9/11 and triggers that turn into terror
SEPT 11 marked 15 years since the 2001 attacks on the US that killed nearly 3,000 people, injured over 6,000 others and 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 have engaged in wars and counterterrorism efforts, ranging from military, police and intelligence to border and infrastructure security interventions.
In its broadest sense, terrorism has existed from time immemorial. The use or threatened use of violence to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim has long been engaged in by individuals and disaffected groups.
Terrorism takes root in minds. It can never be eradicated by force or by enforcing laws. Such measures deal with the symptoms – what we experience and see as a result, not the root-causes of terrorism.
According to 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 hearts and minds.
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 majority of those who join terror groups, get inculcated – not with terrorist motivations, but ideas and ideologies that breed hatred toward those different from them; envy of those who are better off; and a 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 or are ostracised by society, 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 first with hate, fear and anger which, then, become fertile ground skewed towards acts of violence.
While some young people morph into lone-wolf terrorists, more often they join terror groups, in all cases looking for an identity for themselves to be able to vent their emotions against these “insecurities”.
Also, corruption, injustice and depriving communities of rights and access to opportunities, resources and benefits lead to discontent, resentment, dissent and ultimately violence to right what groups perceive as a wrong.
Terrorist recruiters prey on these vulnerabilities with immense success.
Given how the terrorist concept and varied terror groups have infiltrated communities and nations, no single country can address the threat of terrorism alone.
Rather, it requires a comprehensive approach including continual exchange of ideas and engagement with the international community to deprive terrorists of the conditions conducive to the perpetration of violent actions and the spread of their perverse ideology.
Addressing the challenge of terrorism demands capacity building at all levels. It requires political will to address the root causes, not using terrorism as an excuse to further political agendas.
We need to look at the grievances and local factors that terror groups exploit and the propaganda that is their key instrument in pushing vulnerable individuals down the path to violence.
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.
There is no trade off between security and human rights and the rule of law. It is increasingly evident that the recruitment of terrorists is most successful where local dynamics increase popular disaffection and create conditions of desperation.
We must empower national and local leaders to challenge extremists by working with NGOs, religious groups and public-private partnerships because these actors are often the most capable and credible partners in local communities.
This is done through the sharing of best practices and the implementation of training programmes designed to improve the ability of national and local leaders to mitigate the vulnerabilities on which terrorism thrives.
An important complementarity has to be the development of capabilities to combat transnational threats, that include preventing human and drug trafficking, money laundering and the arms trade; securing vital infrastructure and resources; and improving biometric identity surveillance and cyber-security – otherwise, terror groups will have open rein to further their activities.
We should elevate our understanding of the role played by women and youth, both as victims and possible perpetrators of terrorist acts.
Due to their positions in families, women can exert a stabilising influence and empower individuals to be able to resist extremist propaganda and radicalisation.
Providing opportunities for women to apply their skills and share their knowledge can drive social and economic progress that not only brings material benefits to their families and societies, but has a derivative effect that increases ideological moderation.
The wider and more effective use of the media, reconciliation events and other forms of interaction, leadership training retreats and school programmes will help energise and mobilise civil society’s contributions toward a safer world.
One-size-fits-all programmes may work in some instances, while in others, regional and trans-regional strategies have a better chance.
It is critical that addressing social, economic and governance deficits must go hand-in-hand with wider counterterrorism efforts.
The writer was formerly a United Nations / ILO regional deputy director for Asia and the Pacific. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org