Ending the Violence: Talk to the Terrorists

Watching the western world unfold during election cycles over terrorist attacks is painful. It’s painful because of the way politics work: get tough or you lose. It stops the conversation and limits capabilities in performing the work that should be done. Yes, there should be a no-nonsense approach to violence; however, what good has it brought retaliating to violence with more violence? None. “We have to figure out what’s going on,” should not be today‘s cue on how to respond to a terrorist attack. The western world has been figuring this out since September 11th 2001 and the attacks in Europe in the years following. Today’s cue should rather be: “what is going wrong in our policies that people are resorting to the use of violence?”

When it comes to Islamic terrorism, one would blame the 21st century Iraq War; another would point the finger to the Reagan administration who radicalized the Afghan population in order to fight against the USSR; someone else would blame the world’s trade system, ruled by U.S. monetization. All in all, forming the hypothesis that regards the western world as an imperial force hungry for the world’s resources and that these actions have resulted in stark consequences would be a suitable conversation starter when confronted with the opposition. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the consequences that colonialism has had on race-relations worldwide or the unintended consequences of state-to-state affairs on private citizens. Then at least there is the opportunity for a conversation.

What we’ve been witnessing over the past fifteen years is not the results from this conversation. Rather the continuing stripping of civil liberties of private citizens in western societies, and there is no plan to stop it. The PATRIOT Act after 9/11, the securitization of lines of conversation through cable or outdoor microphones and cameras; the Orwellian nightmare is complete. And even then, it has shown to be insufficient to keep citizens safe. No wonder there is no politician speaking out this summer on what plan comes next. There is no plan. None. As can be witnessed in France, there is just the installment of a permanent state of emergency, making it impossible for democracy to function.

There should be no doubt that some of the implemented measures have been effective in gathering intelligence about radicalized youth in Europe’s inner-cities. In the Netherlands, local — instead of national – agencies have been successful also in curbing the behavior of those who have felt left out of society – because that’s where the current battleground is. It’s not somewhere far off in the Middle East for that matter. It has come to the streets of Europe. Not because borders are left unprotected or because passengers flying in from abroad are badly screened, it’s because nothing is done to support those who feel left out of the system. Belgium and France have the worst track-record when it comes to egalitarian civil liberties. Guess where most ISIS-fighters come from? And where have we witnessed a surge in terrorist attacks? I rest my case.

There is no declaration of war that can fight this. Even so, there is no definitive rulebook yet on what methods do help. There are only two things that we know: (1) from violence comes more violence and (2) when having an argument in our private lives, we talk it over. So why is it so hard to resort to these same methods used in general human affairs and applicate them in world affairs? The U.S. PATRIOT Act is designed for a perpetuation of violence as it condemns any relationship-building with terrorist groups. For some reason, leaders are waiting for new technological and security answers, while the answer to fight terrorism lies in the center of that democracy provides: a conversation going back and forth between opposing parties until consensus is reached. Instead of making democracy smaller by imposing crippling security policies on private citizens, democracy should be expanded to those who do not have an equal chance. That’s one. Two, expanding diplomatic cables between governments and terrorist organizations should be setup in order for the opposing parties to demand direct political negotiations when needed. There is no reason for bloodshed and our political leaders should know better.

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