SEPTEMBER 11 marked 15 years since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, injured over 6,000 others and to date left thousands more dead or taken seriously ill from collateral causes. It is said that 9/11 changed the world. Indeed, it did.
Since then, the US and nations across the globe have engaged in wars and counter-terrorism efforts ranging from military, police and intelligence to border and infrastructure security interventions. The use or threatened use of violence (terror) to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim has for a long time been adopted by individuals and disaffected groups and in certain cases sponsored by a state. Terrorism takes root in the minds of people. As such, it can never be eradicated by force or by enacting and enforcing laws. Such measures merely deal with the symptoms – what we experience and see as a result, not the root causes of terrorism.
In fact, according to data from the Global Terrorism Database, acts of terrorism have increased in frequency and intensity with nearly 63 000 incidents of terrorism claiming over 145 000 lives since 9/11. The twin evils of extremism and terrorism can only be contained and defeated in the hearts and minds of people. Minds are moulded in the home, community, places of worship, learning institutions, on playing fields and at workplaces. These are where the young, making up the vast majority of those who join terror groups, get inculcated.
This happens not with terrorist motivations, but ideas and ideologies that breed hatred towards those who are different from them; envy of those who are better off; and fear that others are always trying to put them down or even destroy them and their way of life. When individuals feel they have no recourse to address what they believe are their rightful needs, these are the triggers that often make them act violently. Much is said of self-radicalisation, even pointing to the Internet and social media as culprits. Let’s be clear: it cannot and does not occur in isolation. Minds must be saturated in the first place with hate, fear and anger and then they become fertile ground for acts of violence. While some young people morph into lone-wolf terrorists, more often than not, they join terror groups.
In all cases, they are looking for an identity for themselves to enable them to vent their pent-up emotions against their perceived ‘insecurities’. Also, corruption, injustice and depriving individuals or communities of basic rights and equality of access to opportunities, resources and benefits lead to discontent and ultimately violence to right what is perceived as a wrong. Terrorist recruiters readily prey on these vulnerabilities with immense success.
Given how the terrorist concept has infiltrated communities and nations worldwide, no single country can address the threat alone. It requires a comprehensive approach, including continuous exchange of ideas and engagement with the international community to deprive terrorists of the conditions conducive to the perpetration of violent actions and spread of their perverse ideology.
It requires political will to address the root cause wherever it breeds. We need to look to the grievances and local factors that terrorist organisations exploit and their key instrument of propaganda that is pushing vulnerable individuals into their path. We must resolve legitimate grievances peacefully and strive to foster good governance, reduce poverty and corruption, and improve education, health, basic services and access to decent work and incomes. We must bear in mind that there is no trade-off between security and human rights and the rule of law. To the contrary, it is increasingly evident that terrorist recruitment is most successful where local dynamics increase popular disaffection and create conditions of desperation.
To achieve this objective, we must empower national and local leaders to challenge extremists by working with NGOs, religious organisations and public-private partnerships because these actors are often the most capable and credible partners in local communities.
An important requirement has to be the development of capabilities to combat transnational threats. These include preventing human and drug trafficking, money laundering and the arms trade; securing vital infrastructure and resources; and improving biometric identity surveillance and cybersecurity.
Otherwise, terror groups will have an open reign in expanding their activities and achieving their aims. Crucially, we should also endeavour to elevate our understanding of the special role played by women and youth, both as victims and possible perpetrators of terrorist acts.
Due to their positions in their families, women can exert a stabilising influence and empower individuals to be able to resist violent extremist propaganda and radicalisation that can lead to terrorism.
The wider and more effective use of the media, reconciliation events and other forms of interaction, leadership training retreats and school programmes, among others, will help to energise and mobilise civil society’s contributions towards a safer world.
It is critical that addressing social, economic and governance deficits at the domestic level must go hand-in-hand with wider counter-terrorism efforts to meet our mutual goals of defeating terrorism and ensuring our common security.
Desiderius S.L Amutenya is a former police officer who served in various operations.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015