Opinion: Is the World Powerless Against Terrorism? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.09.2004
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Opinion: Is the World Powerless Against Terrorism?

Before terrorism becomes part of everyday life everywhere, the world must first agree on what terrorism is, and then consent not to accept it in any form.


Everyday life? Police near the Russian school seized by terrorists

The Israelis deported Anglican priest Elias Khoury from his home in Israeli-occupied Ramallah to Jordan in 1971 because he had allegedly transported terrorists who laid a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket. Later, Khoury -- by then a bishop in Amman -- had no difficulty justifying attacking civilians in a supermarket: After all, they were soldiers off on their free time, Khoury said, and the children too would one day grow up to be soldiers.

The bizarre opinion of a Christian clergyman and dignitary shows that terrorism isn't only limited to the realm of one religion -- such as Islam -- and that there is neither a clearly defined definition of what makes a terrorist -- nor can there be. It's not only misunderstood religious zeal, not only racist or nationalist hatred, not only economic or political desperation.

And because this is the case, the world finds it problematic to decide how it can and should deal with terrorism. Let alone the fact that the term "terrorist" is used differently: Yesterday's terrorists can indeed become tomorrow's respectable politicians. Yomo Keniatta, Kenia's first president and Cypriot Archbishop Makarios were just two examples, PLO chief Yasser Arafat is probably a third.

What must be decisive for the definition of terrorism is its approach: Those who try to reach their political aims by carrying out attacks on innocent civilians, clearly belong in this category. The world would be wise to uniformly adopt this definition. Instead, one person's freedom fighter remains another person's terrorist -- as if the fronts were clear-cut.

But that hasn't been the case for a long time, not just since the World Trade Center bombings when numerous Muslims were also killed. Terrorists don't deliberate about their choice of victims. They just blindly lash out. Their main aim is to unsettle and -- obviously -- terrorize people

One is largely powerless against such blind terrorism. Sometimes the terrorists link their deeds to demands. But there too lays a serious dilemma: Remain staunch and hazard the consequences or give in, thus validating the formula of terrorist extortion? One is caught between a rock and a hard place. The third option -- violent actions to free hostages, for example -- isn't always feasible.

Is the world powerless against terrorism? Will terrorism -- as it appears these days -- become part of everyday life -- not just in Iraq, Russia or Palestine? That is the threat faced if the upright majority of the world -- in the West, as in the Islamic world, in Russia and in Latin America -- finally recognizes that all insubordinate violence must be rejected and that one cannot glorify deeds that others can condemn as terrorism.

A recent example: After attacks on buses in Beer Sheva on Tuesday, Palestinians celebrated in the streets of Gaza. They should see that they could be the next victims. Inversely, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must know that taking too drastic measures provokes new violence from the opposite side. That's a lesson that George W. Bush should learn in Iraq and Vladimir Putin should learn in Chechnya, just to name a few.

Admittedly, it's easy to criticize but hard and perhaps impossible to offer effective prescriptions. But maybe it will help a little if everyone starts to see that violence and terrorism cannot be stopped by violence and terrorism -- and that there are always victims on both sides.

What remains are those who will never learn. But the reasonable majority would pull the carpet from under their feet. A nice vision -- too nice to be true.

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