This week I attended a very interesting symposium hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) called “Overcoming Extremism: Protecting Civilians from Terrorist Violence”. The two-day program featured hig-profile speakers from many sectors of the counterterrorism movement, including law enforcement, academia, victims’ groups, journalists, and government officials.
From their website: “In addition to examining government responses and legal structures, the conference will consider how local communities and international partners can transform the enabling environment that can intimidate local actors into silence or acquiescence. Topics will include the impact of new media tools, changes in international humanitarian law, the evolution of terrorist tactics, the proliferation of suicide bombings, and innovative approaches to protecting civilians. ”
Video clips from the conference are available here.One of the most valuable things I thought to come out of the conference was the emphasis on viewing and defining terrorism from the civilians’ — the victims’ –viewpoint. Violent acts that target or indiscriminately affect civilians is terrorism, period. State-sponsored, group-sponsored, individual — that is of less importance when trying to figure out how to prevent attacks and how to decrease community support for extremism. Our Voices Together is keenly interested in the latter, in that we are trying to help create a world where terrorism is an unacceptable response to conflict, injustice, war, etc.
Of personal interest to me, of course, was the break-out session on new media, which included blogging. Two new fascinating groups, the Tharwa Community and OpenDemocracy are working to counter what Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups are already doing very well — using the Internet to recruit new members and create a feeling of cohesivness among existing but disparate members all over the world. When a terrorist attack occurs in Spain, or London, or Morocco, or anywhere, extremists all over the world feel a sense of personal victory and sense of accomplishment, whether they were directly associated or not. Through YouTube (and its arabic equivalents), blogs and websites, extremists can prolong the effects of the initial attack by recording and disseminating it.
What we need –and what Tharwa and OpenDemocracy are doing — is a counter movement that is not constrained by national borders, language, or physical distance. People everywhere who believe in dialogue, moderation and tolerance need to feel that every Safer, More Compassionate World forum is their forum, whether they attend or not. The Peace Tower is a long-awaited culmination of all of our dreams. A Department of Peace should be established in every country’s governement, and each time it is, we can ALL celebrate it as a victory.
As Ammar Abdulhamid, director of the Tharwa Foundation said, “we will create our own sleeper cells using the same techniques that Al-Qaeda and others have been using — and we will create sleeper cells for moderation and tolerance.”