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Ten theses on security in the 21st century

openSecurity has closed as a section of oD—temporarily, it is to be hoped—because its funding has expired. Here, some of the themes emerging from these three fertile years of publishing are distilled. Below are some emblematic pieces—with signals to the series of which they were part. - free thinking for the world
Protecting the state over against the citizen doesn't make anyone feel safer.

Debate of the Week

The victory of Hamas in the recent parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories has split the international community. The European Union and the United States regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, and have threatened to withdraw aid from the Palestinian Authority. Many in the Arab world, on the other hand, have accused the West of double standards. Hamas, they say, was democratically elected, and should be afforded all the respect and recognition of a legitimate government. In our first debate of the week, we are asking: how to deal with Hamas?

The Escalation Trap

This week may turn out to be an important one in the fight against terrorism. We had recorded statements from the three most prominent leaders of the ‘global jihad’, first Bin Laden, then Al Zarqawi and – finally – Al Zawahiri. We also had a gruesome attack in the holiday resort of Dahab, which prompted angry protests from ordinary Egyptians who’ve had enough of the senseless violence.

Nothing "Left" to Say

Yesterday evening I attended a Pugwash lecture by Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ebadi is currently visiting Britain, promoting her autobiography and speaking out against human rights abuses. Ebadi passionately believes that Islam and democracy are in no opposition to each other, and that even gender equality can be reconciled with Quranic principles. Her arguments were compelling, and though undoubtedly some of her eloquence was lost in translation, she is one of the bravest, most inspiring people I have ever had the privilege to listen to.

Democracy in Iran?

Ever since President George W Bush declared the country to be part of his ‘axis of evil’, the debate about ‘regime change’ in Iran has been top of the international political agenda. With the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ongoing confrontation about the country’s attempts to enrich uranium, many wonder whether a democratic Iran is not only desirable but feasible. Should the West promote democracy in Iran? If so, what kind of democracy should this be, and what are the best ways of doing so?

Civic Mobilisation
Jack DuVall

Democracy in Iran is not authentic, because political dissent is punished by imprisonment and torture, and an unelected religious council can arbitrarily veto parliamentary candidates and laws. Changing these conditions is necessary for real democracy.

More repressive conditions than these have been overcome in more than 30 countries by nonviolent civilian-based resistance. Through movements using strikes, boycotts, mass protests and civil disobedience, the apparatus and control of undemocratic rulers have been disrupted, until they held fair elections or were forced out. In Poland, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, and Serbia, autocrats were evicted with nonviolent strategies.

In Iran, alienated groups include students, women, merchants, technical and industrial workers, and ethnic minorities. Strikes and protests are frequent but uncoordinated. Yet sufficient latent support exists for a unified movement to compel changes. Requests from indigenous groups for international assistance in the form of knowledge and training in civic mobilization should be fulfilled, to enable the Iranian people themselves to establish real democracy.

Jack DuVall is co-author of A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2001), and president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.
A Policy of Engagement
Shireen Hunter

The democracy discourse in Iran is far more advanced than in the Arab world. Even the defective democracy of the last twenty five years, which has been deficient in guaranteeing the basic human rights of its citizens, has instilled certain habits in the Iranians that bode well for prospects for democracy in that country. As of yet, Iran does not have the powerful militaries of the Arab world or Pakistan, which control all political life.

We Need a 7/7 Commission

This week saw the release of two documents related to the 7 July bombings which took pace in London last year. The first was the government’s official account of what happened. The second was the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report dealing with the question of whether the attacks could have been prevented. Both documents were interesting, insightful even. The government’s paper revealed how little we still know about the attackers and their background. (Contrary to press reports, the document doesn’t claim that there were no links to a wider network: it simply says that it’s too early to tell.) The Committee report makes some sound criticisms of government, calling for more resources, more local policing, and better research into what drives young British Muslims to embrace extremist ideologies.


As recent victors in the Palestinian elections, Hamas have recently been receiving fresh attention worldwide. A Terrorist organization - or a political party? Here's our review of the web on the subject. Disagree? Comment below, or in our forums.

Definitions - official and unofficial

A good place to start is always the Hamas entry on Wikipedia. The web's foremost free encyclopedia is famous for its guiding Neutral Point of View principle, which founder Jimbo Wales considers "non-negotiable". Unfortunately, the neutrality of Wikipedia's Hamas article is currently the subject of a fierce dispute on Wikipedia's talk page so the info therein, just like many other sites im about to mention, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Smart Engagement

London’s Metropolitan Police made a mistake. Two weeks ago, 250 officers raided a house in East London, convinced that they were about to take out a chemical bomb factory. The intelligence, though, was wrong. No trace of explosives, never mind a chemical device, was found anywhere. The two suspects – one of whom had been shot during the raid – were released without charge. The story featured prominently in the British media for almost two weeks. For the first few days, most of the coverage dealt with the alleged plot and the threat from home-grown terrorism. At some point, though, the raid itself became the story, with prominent British Muslims complaining that ‘their’ community had been targeted unfairly.

Ending Western 'Doublespeak'?

Amnesty International today presented its latest annual report. It criticised human rights violations from Colombia to North Korea, but singled out Western countries – yet again – for their stance in the fight against terrorism. Amnesty’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, focused on two issues. The first was that of Western ‘doublespeak’: portraying themselves as champions of democracy and human rights, they are flying prisoners around the world for interrogation by states with a track record of torture and abuse. Khan said there was evidence that at least seven European countries had sanctioned or turned a blind eye to the use of their airspace for so-called extraordinary rendition flights.

The Team

The editorial team that was created in May 2007 was formally disbanded in December 2009.

From December 2009, the section became a new openDemocracy section: openSecurity.

A New Paradigm for the Fight Against Terror

One of the most surprising political developments since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been the extent to which the fight against terrorism has divided the democratic world. A seemingly unbridgeable gulf emerged between those who wanted to counter terrorism primarily by "taking the battle to the enemy" and those who tended to minimize the threat. Most of us did not feel comfortable with either position, yet most policymakers, intellectuals and civic leaders couldn't offer anything coherent or articulate of their own. Since the Madrid summit meeting last month on democracy, terrorism and security, this is no longer true.

Organized by the Club of Madrid, the association of former heads of state and government, the event brought together scholars, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and research institutes, and official delegations from more than 60 countries and the world's most important international institutions.

Three Questions about Zarqawi

Reports are suggesting that the Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was forced to resign from his role as political leader of the the Iraqi insurgency. The decision, it is claimed, followed concerns that his activities – especially the increasingly sectarian nature of his campaign – were alienating Muslims across the Arab world. No doubt, the development is a significant one. But it also raises a few questions. The first, and most obvious, one: Are the reports true?

A Force More Powerful

The brainchild of Peter Ackerman and Steve York, AFMP is actually more of a training tool than a game, as an idea it developed out of the series of peaceful revolutions that have taken place in former communist countries. These colour revolutions, from Ukraine (orange) to Kyrgyzstan (tulip), so called because the demonstrators adopted a near uniform colour for their movement, are held up as examples of the power that civil society groups can play in the political process.

A Force More Powerful

This is a game that sets out to change your take on life, and explicitly aims for its players to carry what they experience in a virtual world into the real one. However, with any luck it will not be named in any lawsuits involving dead policeman.


AFMP is the game of non-violent conflict; a strategic simulator, it places you at the head of a civil society group which has come into conflict with an overweening government. It could be about minority rights, it could be over an unpopular war, it could even be in protest against an authoritarian military dictator. Whatever the situation, it is your job to get your points across and make your views count, but without resorting to violence.

A Force More Powerful

The rise and rise of the computer games industry has been one of the features of the nascent 21st century. Worth billions of dollars worldwide and expanding constantly, every day brings it further away from the geeky niche market it was and towards the status of mainstream entertainment medium, right up there alongside movies and music.

A crowd gather at a (peaceful) rally

A Different Paradigm

Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister and the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The problem doesn’t really lie in the nature of the interlocutor. After all, the PLO was also a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of the State of Israel when Rabin engaged in negotiations with them.

Constructive Engagement

Yezid Sayigh is Professor in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London. He is a former negotiator of the PLO-Israel accord of May 1994, and author of Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993 (Oxford University Press, 1997 and 1999).

Strategic Redeployment

Lawrence Korb

The Bush administration’s numerous mistakes have left us with few good options. To protect our security interests, the U.S. should announce a timetable for redeploying all American forces from Iraq by the end of 2007 and stating it will not maintain permanent bases in the country. As long as Iraqis feel that American troops will remain indefinitely, they will not be motivated to make the compromises necessary to create a unified Iraq, nor will Iraq’s security forces be motivated to deal with the violence. Moreover, an American exit will diminish support for the insurgents. Disengaging from Iraq will also prevent the American army from breaking. To prevent Iraq from being invaded by a foreign power or becoming a haven for terrorists, the U.S. should leave about 30,000 forces in the region and launch a diplomatic initiative to create a regional cooperative security network aimed at securing Iraq’s borders and taking down extremist networks.

From Chechnya to Kosovo

I spent most of last week in Kosovo, where my Centre is going to help run a project on behalf of the UN. Needless to say, going to a place that came out of a major conflict only a few years ago was always going to be an intense experience. On the one hand, it was heartening to see how hard people are working on making the best of Kosovo’s uncertain future. Small business is booming, and the countryside is full of building sites. On the other hand, it is clear that none of this would be possible without the presence of thousands of international peacekeepers and civilian staff from various UN agencies, the OSCE and the European Union.

Welcome to

Our aim is to encourage global dialogue about how the threat from terrorism can be confronted through democratic means. Our origin is the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security sponsored by the Club de Madrid in March 2005. Its outcome, the Madrid Agenda, was a first attempt to formulate a set of principles based on the conclusions that were reached in more than one hundred panel and working group sessions.

Terrorism and Delusion

An undeserved benefactor of 9/11 and all that has followed has been the "terrorism industry" – the group of experts from universities, government and policy institutes who combine entirely legitimate and necessary comment and analysis of events with the far more dubious claim of specialist understanding derived from the study of terrorism itself.

The flaw in this claim is that those who advance it too often focus on terror as an entity or a movement in itself, usually in abstraction from the historical, political or social context of the violent events under scrutiny. Further, they tend to have little or no regard for the fact that if the use of terror for political purposes is the subject of analysis, then it must on any explanatory or moral grounds also include the use of terror by states.