrorism. However, a definition that satisfies all concerned could not be reached yet. In other words, we do not know exactly the main purpose of our cooperation. Where a definition is made, the cooperation that is required to combat terrorism functions more or less satisfactorily among like-minded countries only. It does not function smoothly among countries that are not like-minded, while the main problem lies in the absence of cooperation among countries that are not like-minded.
Several attempts are made to define international terrorism in a manner to satisfy all concerned. A modest progress was made by various international initiatives. It is modest, because, the only agreement reached was that, independently from its motives, every act of terrorhas to be penalized. Even in this flagrant case, certain countries look for excuses in order to avoid cooperation.
It is not easy to dismantle international terrorism by relying on one single method. Several methods have to be used simultaneously, because, firstly, we are not sure that we identified properly the source cause of terrorism. Secondly various terrorist organizations commit terrorist acts for reasons independent from the ones that are committed in other places.
The present international cooperation to combat terrorism is confined to the aftermath of the terrorist acts and does not go far enough in the elimination of the root causes. Or if goes, it was not successful. The military action in Afghanistan was aimed at reaching the nest of the terror and at eradicating it in the source. The result is there for every one to see. Today, the world is not safer than it was before the military action in Afghanistan.
The failure cannot be explained with one single reason. Many explanations may be offered to explain it. More emphasis has to be given to non-military measures. These include economic, social and cultural measures.
Economic measures need longer time to implement and more sustained efforts to reap the benefits. Terrorists do not always come from the lowest income groups. Usama Bin Laden, himself, is the most concrete example of it. Furthermore, many terrorists come from wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia. 7/7 and 21/7 bombings in London demonstrated that the motives for involvement in such activities are more complicated. However, as a general rule, one may say that it is easier to recruit terrorist from a lower income group than it is in a high-income groups.
Social and cultural reasons cover a wider area. It includes cases where the potential terrorist feels that his social values are not respected. We do not know how many Iraqi decided to get involved in terrorist activities because of the way the occupation forces treated the female members of his family.