Taboo and Terror

By Luc Reychler

Luc Reychler is emeritus professor of International relations, peace research and strategic studies at the University of Leuven. He served as   secretary general of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 2004-2008. His latest book ‘Time for peace: the essential role of time in conflict is expected to be published in 2015.

The terrorist attacks and the demonstration in Paris moved millions. I was also shocked by the bloodshed and I believe in the power of the pen, political caricatures and nonviolent resistance. I hate violence. But, did not wait in line to see Charlie-Hebdo’s latest caricature of Mohammed and stare at the slip of Madonna or the slipless German Chancellor. Freedom of expression and the press is an essential value, but not the only value of a civilized community. Lasting peace and full democracy require a permanent reconciliation of multiple competitive values, such as security, justice, respect, compassion, truth and equality. Words can kill and pictures can hurt.
Many people feel insecure and are anxious. Today’s psychological climate reminds me of the cruise missiles demonstrations in the early 80s. The missiles could explode in our gardens. Now terrorism is in our cities. In Verviers today and tomorrow where? The violence in the Middle East spills over in Europe.

We live in a very dangerous period because we are confronted with the adverse consequences of our domestic and foreign policy and do everything to deny responsibility. International political terrorism is a violent form of resistance to interference, occupation, colonization and repression. Not Muhammad, but the West’s policy (America, Israel and some European states) in the Middle East is the root cause of European terrorism. As long as we deny responsibility, our security and democracy will weaken. What are we so proud of? Why marching on the tunes of moral superiority? Why deny our complicity in the debacle in the Arab world? Negationism has become more difficult because people see contradictions and double standards in our foreign policy. Spin Doctors and intellectuals do their best to embellish our policies in the Middle East, but many onlookers don’t see the new clothes of the emperor anymore.

In the Arab world, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Palestine, the democratic West has left a trail of destruction. Israel is “the only democracy” with colonists and the largest ghetto in the world. It sanctions the Palestinians because Palestine aspires to become a member of the International Criminal Court? The difference between dictatorships and democracies is that dictatorships commit violence against their own people and democratic states against the citizens of other countries. In recent decades the democratic countries were the most destructive intervening actors in the Arab-Islamic world -not with markers and pencils, but with F16s, cruise missiles, drones, and other weapons.. far away from Paris. The executions by ISIS are cruel. Cutting the throat of orange dressed innocent victims is despicable. . But how were the 500 Palestinian children killed in Gaza in 2014? Perhaps, they were pierced with bullets, shredded by shrapnel, crushed, burned or suffocated. Is that civilized violence? Evidence shows counterterrorism to be much more violent and destructive than the political terrorism. An eye for an eye has become tens of eyes for an eye. The West made hundreds of thousands of victims, caused massive destruction and suffering, and left broken states. And we are surprised that young people radicalize? That’s the foreign perception of our Western values.

More blue and khaki on the streets, the monitoring of the behavior of suspected terrorists or perceived supporters , reforming prisons and silencing dissident voices , will not satisfice to stem and root out European terrorism . These measures have to be taken. This is a priority now. The reactive preventive intervention in Verviers was a success. Congratulations. But a lasting solution requires that we also and as soon as possible point out and address the deeper root causes of political terrorism.

First, we need to evaluate our foreign policy and our allies. The foreign and security policy of the West is the least democratic sector of the political process. A few years ago, Belgium needed a year and a half to form a new government, but the participation in the war in Libya was decided within twenty-four hours. We must distance us from allies who twist the art of diplomacy into coercive diplomacy, refuse to accede to the International Criminal Court, promote colonization, and continue to repress other peoples . After World War II, Europe became a role model for building sustainable peace in the world. Europeans replaced national security by cooperative security, enhanced economic cooperation, built a social free-market economy, put an end to their colonies, and reconciled with the past. Some so-called allies have learned nothing from Europe after ’45. We need to reassess our own values. The Marseillaise is OK, but Beethoven’s ode to joy and brotherhood for all people is the hymn of Europe.

O friends! Not these sounds!
But let us strike up more pleasant sounds and more joyful!
Joy, o wondrous spark divine,
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fire now we enter,
Heavenly one, your holy shrine.
Your magic powers join again
What fashion strictly did divide;
Brotherhood unites all men
Where your gentle wing’s spread wide.

Second, we must expose the manipulation of language. Power dictates what terrorism is and who terrorists are. Why is state terrorism not called terrorism ? The prime minister of Israel shamelessly compares Hamas with Boko Haram or ISIS ? The French terrorists in Paris are called Islamic terrorists. Criticism of Israel’s policy towards Palestine is branded as anti-Semitism. This is incorrect because the criticism focuses mainly on the ongoing repression of the Palestinian people, the violation of human rights and the increasing colonization of occupied territory by Israel. Criticism of our wars is stigmatized as a lack of patriotism. The killing of innocents is collateral violence that sadly enough was necessary for our safety. Torture is ‘enhanced interrogation’. The vague definition of ‘apology for terrorism , hate mongering and radicalization ‘ and the severe punishments attached to them, could undermine the freedom of expression for all and reserve the freedom of expression for some.

Finally, we should remediate the double bind character of the foreign policy of the West towards the Arab world. The foreign policy is pursuing two conflicting objectives a) to establish military supremacy in the Middle East through war, repression and sanctions, and b) to ensure sustainable peace and security for our own citizens. The contradictions or dilemmas involved in the foreign policy are denied and measures are taken to prevent exposure or the unmasking of the negative side effects or failure of the policy. This is done by heightening the climate of insecurity (war on terrorism), the staging of scapegoats, and the use of confusion and by secretly sanctioning dissident voices.
These measures make it difficult for citizens to openly criticize a policy doomed to failure. Perhaps all the Charlie’s should poke fun at the veiled contradictions, and listen to what is not said, read what is not written and look at what is not shown in the news media.

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