The Blog

Fighting Terrorism: Looking Back With Anger, Looking Ahead With Hope

Brussels is special to me. It is a place where I lived for many years and I have many friends there. On March 21st 2016 at 8.00 a.m., I entered Brussels International Airport accompanied by my daughter, to embark for New York. The day after, same hour and same place, a blast killed or injured dozens of persons. It was one of the multiple explosions in Brussels that day, a striking reminder of how vulnerable we are in face of terrorism. ISIS claimed responsibility.

The evening before departure from Brussels, we were to a small restaurant in Grand Place to eat famous Belgian mussels. The owner, a Tunisian who I know for 20 years, told us that following the terrorist attacks in Paris last November the number of tourists declined dramatically, so he plans to close the business. For me, Grand Place without him will not be the same.

But after the morning of March 22nd, when innocent people lost their lives in multiple horrific blasts, the whole of Belgium is not the same. The lives of those who survived and all of their families will be forever changed. Our lives too, because Brussels after Paris is a warning that Europe as a whole is under threat. Europe, which has been able to recover from the ashes of two devastating World Wars and to develop a peaceful and prosperous society model based on the respect of human rights and the rule of law, faces now another war. As President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, remarked: "Europe is under terrorist attack. Today is a black day for the civilized world."

Terrorism strikes not only in Europe. Last Sunday, more than 350 people were killed or wounded in a suicide attack in Lahore, Pakistan. Not long ago, similar horrific news came from Istanbul and Beirut. Killing innocent people based on ideology is not just an attack on Brussels, Paris, Lahore, Ankara or Beirut, or on any other place where people live, but an attack on all of humanity. No country or region is immune from its impacts. Therefore, beyond national politics and economics on which we may have different perspectives, the international community must stay united and not allow the threat of terrorism to be part of our daily lives. We must refuse to accept that it is a kind of "new normal".

Terrorism threatens the core sovereignty of a country. It constitutes a direct violation of the UN Charter and the Universal declaration of Human Rights, and is a great obstacle to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism brought the whole of the UN together, and more than half of the UN Security Council resolutions adopted over the past year focused on this topic. Still, terrorists continue to spread fear in many parts of the world.

Counter-terrorism must be part of the response. Network analyses, cutting the financing, de-radicalization, and special operations strikes are all necessary. But in the case of ISIS counter-terrorism is not enough, because it has access to bigger resources, better intelligence and wider networks than other groups. The effect is multiplied by an aggressive social media campaign for recruitment and logistical connections. Even though some countries have integrated measures into their counter-terrorism responses to monitor the spread of violent extremism via the Internet, preventing use of the Internet for terrorist purposes remains a major challenge for most States.

What we need is a broader integrated strategy that considers the full range of activities, from military operations to humanitarian assistance. Equally important, we must not allow terrorists to exploit the refugee situation and to manipulate the public opinion to polarize against the migrants who are fleeing themselves territory occupied by ISIS, in order to save their lives.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since June 2014 and until mid-March 2016, ISIS committed at least 3967 extra judiciary executions in Syria. 2142 victims were civilians, including 78 children and 121 women. Terrorism and violent extremism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.

As the Global Survey of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) on counter-terrorism measures, released on 16 January 2016, underlines: "The terrorist threat is evolving rapidly. It has become more diverse, challenging and complex, partly because of the considerable financial resources flowing to certain terrorist organizations from the proceeds of transnational organized crime. Terrorism and violent extremism continue to destabilize volatile regions. Addressing the threat requires addressing the underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including through measures to prevent radicalization to terrorism, suppress recruitment, prevent foreign terrorist fighter travel, disrupt financial support for them, counter violent extremism, counter incitement to terrorism, promote political and religious tolerance, economic development, social cohesion and inclusiveness."

Over the last decade, the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy put emphasis on measures to combat terrorism. On 12 February 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus the resolution 70/254 on the Secretary General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which underlines that: "Violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism", requires collective efforts, "including preventing radicalization, recruitment and mobilization of individuals into terrorist groups".

Not least important, the transnational nature of terrorism and the spread of information technology have largely increased the need for international judicial cooperation. Governments' responses to these trends have not kept pace with the need. Five years ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur put forward a "model definition" of terrorism that linked it with physical violence, the terms of international counter-terrorism instruments, and the intention of "provoking a State of terror in the general public or a segment of it". Still, the question of the legal definition of terrorist acts continues to remain a major matter of concern, affecting the international cooperation to hunting down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

Reason must prevail, as we need a global commitment to fighting terrorism and addressing its root causes. An additional step forward could be the Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism, which will take place on 7-8 April 2016 in Geneva. Its agenda includes dialogue and conflict prevention, good governance, human rights and the rule of law, engaging communities and civil society, enhancing young people's participation in preventing violent extremism and integrating them into decision-making processes, empowering women as a critical force for sustainable peace, education and employment facilitation, and strategic communications through the Internet and social media. After looking back with anger, it is high time to look ahead with hope.