Counterterrorism or the whole national and international system of responses designed to combat terrorism includes today a variety of tools, from diplomacy, international cooperation, and direct engagement to physical security actions, economic sanctions, covert action and military force. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and also is foremost a political problem. As such it requires a maximum of international cooperation. In the mean time there are crucial policy challenges. In a CRS Report for Congress from January 2007 they are summarized as conflicting goals and courses of action: (1) limiting the freedom of individual terrorists, terrorist groups and support networks to operate unimpeded in a relatively unregulated environment; versus (2) maintaining individual freedoms, democracy and human rights.
These challenges are becoming more and more hard dilemmas. Perhaps the most powerful expression of the intellectual as well as practical dilemmas facing our democracies comes from Isaiah Berlin’s two apparently contradictory sentences, written in his book “The Power of Ideas”, in 2000: “Freedom for you is the living of life, for me it’s its condition” and “Liberty and equality, security and spontaneity, happiness and knowledge, mercy and justice – all these are supreme human values when regarded separately; however, they are incompatible, cannot be all fulfilled; there are choices to be made and accept tragic losses pursuing one prefered supreme goal.”
The global tread today means increasingly open space, open social networking, open commerce and open attitudes (tolerant as well as non-tolerant). A question is more and more meaningful: an enhanced security environment as a result of counterterrorism action doesn’t play, to some degree, in favor of the central aim of the terrorists, i.e. disrupting the democratic system?
It is also important to see that a majority in all democratic countries strongly holds that no compromise of constitutional rights is acceptable. A direct consequence of this prevailing opinion should be that combating and condemning the terrorist activity as well as the extremist and violent ideology doesn’t mean to be anti-Islamic in general.
However to preserve and continue to affirm our democratic principles of religious tolerance when confronted, for example, with the horror of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is difficult. ISIS seeks to create a “pure” Sunni Islamist state governed by a brutal interpretation of sharia. This brutality is designed to augment the image of strength, to show raw power and capacity of revenge. ISIS is not concerned by religions arguments and doesn’t seek an image of religious legitimacy.
Only few years ago the reports on the future of terrorism didn’t foresee the kind of organized terror in the form of ISIS. For instance, in 2007, the US Department of State was more concerned about “a new form of non-state warfare that resembles a form of global insurgency.”
To conclude this introductory words I would use the Herbert Marcuse’s concept of ‘the limit which drives the revolution beyond any accomplished stage of freedom: it is the struggle for the impossible.”
Under the principle of freedom the society is never enjoying freedom on a permanent basis. The reality of freedom is in the permanent transformation of society. The institutions of the society, anyone or all of them, could never resolve all the conflicts.
Aknowledging Culture and People; Knowing the Enemy
I was stimulated in my wish to contribute to the debate on terrorism by a sentence from “France on Fire”, by Mark Lilla (New York Review, March, 2015):
“What is entirely out of government’s control – out of anyone’s control – is what happens next in the larger Muslim world.”
Terrorism is a global issue related mainly to the actions perpetrated by radical/extremist Islamic groups. When politicians insist on differentiating those criminal groups from the core values of Islam they are trying to arouse the consciousness of human solidarity. This consciousness is nothing less than attesting the value of culture in solving the civilization’s issues. Because of the big gaps between developed and developing or undeveloped nations it is rare to have joint projects on issues other than health or education. Instead of producing wealth, it is poverty, its opposite, which currently gives substance to projects. Terrorism should be treated as a joint interest precisely because it is essentially a destructive project. It is propelled by a destructive energy of a very special kind because it cannot be brought into the service of life but it is always into the service of death. It is also spending and consuming the future of nations and people. Dividing the world along cultural lines is a recipe for the terrorist to thrive. We should cultivate cognitive flexibility. “For the Muslims, their assimilation into the Western societies is a sign of disavowing their civilization, their profundity, i.e. the religion and the civil right based on their religion…I’m worried that some day we could have a religious war we certainly don’t need to. Islam risks to be violently projected towards an uncertain future” wrote the great French historian Fernand Braudel in 1966 in his book “The World Today”. Braudel was convinced that “Islam has to modernize at any cost” and “will adopt a great part of the Western technologies which constitutes today the foundation of the global life.” He didn’t agree with historians and other analysts that viewed Islam as “impermeable” and “uncompromising”. As an argument he refers to the intimations of the Prophet and concludes that:
“The effort of personal interpretations, the Ijtihad, will play a considerable part in the future development of the Muslim thinking”. But he warned: “Islam can also be fooled, allow himself to be fooled”.
More recently, in 2002, in a book intended to explain the demise of Islam, “What Went Wrong”, Bernard Lewis wrote: “The Muslims brought their own scripture, in their own language and created their own state, with their own sovereign institutions and their own holy law…”. “It was bad enough for Muslims to feel weak and poor after centuries of being rich and strong…to be reduced to the role of followers of the West.”
In 2011, in his book “Civilization”, Neil Ferguson raised a very interesting point:
“Maybe the ultimate threat to the West comes not from the radical Islamism or any external source, but from our own lack of understanding of, and faith in, our own cultural heritage.”
However, having in mind all these profound thoughts, we are confronted with the fact that terrorism is increasing, becoming more violent and trying to destabilize the existing order on an ever-widening basis. For instance, ISIS attracts followers for not only religious righteousness but “also adventure, personal power and a sense of self and community” (Audrey Kurth Cronin, “ISIS is Not a Terrorist Group”, March 2015).
This is a new stage, if not era, of both terrorism and counterterrorism. We have to focus on protecting, serving and winning to support of the people suffering from terror, in addition to combat extremist groups and individual terrorists. Knowing the enemy is essential to evaluate the terrorist intent and terrorist capability to act.
To conclude this chapter I could use Herbert Marcuse’s line (“The Aesthetic Dimension”, 1977):
“Solidarity and community have their basis in the subordination of destructive and aggressive energy to the social emancipation of the life instincts.”
The use of diplomacy in general and in particular to help create a global anti-terror coalition doesn’t need to be demonstrated. Face to face diplomacy at all levels, especially in the Arab world where personal relationships are culturally important is much less expensive than security operations, not to speak about the military ones, and may contribute to improve anti-terror cooperation. The horrific terrorist attack in Kenya made even more obvious that public diplomacy is needed to win “hearts and minds” and mobilize the media in countries where international cooperation in law enforcement is not yet very successful. The battle for hearts and minds seems sometimes to be just nice talking. But the dramatic reality is that in many countries in the Arab world the western democracies – and first the U.S. – are not currently winning this battle. The national security interests of the Western states collide often with their commitment to promote democracy and human rights losing the “cold war of ideology” as coined in a CRS Report in 2007 means that a growing proportion of Muslim youth could embrace extremist views. Ultimately this could lead to increased terrorism. To ameliorate root causes of the process of terrorism and deter recruitment of terrorists public diplomacy on the international arena deserves to be well-funded. Let’s remember that terrorist group’s activity and publicity efforts are well funded and produced tangible results in the acceptance of extremist views in the Arab world. Democratic leaders coming from all democratic countries in the world or from the battlefields in the non-democratic, authoritarian countries, have the capacity to promote the awareness of people and media on the necessity of international cooperation in the anti-terror domain.
They have the experience, the mental power to direct powerful thoughts, the ability to gain people’s trust and express purpose and determination. The depressive psychology in the form of “everything is awful here” or “the world situation is appalling, yet appears to be deteriorating” should never be allowed to prevail in the analysis of terrorism. Yes, there are devastating images of recent terrorist spots in ISIS dominated zones, in Paris, in Kenya. However because we have the certitude of our principles, because we have a general and permanent modality of existence that we consider the most appropriate – in the ancient meaning of virtuous-we can also reach some certitude of knowledge in counterterrorism.
Aristotle was right:
“The judgment of a single man is bound to be corrupted when he is overpowered by anger, or by any other similar emotion; but it is not easy for all to get angry and go wrong simultaneously.”
4.Strengthening the Intelligence Activity and Cybersecurity versus
The intelligence activity is crucial to provide advance warning and mitigate new threats. In a recent report to the U.S. Congress on the FBI strategy it is indicated the necessity “of building a capability to produce strategic, all source intelligence assessments that will guide planning and decisions and help FBI to anticipate tomorrow threats.” Its centerpiece is simply the ability to understand what is happening in a given area using all available sources. While the management strategy is considered satisfactory, the allocated resources are unsatisfactory. And, if the sharing relationships between different institutions (FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, DOD or Joint Terrorism Task Force) are on a solid foundation (yet not mature), the relationships with the private sector are good but potentially fragile.
In the meantime FBI has made cybersecurity a top national-security priority. The problem today is “to rebuild constructive partnerships with the private sector and in the general public in the wake of the Snowden revelations.” Not fully understanding the value of intelligence collection and domain analysis is attributed, in the same congressional report, to “the lack of sufficient leadership.” Legislative initiatives to incentivize stronger partnerships with the private sector are needed. The strict privacy expectations are expressed when Apple said “Our commitment to customer privacy doesn’t stop because of a government information request.” On the other side the FBI director said that the bureau was “struggling to maintain its ability to actually collect the communications it is authorized to collect.”
Clearly the most important task is to rebuild trust between the two. The danger as perceived by the public is that the data gathered by security institutions are not protected from being used by policy preferences. Is it possible to turn privacy and security into a positive sum game? Is it possible to guarantee both of them? The category of professionals working under the law requirements becomes central in order to avoid abuses and intrusions into privacy.
The known risks are perceived as less dangerous than the supposed ones. The uncertainty in this very sensitive domain can be mitigated through a larger public acceptability of the consequences versus the increased capacity of prediction about the terrorist threats.
It is very significant that the recent anti-terrorism bill proposed by the French Prime Minister to the Parliament was strongly criticized in a New York Times editorial. The bill “would open the door to excesses in France similar to those revealed by Snowden in U.S. “There is no doubt that the French government has a duty to protect the nation from terrorist violence and Jihadist recruitment. But Parliament has a duty to protect citizen’s democratic rights from unduly expansive and intrusive government surveillance.” It is also clear that such laws can have a negative impact on the freedom of the press. The complexity of this issue is also proved by a report on the persons suspected of Islamic extremist activity in U.S. between January 2009 and April 2011. Out of the 104 persons subjected to law enforcement, 34 were born in the U.S. and 35 were younger than 24 years old of age. The conclusion was that “no one, all-encompassing profile can be made of the individuals.”
The problem in general lays not only in the amount of information collected from internet but also in the algorithms which are the basis of internet and computers functioning. The algorithms decide what results you see on an internet search and may even decide if you are a valid target for the intelligence services.
Concerns may also arise if algorithms could fall at some point in the hands of terrorist cells.
Mass-media is essential to gain mass appeal for democracies as well as for terrorist organizations. Exploring media coverage is today a norm for terrorists. Their success is often measured by ability to cause a dramatic impact of fear and uncertainty. The psychological impact of terror on a target audience is an end in itself. This is especially true for ISIS. As pointed out by Audrey Kurth Cronin in “ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group” (the title wants to say that ISIS is a new more powerful form of terrorism) Washington has found it much harder to counter ISIS more visceral appeal, perhaps for a simple reason: a desire for power, agency and instant results also pervades American culture.”
The major media compete for ratings because their best revenues come from increases in their audience size. Sensationalism is also played by the terrorists to increase the impact of their horrific actions. We easily sense the tension –in the media- between the need to stick to a fair, accurate presentation of facts and the imperative to tell a dramatic story. As indicated in an article’s title from New York Times, “2 maxims at odd: Tell a story and tell the truth”. This can be problematic: “Can we still trust what we are watching?”
The social networking is of course another instrument of the terrorist organizations. A report of the Brooking Institution in Washington has found up to 70.000 accounts on Twitter that seem to support ISIS. And the message of ISIS to his followers on-line was clear: the Jihad on-line is not less important than the jihad on the battle fields.
“We are living in an era where the media war is stronger than the sword.” wrote a group attached to ISIS. It must be noted that the presence of ISIS supporters on Twitter is also a real source for intelligence. So this is another dilemma: to expel or not the ISIS Twitter accounts.
The media can and should be a way to understand the world as a complex interaction of political, cultural, economic, social and environmental systems. The large diversity of the ways of thinking is not an impediment for the media to perform successfully from its point of view. This feature should be in favor of counterterrorism.
After the July 22 meticulously planned massacre in Norway, a great majority assumed that it was a Jihadist attack. The killer turned out to be Norwegian “lone-wolf”, not Islamic extremist.
The Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg statement was very courageous: “We will not allow the fear of fear to silence us. More openness, more democracy. That is us. That is Norway.” Yet, when Norwegians found out about the serious flaws in the response of the security forces they voted out of office the Prime Minister.
The anti-immigration parties in many European countries are on the rise because they are constantly warning against the “Islamicization” of the West. Andres Breivik, the Norwegian killer, used the same argument in justification of his murderous action.
The anti-terror policy has to be more and more a long-term strategy capable of fighting terrorism on many fronts because the eradication of terrorism may not be achievable for a long period of time.
Being steadfast in our defense of the freedoms and civil rights doesn’t mean that we are entangled by conventional thinking. That is indeed us. On the other hand, a sacrificial stand against terrorism may be chosen as an acceptable answer to force majeure. Both attitudes are compatible and necessary in order to avoid compromising the essential of the concept of freedom.
It is a very delicate, on the edge, balance to keep between freedom to react and freedom to be. We should never accept to be submitted to the blind, brutal force that terrorism is. And yet when privacy and freedoms are under constant pressure from the necessities of counterterrorism we have a feeling of being exactly in a position which fits the terrorist wishes.
Lawmakers can place sensible limits on surveillance and require a high amount of proof before the privacy is limited by intelligence and security interventions.
The salvation of our democracies lies, I hope, not in painful trade-offs between collecting information and saving freedoms but in finding synergies, common goals and compatible opinions. We should worry about problems whose solutions are neither well defined nor objectively measurable.