I wrote this paper in 2011 for the final of Thinker of the Year. Not much has changed since then and the messages are as important today as they were back then. My opening could easily be replaced with 13th November, suicide bombing at Baghdad funeral, 19 dead, 33 injured; 12th November suicide bomber Beirut, 43 dead, 240 injured; 9th November, 14 year old girl suicide bomber at mosque in Fotokol, Cameroon, 5 dead and over 20 injured; 9 November, Ngouboua, Chad- two suicide bombers kill 3 and injure 14 in a suspected Boko Haram attack on a small village on the shores of Lake Chad. As in 2011, the list goes on and on. Again, these are the less well known incidents: not the 13.11 Paris, not the Charlie Hebdo; not the Woolwich killing, not the American atrocities.
• February 13th Karbala, Iraq: female suicide bomber, Shia Pilgrims procession; 35 dead.
• May 27th Lahore: car bomber and gunmen; 30 dead.
• August 17th Nazran, Russia: bomb, police station; 25 dead, 164 injured.
The list goes on, and on. And these are the less well-known incidents: not the 7/7, not the 9/11; not the Moscow Metro, not the Madrid.
Terrorism is all around us. As the world gets smaller, and the economy contracts, worryingly terrorism is a consistent growth area. In 2000, terror attacks numbered 423, in 2009, 10,999 . Terrorism could affect any one of us at any time. Unlike other issues for discussion – health, law, education – there is nothing you can do about it. Your life is in their hands. Or, can we bring an end to terrorism?
At this very moment, experts are working at the US defence laboratory to develop a sci-fi-like ray gun. It emits powerful electromagnetic impulses that can disable enemy hideouts, roadside bombs, cars and suicide bombers’ equipment. It can even shut down the mobile phones often used to activate devices. The advantage?: ‘soft kill.’ Currently, the only way to stop a bomber is to disable them. Even this does not always stop the explosion. Furthermore, a killing continues the cycle of hate.
Technological solutions, however, do not solve an innately human problem. Technological solutions whet others’ appetites. ‘War is the locomotive of history’ (Trotsky), and the terror war is no different. Technologies start an arms race, with terrorists soon outwitting solutions and taking us back to square one. Prevention is better than cure. The same applies to human intelligence, airport security, passenger profiling, capturing terrorist leaders or killing off the proponents of terrorism in a Pharaohite manner. None are enduring solutions; none get to the heart of the matter.
Multiperspectivity is given lip service, where it exists at all, in politics, foreign policy, education and daily interactions. Today’s terrorist can be tomorrow’s government; your terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. The sooner we individually look at things from other times, places and perspectives, the sooner we come up with more meaningful solutions. We cannot hide from the ultimate aims of individuals and groups, but deeper exploration reveals that the commonalities are phenomenal.
We cannot simply blame Islamic fundamentalism as if it has its roots in religious zeal and Middle Ages mindsets. Its origins are in the current crises we are trying to come to terms with. Whilst it morphed into extremism in the East, the West’s swing right came about because of disillusionment and alienation. Both stoke fires of discontent. Solutions are possible by humanity working together ideologically. Al Qaeda is not an organisation but an ideology. The ‘anti-venom’ is not democracy. ‘Dubya’s’ generational challenge to instil democracy in the Arab world falters when viewing the Oklahoma bombings. Democratic countries are no less likely to create terrorists. For political freedom is only a stepping stone to economic freedom, social freedom and personal self-worth and contentment. Democracy is only ‘the first small step for mankind’.
Politicians would do well to stop the rhetorical, ‘we will never surrender to the terrorist’ attitude. The truth is, it happens. Terrorists become subsumed into political pacts or become politics themselves: George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Nelson Mandela, and Gerry Adams. Political embracement is simply another reactionary solution.
‘Hard on crime, hard on the causes of crime.’ What about ‘hard on causes of terrorism?’ Never heard of it? Because ‘causes’ are too big to look at in one state and one parliamentary session. It is not politically expedient. No one will tackle this area except in a reactionary manner and through a self-interested, defensive approach. And so the world’s problems need a world response. It starts with individuals just as it ends with individuals so motivated that they blow themselves up in crowded places. People’s problems need people, not policy, not politicians.
Despite perceived individual advancements, the world is no better place for many. UN statistics show that 952 million people are undernourished . Core problems are heightened by ignorance, parochialism and the selfish. Better to turn a blind eye? I’m alright Jack! Better still: fight your own corner. As Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.
Beyond the eye of the terrorists’ stormy fire, who is stoking it? We have all seen evil, heard evil but do we speak evil too? Do we challenge perceptions, defend others, prevent the cycle of hatred, do the right thing? Do we offer parity of esteem?
We all know about terror attacks through the media, who often plumb the depths of vulgarity. Don’t get me wrong, there are journalists who seek the truth, whatever that may be. In wartime, Churchill thought truth was so precious that it should be attended by a bodyguard of lies at all times. What about the current constant state of war we are in … critical state, severe state?
The media maintain the terror state. Terrorists would lose their raison d’être if they were not celebrated in one place, reviled elsewhere. Like crime, fear of terrorism is more powerful than the act itself. A halt on sensationalist printing and broadcasting? A halt on reactionary, defensive posturing against ‘the other? It is time to focus on positive news of co-operation, coexistence and common good. It suits ruling classes to have people in fear of ‘the other’. It builds cohesion amongst those left, and pump-primes the military-industrial complex. Maybe even the media-industrial complex?
Who can spread the good word, do the good deed and end the cycle of hate? It is not the scientist, the technology expert, the politician or the media … it is you and I (and what an audience of readers we have grasping this very possibility whilst grasping this very article).
Fight or flight was a Neanderthal response; communication and co-operation are the hallmarks of truly civilised human beings.