The Desert and Terrorism

Speech

I was given the privilege and pleasure of chairing this discussion session. Before opening the floor for discussions and for your precious remarks about our theme “the desert and terrorism”, I would like to make some remarks of my own. But I would like to make one remark from the beginning which may be normally made at the end. I would emphasize that the fertile ground for terrorism is not in the physical desert, but the cultural desert....

I was given the privilege and pleasure of chairing this discussion session. Before opening the floor for discussions and for your precious remarks about our theme “the desert and terrorism”, I would like to make some remarks of my own. But I would like to make one remark from the beginning which may be normally made at the end. I would emphasize that the fertile ground for terrorism is not in the physical desert, but the cultural desert.

    Having said this, I have to open it up. Human beings are born with many vices, merits and demerits and among the demerits, there is the instinct of violence. This instinct is inherited by all human beings, totally independent from his gender, race, ethnicity, religion, region, climatic or topographic conditions, etc. This instinct is genetically endowed to human beings at their inception as babies when they were born as innocent, but wild creatures.

    Now based on this fact, there are several turning points, or rather crossroads during our lifetime. Of course we may choose the right, or the wrong track at different times, which might influence our lives accordingly, but I think that the most important turning point is at the earliest age of a baby when he or she begins to talk, to imitate, to try to understand the environment, to recognize and appreciate and identify the good and the bad.

    Instinctively he or she is born with an involuntary reflex of violence. Not with a specific intention, he crushes insects, he pulls the tail of the cat, he throws stones at the bird, he kicks the dog, simply he hurts, tortures, and kills other creatures, not necessarily to protect himself or herself, again not necessarily to punish or subdue any weaker creature, neither to take pleasure out of it. It is simply an objective instinctive reflex.

    This is exactly the point where his training begins and this age is the initial critical crossroads, when he or she is vulnerably open to influences to choose his road. At such a scenario, if his parents convince him that hurting other creatures is wrong, for example by pinching him at the buttocks and make him cry with a harmless small pain, immediately after he steps on an ant and kills him, the baby may easily be made to know that this is wrong. Now his track to become a civilized person in life may start – albeit with continuous education and training patiently - and he may gradually learn to respect other’s rights to live and prepare himself to share this world equitably and with justice.

    But if his father applauds him when he kicks the dog or kills a bird, and encourages him to follow the track of violence without controlling his instincts he will inevitably be convinced that what he does is right. This is the first legitimization of violence in his life. This will follow an escalation and spiral of violence; pretexts and justifications of which will be easily found. This will yield to endless cycles of violent incidents, maybe reaching up to murders. The father will beat the mother in front of the child, because the soup was cold, or else. The child will try to do the same even before he grows up because he is convinced that that is the right way to do it, to reach his aim by violent methods, especially if he sees that he gains by this method. You do not have to be poor, or rich for this kind of behavior. There is violence everywhere, at each social status, in every climate or topographic conditions, not excluding deserts.

Now, when we come to terrorism, we should ask the question whether violence equals terrorism. Not necessarily. But there is definitely an interrelationship. To be acquainted with violence is a first step to become a pitiless terrorist. This is exactly why educated people, as well as illiterate people may become terrorists. Terrorist may be a doctor, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, or anybody, but the worst terrorists are the ones, who use the state power to suppress and persecute innocent people of their own or others. I would not like to elaborate on that. Not only because of time restriction, but also because it will touch political and very sensitive chords which is beyond my intention.

    In brief, terrorism maybe considered a higher and more sophisticated level of violence ever-escalating into more horrible levels, such as mass-killings, ethnic cleansing genocide, etc. pretexts used by terrorists are many, among them social injustice, foreign occupation, undeserved poverty, dictatorship, economic inequalities, corruption, revenge etc. None of these can explain a legitimate cause for terror. The only civilized way to encounter these various evils is rule of law, respect to human rights, accountable and transparent democracies.

     Can we eradicate terrorism or even a simpler question: Can we control violence? I’m afraid, we have no other way, but to come to terms with violence at its very inception, to educate people to control their inherent tendency to violence and I see no other way. Police methods until now have proven wrong. Recently in Norway, which has the highest standards of living, as well as democracy, an old Turkish woman died of heart attack, because of negligence of the health services and this incident was followed by police brutality to her sons, who raised their voices protesting negligence. So we can say that even Norwegian police could use unjustified and unproportional violence out of rage. There are so many examples from all countries.

    I want to use my time more economically not to exploit my opportunity of speaking first; I would like to come to our main topic of “desert” in my conclusive remarks.

    I would like to mention that the term “desert” has multiple meanings and implications depending on what attributions are recalled. Seemingly, the desert being an open space, we have the impression that it is difficult to hide anything in it. It looks vulnerable and fragile against any kind of foreign surveillance. But in actual fact, it hides so many secrets. So in that sense, no one should doubt that it may hide terrorists and devices of terror also. Again I’m not going into details for the sake of time.

    Some postulates and axioms, lead us to jump from conclusion to conclusion and bring us to some undesirable stereotypes in the minds of the extra regional international community about the nature of developments in the desert regions under consideration. To make this idea more clear, I must say that the word “desert” brings to mind simply the Islamic countries in general and the Arab countries in particular, although there are other deserts in other parts of the world also. Then follows the idea that the Islamic countries live in the desert and this kind of nomadic life imposes on them a way of thinking which is not in conformity with the modern life styles of the present day international community; this leads us further to think that people living in the desert are backward, far behind the contemporary requirements of educational and democratic standards, etc. This way of thinking inevitably draws a picture or a stereotype of a “Muslim” in the minds of the external world which is unfortunately negative.
    How factual is this picture? And what kind of linkages with terrorism could be derived from that picture? Is a Muslim equals violence and hence affiliated with terrorism?
    Before concluding that this is totally wrong and unjust, we should refute the allegations not with words, but with facts and evidences. Otherwise words will constitute simply baseless counter-allegations.
    First I must underline that Islam is a religion, and just like all other religious, it has its common humanitarian aims and values with the others. In that sense it is not different from others like Judaism, Christianity and even Buddhism, Confucian ideas or even Taoism. They all profess the same good of human beings. But they better say than they do in promoting these noble ideas.
    And I would like to underline that Islam should not be singled out as an exception. Inevitably, I come to the conclusion that religions have not been successful in uniting the humanity, contrary to what they have been originally and always claiming and paradoxically, they have all created their “others”. And these divisions have been continuing since the days of the Crusades. The divisions not only among different religions, but even within the religions themselves have been so deep that much blood has been spilled and even continues to be spilled now.
    Having put so many controversial ideas in front of you to discuss, I think that I should stop here for a fair discussion. I would like to give the floor to you to listen to you with pleasure. And if you have any questions for my personal remarks, I shall be happy to answer. Thank you. Now I open the floor.

First symposium of the African Federation for Strategic Studies
Marrakech from January 28th to 30th 2010

Theme:   « Security in Africa: Challenges and prospects »

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