Could democracy be the ultimate antidote to terrorism? In the face of violence, how should democratic values be put into action? openDemocracy writers present their views - join the conversation in the forum to add yours.
This debate is an extension of arguments presented by openDemocracy in the run up to the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, held in Madrid in March this year. To access the online forum discussion from this earlier period of debate, which is hosted on the Summit site, please click here.
As the sixth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States has approached, talk of a reconstituted, strengthened, and resurrected al-Qaida have proliferated among officialdom, security experts, and the establishment media. The opening salvo of that discourse came in early April 2007 when the New York Times reported that al-Qaida has come to be working today precisely as Osama bin Laden had initially envisaged. By July, using language echoing the prescient August 2001 memorandum to President George W Bush (see CNN, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US", 10 April 2004), the US's national-intelligence council produced an estimate entitled "Al-Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West".
The other night, I had the luck to see Arthur Miller's The Crucible, in an unforgettable London production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like all great plays, it gleams in different places as the years pass, and last week I was gripped by a strand in the dialogue which had not greatly touched me before.
The terrorist attack that narrowly failed to inflict mass slaughter at Glasgow airport on 30 June 2007 has had a singular impact on Scotland's public life. A universal sense of shock was followed by vigorous official efforts to build bridges to the country's approximately 60,000 Muslims. A week later, on 7 July, the cream of Scotland's establishment gathered in George Square in Glasgow's heart to offer them protection and reassurance. The institutions represented included the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the police, the Church of Scotland, the trade unions, and the vocal anti-war movement. Nobody wondered aloud about the religious dimensions of the violent ideology that had evidently motivated the would-be massacre. Indeed, Scotland's health minister and SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon was explicit that "Islam is a religion of peace".
On 2 August 1980, a bomb planted by neo-fascists ripped through the waiting-room of Bologna railway station, killing 85 people and injuring more than 200. It exploded on the morning of the first Saturday in August when hundreds were setting off on their holidays. Those killed were a mixture of station workers, passengers and tourists, including British and other visitors.
Geoff Andrews is the author of Not a Normal Country: Italy After Berlusconi (Pluto, 2005)
On the internet, in gymnasiums, bookshops and video-clubs, recruitment propaganda is viewed by and debated among prospective Islamist militants. This wide-ranging material contains four recurrent themes; understanding them is the first step to forming an effective counter-narrative to dissuade the next generation of would-be militants from embracing violence, and channelling their energies and ideas into democratic routes of political and religious persuasion.
Johnny Ryan is a senior researcher at the Institute of European Affairs, a policy think-tank in Dublin, with offices in Brussels.
He is the author of Countering Militant Islamist Radicalisation on the Internet: A User Driven Strategy to Recover the Web (Institute of European Affairs, 2007). His blog is here
The headline said it all: doctors who kill. When it emerged that trained medical practitioners were involved in the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow on 29-30 June 2007, there was near-universal shock in the media, the blogosphere and the workplace in many lands.
A lot of that, as Michel Thieren says in openDemocracy ("'Terror doctors': anatomy of a void concept" , 12 July 2007), was because people - perhaps wrongly, sometimes - believe doctors are pledged to save life. The idea that protectors of life might be perpetrators of death cuts deep.
Canada's military death-toll in Afghanistan increased to sixty-six with the killing of six soldiers by a huge roadside bomb in Panjwali district, southwest of Kandahar, on 4 July 2007. In the forty-five months from 17 April 2002 to 31 December 2005, eight Canadians were killed - four of them by friendly-fire. But in the eighteen months of 2006 and 2007 alone, fifty-eight have given their life.
A British soldier killed in the upper Geresk valley of Helmand province on 12 July brought the number of British military deaths in Afghanistan to sixty-four, of which fifty-three have occurred since July 2006. The country's media reports on 16 July that the casualty-rate is both higher than that of United States forces, and (in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan) approaching that experienced by British troops in the second world war.
Gunnar Heinsohn is the director of the Raphael-Lemkin-Institut at the University of Bremen, Europe's first institute devoted to comparative genocide research. He is the author of Sons and World Power: Terror in the Rise and Fall of Nations (Söhne und Weltmacht; 8th impression, December 2006), a German-language scholarly bestseller. In 2005-07, he lectured on the subject of youth bulges and violence to Germany's secret service (BND), commanders of British armed forces, and Germany's Academy of Security Policy in Berlin
Also by Gunnar Heinsohn:
"Why Gaza is fertile ground for angry young men"
(14 June 2007)
In September 2006, General James L Jones, then Nato's supreme commander for Europe, admitted to his deep surprise about the growing threat of the Taliban (though this is a factor long discussed in Paul Rogers's column in openDemocracy). As in Iraq, western strategists are scrambling to deal with the resurgence of sustained violent opposition on the heels of splendid western victories. True, foreign aid has not been managed well; in many cases it has been squandered and has evaporated. Moreover, centuries-old tribal regional rule that resents the western occupiers and their proxy government has reasserted itself and. But where have all the recent insurgents come from?
The killing of seven Spanish tourists in the Arabian state of Yemen on 2 July 2007 is a terrible and tragic event, for the victims and their families, for the people of Yemen whose suffering and isolation it will only increase, and for all those who aspire to travel and explore beyond the confines of the enclosed hotels and beaches of the travel industry.
Yemen, with a population of 22 million, occupies the fertile southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula. It was known to the Romans as Arabia Felix ("Fortunate Arabia") to distinguish it from Arabia Petrea or Infelix ("Stony", i.e. desert or "Unfortunate Arabia", and today this land of mountain vistas, spectacular roads, medieval cities and fierce national and religious traditions is among the poorest countries in Asia.
On 2 July 2007, British police authorities announced that all eight people tied to the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow on 29-30 June were medical professionals. Doctors? How could that be? The shock was palpable on everyone's lips, in all media outlets, news reports, and blogs. "A surgeon's trajectory takes an unlikely swerve", a New York Times story was titled. Edwin Borman, chairman of the British Medical Association's international committee, told the BBC that the link with NHS doctors "would be a ‘betrayal' of society because of the oath they sign up to promising to do no harm". Abdula Shehu, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's health committee, worried about an eventual backlash: "To generalise about an event like this and think that Muslim doctors generally should have a different kind of treatment or perception in a negative way should not be the issue here", he said.
A week before the second anniversary of the London bombs of 7 July 2005, the city had another taste of the fear terrorism can inflict with the discovery on 29 June 2007 of two Mercedes cars packed with gas cylinders, petrol and nails parked in city-centre locations. The failure of this attempt to inflict great loss of life was followed by another unsuccessful attack at Glasgow airport the next day, also using a Mercedes that drove at speed towards the airport entrance but became stuck in the attempt to enter the building.
One of the most remarkable features of the "war on terror" - linguistically, and also politically - has been the warriors' characterisation of their target. They see terrorism as a barbarous attack on civilisation, a manifestation of "evil, the very worst of human nature", according to President Bush; it represents, in the words of two of his former senior colleagues, "no faith, no religion. It is evil, murderous" (Colin Powell) and "a cancer on the human condition" (Donald Rumsfeld).
Ed Husain's autobiography The Islamist: why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left (Penguin, 2007) is a remarkably candid account of the life of a British-born Muslim who was initially seduced by radicalism but gradually came to his senses to return to the more spiritual and devotional Islam that had defined his early years. It is also an important work, in that it both carefully grounds the issue of radicalisation that has so dominated recent intellectual and political discussion of Muslim communities in Britain, and points to potential solutions.
The relationship between ethnic, religious and social communities in some western European states is surrounded by a sense of crisis. The atmospherics of this crisis - immigration, visible difference, tension over "trigger issues" such as women's apparel or icons of faith, the pervading fears of the post-9/11 world - are easier to identify than its actual character. In this circumstance, where evidence of conflict is readily available but a view of the whole picture is harder to achieve, it is not surprising that many people - seeking to make meaning from apparent confusion - look for scapegoats. In media, academia and much public discussion in the first years of the millennium (particularly in Britain, with which this essay is mainly concerned), one of the principal scapegoats has been and continues to be multiculturalism.