It is all about space
In recent weeks I traveled to two countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Both affected by terrorism. Both challenged with the question of how to strategically answer to the threat of violent extremism. One of them is Nigeria. I know the press recently has given lots of information on developments in that country. So let me focus on the other one: Kenya.
Security Council Resolution 1624
The workshop we organised there focused on SC Resolution 1624. Now you may not know how SCR 1624 reads. I do. The resolution addresses how to deal with and respond to, hatred, hate-speech, incitement, and incitement to violence. It basically deals with the question of how to respond to calling upon people to kill others. I don’t think anybody doubts whether the issue bears any relevance in Kenya. We all know that there is an array of reasons to discuss this issue under the present circumstances in that country.
UN counter-terrorism strategy
But there was much more than SC Resolution 1624 to discuss. Since the resolution tries to address part of a strategic approach to counter-terrorism (CT) worldwide. Since 2006 the UN has adopted a strategic approach to CT. It is laid down in a CT Strategy adopted in September 2006 and revised on a regular basis by member states. This is one of the most relevant documents in my field of work and I highly recommend it to anybody working in our field.
Civil society organisations versus counter-radicalisation
In this document you will also find reference to factors conducive to violence and factors leading to radicalisation. And most importantly, you will find reference to the work and contribution of the Civil Society Organisations. In fact, the document links the two. Civil Society Organisations on the one hand and counter-radicalisation on the other. Allow me to go a little deeper into the issues at hand that all relate to this part of the UN Strategy. One can have different perspectives when it comes to terrorism and terrorist attacks. One way of looking at it is the terrorist attack as a message. If we do look at the messaging part of the terrorist attack then the question is relevant: what is the messenger trying to convey?
What is the message?
What is the message? Isn’t terrorism a message of despair and anger? Isn’t it a message of frustration and conviction? Is the terrorist telling us he has lost all perspective? The loss of belief in human values? Isn’t terrorism a message of dehumanisation and cynicism? We should of course do everything possible to prevent such things from happening. My perspective then is that we, as a society, should prevent the anger, frustration, loss of perspective and hate at any price. Let’s make sure people do not lose sight of human values and start dehumanising others. Let us prevent people reaching that stage of dehumanisation and cynicism.
The recipe: engage, dialogue, empathy
I shared with the people in Kenya the recipe that we have developed at the ICCT, also based on the UN CT Strategy of 2006. This recipe is counter-intuitive. It is against our reflexes and initial natural responses set by nature. The secret lies in the way we look at the message. Because if we can suppress our reflex and if we can listen to the message, we could, on the basis of that, be able to engage and dialogue. We could maybe be empathetic. Engagement and empathy that could potentially even lead to trust-building. I immediately agree that it is counter-intuitive. That may even be too soft a term. Call me a dreamer, call me utopic.
So be it.
But what is the alternative? Isn’t the alternative more clashes, confrontations, body bags, victims, anger, frustrations, hence the spiral upwards? If the response to terrorism is hitting back, more violence, then the next stage is not less anger and frustration, but more. The spiral of violence will go up. It will not come down. And once the violent spiral is up, coming down is not easy. If we increase, they will increase, our answer is more violence, more revenge will be the result. We know for a fact that once the spiral has gone up, and both parties are high up, then coming down will take long and will require a long process of reconciliation and reconstruction -including trust-building.
Space for dialogue and trust-building
So our recipe is engagement and dialogue that may lead to understanding and less anger and frustration. To be able to do this, a “space” is needed in which this can take place. Our meeting in Kenya was the starting point of a dialogue. ICCT was offering a space in Nairobi. A space to be filled with dialogue and trust-building. The space was there, and the participants made good use of it. They had the key in their hands to reduce hate, anger and hate speech.
State security versus human security
Some of them vocalised the perspective of the government and the state. They looked at the issues from a state security perspective. That is important, but not the only perspective of relevance. Because some others looked at the issues from a peoples’ perspective. They vocalised the human security side. They were sometimes surprised to learn the differences and that both perspectives have value. Both are necessary. The point is that the two perspectives are different. They took the time and used the space to listen and gain understanding of the other perspective.
That is not immediately going to solve all the problems in Kenya, but it allows for a next phase in a process of engagement between different positions. After not more than just a couple of days, participants walked away with concrete commitments to ensure future activities; based on their earlier activities and priorities but with more depth and commitment through the exchange of positions.
This space served as a starting point. It required wisdom and resilience to critical voices. It required openness and constructive engagement. But it worked and led to concrete outcomes and plans for future work in the field of education, de-radicalisation and reintegration of formers back into society.
Nobody wants the spiral to go up. That is what united the participants gathered. Although positions and perspectives may be different, they all wanted the same thing. Nobody wants hate-speech to be a dominant feature of our societies. Nobody wants to increase frustrations and anger. But to reduce all that, we need to be ready to listen. And we should be ready to look beyond the violent message. The message of the terrorist.
ICCT summer programme
From 25 – 29 August this year the ICCT organises a summer programme on related issues. If you or any of your government or civil society representatives want to be part of the space that we offer there to discuss CT issues, you are more than welcome. It is called “Countering Terrorism in the Post-9/11 World: Legal Challenges and Dilemmas” and is jointly organized with the T.M.C. Asser Institute.
Topics in the program begin with basic dilemmas that CT practitioners face: What is the accepted international definition of terrorism, or how do various national definitions differ? Such questions then lead on to more practical matters: Should practitioners follow a war paradigm, or should existing (inter)national law enforcement structures be used? How should evidence be gathered to prosecute terrorists, particularly, if on a battlefield? Or can intelligence information and other sources be used and protected while still respecting the rights of the accused? Further issues like the use of drones or the use and effectiveness of mass surveillance will be addressed. If you are interested know that we welcome you and that more information is on our ICCT website.