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January 11, 2015

No cause, by anyone, anywhere, is justified through terrorism

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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The terrorist attack of January 7 that killed 12 staff and police officers at the Paris headquarters of the tabloid paper Charlie Hebdo should be a turning point in our war against the increasingly ugly crime of terrorism.

It’s time to create a new international declaration categorically affirming that there is no justification for intentional acts of terror by anyone, anywhere, for any cause. Terrorism is a heinous crime against humanity to be universally condemned by all individuals, groups and governments.

The carefully planned, cold-blooded massacre in the heart of Paris was a horrendous example terrorist crime that has been rightly and swiftly condemned by the international community.

But such widespread condemnation has not emerged for other terrorist crimes just as despicable, yet not as prominently covered by the media. Terrorist campaigns recently carried out in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in the death or injury of thousands of  innocent victims, leaving in their wake tremendous destruction and profound human misery.

The combined silence of the United Nations, of Muslim organizations and Western governments over such atrocities sends a disturbing message – suggesting that terrorist crimes against Western targets are worthy of extreme condemnation, but that similar crimes within Muslim majority countries receive only shallow sympathies or are effectively ignored altogether.

The masked gunmen, described by observers as “professionally trained” entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo and methodically opened fire with automatic weapons, taking the lives of four prominent political cartoonists and two inside police officers. Charlie Hebdo has faced attacks and threats before for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which helped spark protests across the Middle East and beyond in 2012.

It is clear from the many terror attacks since then upon targets large and small that extremist anger, falsely unleashed on the world by those claiming to act in the name of faith, has not been deterred; in fact, the threat seems to be growing. 

These latest events underscore the urgency of setting national and ideological differences aside for the common good and creating a new international anti-terror declaration with both roots and teeth. In the first place, it should be signed by all members of the UN, and ideally by non-members as well. There is no time for the old debate about minutely precise definitions of terrorist crime – not when horrific examples of it are happening somewhere every day. It is not political or legal rocket science to discern the difference between acts of resistance against an occupation force and acts of terror, even when the latter sadly often grows from the former.

The new declaration should firmly define terrorism as the intentional killing or attempted murder of people solely to advance a political agenda. Whether that agenda is a worthy one or not in the eyes of the world is immaterial; criminals always see their goals, no matter how twisted, as justifiable. 

It has been more than 13 years since the September 28, 2001 adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1373, declaring terrorism as a threat to “international peace and security” and imposing binding obligation on all UN member states. It is hard to notice any deterrent impact in all that time.

The rights of terror-crime victims, survivors and potential victims to live in safety, to have both parents and children, to pursue productive livelihoods and enjoy the richness of stable society should, without question or compromise, trump the so-called “rights” of terrorists to kill those who do not share their ideologies. 

A new declaration also should clearly indicate that resorting to violence against governments for what are perceived as “just causes” like achieving democracy is equally unacceptable.

Anyone in positions of authority, e.g. teachers, imams, clergy, journalists, writers, etc., who promote violence instead of fair debate and free opinion should be prosecuted in courts of law as hate-mongers and be condemned by their peers and society at large.

And for any strong new anti-terror declaration to work, the inconsistency of terrorist organization listings by Western governments must stop. When Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization the US, France, Canada and UK, along with other Western nations refused to do likewise; yet the same countries have long labelled Hamas, a branch of the MB, as a terrorist threat.

Similarly, as long as prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe and North America respond only to attacks carried out by Islamist militants against Western targets, they will not be taken seriously as being fully engaged in the war against terrorism.

Only an unconditional voice can give a new international declaration against terrorism the strength it needs to be truly effective. 

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