Counter-terrorism measures must be accompanied by a holistic approach that promotes prevention and peaceful resolution of prolonged conflicts.
LAST Saturday, a seminar was held at the Multimedia University in Malacca on “The Threat of Global Terrorism in the 21st Century”. It explored the many dimensions of this challenge to civilisation.
Participants were reminded that terrorism has existed throughout the ages. No nation and no region have escaped its evil. No race, religion or region is without guilt in perpetrating it.
Much depends on how we define “terrorism”. There is an Alice in Wonderland quality about the term. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
A person hounded by some as a terrorist may be honoured by others as a freedom fighter. The Nazis used this appellation for the hapless Jews of Germany. The Israelis and the Americans use it to describe the terrorised people of Palestine.
Third World perspective: The tendency in the West is to confine the concept of terrorism to acts of violence committed by non-state actors in pursuance of their religious or ideological goals.
What is glossed over is the shameful reality that the state and its functionaries are equally culpable of this perfidy through wars, invasions, bombings, missile and drone attacks, targeted killings, police brutality, economic embargoes, forcible annexation of private lands, deliberate destruction of basic amenities and wilful attempts at economicstrangulation of a people.
War is the ultimate form of terrorism. Nations like the United States, Britain, Israel, Germany, France and Australia, while practising human rights at home, brutalise and pulverise the “lesser” nations of Asia and Africa in pursuance of geopolitical, economic and military goals.
Many of their actions are in flagrant violation of the anti-terrorism Conventions and Protocols of the United Nations. Many aspects of their “war against terror” qualify as terrorism.
A just world must condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as the UN puts it, “by whomever, wherever and of whatsoever purposes”.
To the victims of terrorist brutalities, it makes no difference whether the bomb that shattered their lives was democratically manufactured or let loose by a tyrant or fanatic.
An unresolved issue is the use of terror tactics in freedom struggles. Article 1(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognises the right of a people to self-determination. Should freedom fighters and liberators be branded as terrorists?
It is submitted that noble struggles should be waged through noble means. Terrorism in all its forms is an abomination. It is not morally justifiable to bludgeon innocent people into terror and horror, or to use human beings as pawns or instrumentalities for political ends.
Alternative models of liberation like Mahatma Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s are available.
Legislation: Around the world, a fair amount of legislation has emerged to combat terrorism. There are 16 counter-terrorism Conventions of the United Nations.
Under our Penal Code, 19 separate sections deal with offences relating to terrorism. In addition, there is a plethora of laws like the Internal Security Act 1960, which was repealed in 2012 but resurrected in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Prevention of Crime (Amendment & Extension) Act 2014 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.
In addition, we have the Aviation Offences Act 1984, Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 and the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act 2015.
Holistic approach: Terrorism cannot be defeated by a mere law-and-order approach. Tough counter-terrorism measures, intelligence operations and military measures must be accompanied by a holistic approach that promotes conditions conducive to prevention and peaceful resolution of prolonged conflicts.
> Terrorism can only be combated if its ideological appeal is neutralised. All societies need to counter radicalisation and de-legitimise ideologues and theocrats who distort race and religion to gain power and justify heinous crimes. This is a challenge for the education system.
> In Muslim societies, including Malaysia, promotion of sectarian divisions by religious and political fanatics is providing fertile ground for extremist ideas. A strong, coherent counter-narrative is needed.
> If people have something to live for, perhaps they may not seek something to die for. Fair wealth distribution and development can blunt the appeal of radical ideologies within disadvantaged communities. In this context it must be noted that if policies and programmes to help the marginalised are to succeed, corruption must be eliminated.
> Wherever there is oppression and injustice, there will always be people prepared to die on their feet than to live on their knees. Israel must bear this in mind in Palestine.
> America’s blind support for Israel’s conquests, murderous attacks, apartheid policies and human rights violations has hugely contributed to the radicalisation of many Muslims around the world. As a mediator, the US has been shamefully unfair.
> Wherever democratic change is impossible, some find violence a necessary alternative. The West must bear this in mind in its subversion and violent overthrow of many unfriendly but democratically elected governments like Mohamed Morsi’s in Egypt.
> The excesses of the US war on terror have spawned much terrorism. America’s overwhelming military superiority and “full spectrum dominance” leaves those who oppose the US no choice but to use desperate measures for hopeless situations.
> There is a possible opportunistic link between terrorist outfits, organised crime and arms dealers. In a world in turmoil, the arms industry is the greatest beneficiary.
> The Islamic State-related turmoil in Iraq and Syria cannot be overcome unless there is openness about the organisation’s roots. Much like al-Qaeda, the IS is a radical Sunni group which is armed and financed by the US to divide and conquer the oil-rich Middle East and to counter Syiah Iran and pro-Russian Syria.
> The US is using IS in four ways: to attack Syria which is Israel and America’s enemy; to maintain its military presence in the Middle East as it winds down in conquered Iraq; to sell arms and militarise the region; and to use terrorism as a pretext to expand invasive domestic surveillance.
In sum, terrorism is a mere symptom. We may be in denial about its real causes.
Shad Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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