Democracy's early warning

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Anthony Barnett (@AnthonyBarnett) is the co-founder of openDemocracy.

In the wake of July’s terrorist attacks in London and Egypt, three world leaders – Britain’s Tony Blair, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Russia’s Vladimir Putin – have called for an international conference on terrorism.

As Peter R Neumann writes in openDemocracy (“Madrid, London, and beyond: don’t reinvent the wheel”), an immensely impressive International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security has already taken place. The Club de Madrid convened it in Spain’s capital in March 2005; it concluded on 11 March, the anniversary of the Atocha train massacres in 2004’s “11-M”.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, attended, as did many other political and civic leaders, scholars and experts from around the world. Blair, Mubarak and Putin would have been welcome. They chose not to attend, to learn the lessons that were debated and discussed.

Also on openDemocracy, Peter Neumann reports on the lessons of the Madrid Summit and writers including Scilla Elworthy, Turi Munthe and Rami Khouri debate the implications of the London attacks

I am proud to say that openDemocracy was present in Madrid, and indeed hosted global online discussion forums in the run-up to the summit. From January to March we also ran weekly articles on the nature of the terrorist threat on openDemocracy’s website.

Mary Kaldor and Isabel Hilton laid down the principles for a democratic response to terrorism. Karin von Hippel reported on an exclusive survey of public opinion across the middle east and drew lessons about the long-term measures needed to defeat terrorism. Roger Scruton attacked her as an apologist, arguing that terrorists are wicked people with wicked ideas and need robust suppression.

Karin von Hippel agreed with Scruton that of course terrorists are wicked, and that they draw on the innate capacity for evil that is part of human nature. But, she insisted, since not all wicked people are terrorists, there are specific causes that must be addressed if the current wave of terrorism is to be frustrated.

Mient Jan Faber, Loretta Napoleoni, David Elstein, Fares A Braizat, Fred Halliday, and others made important contributions to the debate. A calm but forceful exchange of views and arguments covered many aspects of terrorism and democracy: principles and practicality, history and ethics, western policy and Arab public opinion.

The Madrid Agenda, the outcome of the summit, set out the next steps, starting with such essentials as the need for an agreed international definition of terrorist crimes and the need to establish an international fund to assist the victims of terrorism. The summit called for another conference before 11 September 2006, to assess progress.

The International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid was a deeply serious engagement by experts and officials, not least from security forces around the world. It was not confined to state leaders and in this sense it had a new element of democracy, of genuine international public deliberation.

In a press conference on 26 July, Tony Blair said that he knew that 9/11 was a “wake-up call” but that in his view other people “then turned over and went back to sleep again”.

Those who convened and participated in the Club de Madrid’s summit have been both awake and concerned. They have tried to take peaceful pre-emptive action of the very best kind. To meet the urgent challenges of terrorism demands the efforts of all – and the inclusion of the efforts already made in present and future debate.

The work of the Madrid Summit is being consolidated and continued. A new website, www.Madrid11.net, sponsored by the Club de Madrid and openDemocracy, holds all the forums and debates. It sends out a bi-monthly newsletter. It will help to act as a focal point for the lessons learnt. If you know of other debates and discussions, please link to it and send in your links, so that a democratic network against terrorism can grow.