uploaded : Monday 28th Oct 2002 at 17:28
by : Rami G Khouri
The world seems to be terrorised by attacks in Indonesia, Finland, Yemen, Kuwait and Washington DC, that targeted, respectively, tourists, a shopping mall, a French oil tanker, American troops and random civilians. We wonder if
these attacks are related and if they emanate from an organized global terror network such as Al Qaeda. But such an analysis misses the main point of why and how political terror happens, and therefore usually leads to mistaken,
mainly military, strategies to fight terror.
A thorough analysis of political terror attacks should consider current events in Pakistan and Turkey, for example. In last week's Pakistani
parliamentary elections, the alliance of Islamist parties that is very critical of the US military presence in the country won an unprecedented high
number of seats (45 out of 342) in the National Assembly. The Islamists, who had never before secured more than nine seats, are the third largest party in parliament, will participate in deals to form a government, and will control
two of Pakistan's four provincial governments - if they are allowed to. In Turkey, the Nov. 3 parliamentary elections are already slightly marred by the state's prohibiting the candidacies of very popular Islamists like Recep Erdogan and Necmettin Erbakan. The Turkish elections board will decide this week whether or not to allow the pro-Kurdish Democratic People's Party to
participate in the elections.
Turkey and Pakistan reflect the most basic, important and operative principle that determines whether people choose to pursue peaceful politics or violent terror - the principle that ordinary men and women must be allowed to exercise their right to express their cultural/religious or political/ethnic identity, to air legitimate grievances and to participate in open, fair
political processes that address and redress those grievances.
When these rights are exercised, individuals and groups feel their empowerment is real, their dignity is respected, their hope is protected and
their humanity is affirmed. When these rights are denied them, or blatantly restricted to the point of being meaningless, people feel degraded,
humiliated and powerless. Ultimately, they become dehumanised - and finally, a few of them act in an inhuman, beastly, manner by adopting terror.
It takes many years of political, social, economic and human degradation to create a terrorist; so fighting terror can only succeed by re-humanising degraded societies, by undoing, one-by-one, the many individual acts of repression, obstruction, denial, marginalisation and autocracy that cumulatively turned wholesome developing societies into freak nations and
decent, God-fearing people into animals that kill with terror.
One way to stop future terror is to stop current regression and degradation. In Pakistan, an autocratic government that is encouraged to adopt
anti-Islamist policies has led directly, and unsurprisingly, to unprecedented electoral victories by the opposition Islamists. If the Islamists are allowed to participate in an honest political decision-making system, Pakistan will
move slowly towards a more legitimate and peaceful democracy; if they are nipped in the bud by their own state, or by American or Arab anti-Islamist dictates, some will inevitably give up on politics, and a handful will turn to violence and terror.
Turkey, similarly, grapples with challenges of how to wed democratic pluralism with freedom of expression and participation for all. The assorted recent bans on expressions of Kurdish and Islamist identities led some disenchanted groups to violently confront the state. Turkey remains at a crossroads, heading either for a more open, inclusive democracy or towards an
oligarchy where only selected groups share political power. The world can promote peace and preempt terror by encouraging maximum, open, honest participatory democracy in places like Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt and the entire
Arab world today - right now, not next week or next year, but today.
Many Arabs and Asians who use terror against their own states or Western targets once travelled paths similar to those that now define Pakistan and Turkey. In their own countries, many future terrorists once raised both legitimate and far-fetched grievances. Some of them tried to engage in the political process, but found that they were barred from it or that no political process existed for them to engage in - because Arab, American, Russian or other states concurred that it should be so. Some tried turning to
their religion for solace, but found that their religion was also banned to them as an instrument of political expression. Finally, some gave up and in a desperate, criminal fury they transformed Arab and Western governments from
their tormentors into their targets.
Their terror bombs are now going off around the world, and they will continue to go off until the world wakes up and admits the obvious: the world's few criminal terrorists must be militarily hunted down, prosecuted and jailed or
executed if found guilty - but only political means can address widespread legitimate grievances about abuse of power, economic inequity, political brutalisation and human indignity that are routinely expressed by several
billion other discontented ordinary men and women around the world. Those billions are the environment from which the handful of terrorists emerge.
It's correct to keep looking for Al Qaeda, but it's more urgent, ultimately, to acknowledge and remove the real causes that allow a group like Al Qaeda to come into being in the first place.
Rami Khouri is a Palestinian-Jordanian syndicated columnist and author based in Amman.
Source: The Jordan Times, October 16, 2002.
Visit The Jordan Times at
JewishComment is grateful to Common Ground News Service for clearing copyright on this article.