Constructing Peace, Deconstructing Terror

November 2006
By Sundeep Waslekar and Graham Watson

The body count increasing in Iraq, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and growing curbs on personal liberty in Western democracies are signs of just how wrong the war on terror has gone. We need a completely fresh approach to deconstruct terror and to build trust between Western and Islamic countries. We must also not forget that terrorism pervades strongly in parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa.

In the Western discourse, terrorism is projected as a result of extremist manifestation of Islam and radicalisation of the Muslim youth. This school of thought ignores that there are other forms of terrorism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Indeed, the number of casualties caused by the Maoists in Nepal, New People’s Army in the Philippines, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Lords Resistance Army in Uganda and FARC in Columbia are several more than those inflicted by Al Qaeda on its Western targets. Also, while faith- based extremism is growing in the Middle East, it is also on the rise in the United States.

In the Eastern discourse, the lines between terrorism and armed resistance are blurred. But while the United States policies in the Middle East are held responsible for inciting Arab youth, it is conveniently forgotten that repressive regimes, inequities and stolen elections have resulted in the rise of extremist groups. Also, the failure of the state to deliver public goods and the absence of democratic means for opposition forces people to embrace extremist groups.

The vast differences and contradictions in the Western and Islamic positions have made their dialogue meaningless. We need to address the concerns of Islamic countries about the tendency of the United States to use force instead of international law. We also need to persuade rulers of the Islamic world to introduce genuine reforms so that the young may have an alternative vision of their future than the absolutist ideas advocated by extremist groups.

First, we need a semi-permanent conference on peace in the Middle East. The Quartet does not include Arab interest. We need a model similar to the early version of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. It should be a stakeholder’s dialogue at multiple levels beginning with the resolution of the Palestinian issue and extending to address broader security issues in the Middle East.

Second, we need to recognise the role played by Arab scientists in the evolution of Europe’s own scientific and technological revolution. The Arabs in turn, have absorbed and translated knowledge from Greek, Indian and Chinese ancestors. We need an international historical commission to examine how our human civilisation is the result of a joint endeavour.

Third, Arab leaders need to initiate reforms for ushering in the second Renaissance. A thousand years ago, the Abassids of Baghdad, the Fatimids of Egypt and Ommayids of Cordoba had made scientific progress possible in a wide range of sectors from optics and astronomy to hospitals and libraries. This was possible because of complete freedom of enquiry, plurality and state support for science and rationality. If the Arab region reintroduces these values from the glorious period in their own history, it should be possible for them to create a community of hope and progress. The rest of us can help the process by trade concessions, knowledge transfer, and innovative mechanisms for financial cooperation.

Fourth, we need processes of dialogues between Western and Islamic leaders to explore common values, North South security arrangements, exchange of students, media cooperation and engagement of major oil exporting countries in global economic decision making processes. Perhaps, we need to expand the G-8 to include not only emerging economies like India, China and Brazil, but also energy exporting countries which happen to be Islamic, like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

Fifth, our efforts for deconstructing terror should not be confined to the threat from extremist Islamic groups. Terrorism does not result from absolute poverty. But it is certainly driven by relative political and economic deprivation. We need to promote a compact of democracy, development and dialogue around the world.

What we are calling for is nothing short of a new global social contract. In the past, the Vienna Congress of 1815 and the Paris Conference of 1919 were convened after disastrous wars. We need fresh thinking and building of common ground to prevent confrontation in the future. At the end of November, 40 politicians from the Western and Islamic countries will come together at the European Parliament to explore a new paradigm of cooperation. We do not have the luxury of soft options in a world where both terrorism and counter terrorism measures are threatening the core human values of freedom, dignity and trust.

Sundeep Waslekar is President of Strategic Foresight Group, India, and Graham Watson is the leader of the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament.


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