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March 9, 2005
"It is a challenge to protect democratic societies from the current kind of terrorism partly because it is difficult to understand, but also because the breadth and scope of terrorism changes continually. But it continues to be by definition, a tool for forcing a specific political or religious ideology on society." With this thought, Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, opened the plenary session on Democracy and Terrorism.
Robert L. Hutchings, former President of the National Intelligence Council (USA), added to Albright’s definition, and emphasized the fact that current terrorists “appeared to have suffered a mutation with respect to the old breed of terrorism.” Hutchings also insisted that Bush’s decision to engage in armed conflict , in Irak, can only be effective if it is accompanied by an equal battle for education and equality especially in the countries which export terrorism, in the wake of what is known as “soft power”.
For her part, Albright insisted on rejecting the methods of the current American government, condemning the war in Irak and saying that it has only generated more terrorism. “If you start a war, explained the former Minister, “you have to bring it to a final victory so that you avoid disastrous effects like Guantánamo and Abu Garib.”
Another of the components, the green MEP, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, wanted to focus the debate in the context of democratic societies and expressed his concerns surrounding the paradox that “politicians are charged with the protection of its citizens, but at the same time this could lead to an erosion of individual liberties”.
The panel took questions from the audience by Amre Moussa, Secretary General of the League of Arab Nations, who pointed out that in his opinion it is a double standard to consider that conflicts between civilizations need not necessarily be between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, “The clash of civilizations takes place in each culture,” he said,” and in the USA it is between neoconservatives and liberals while in Islam it is between Integrists and us. He asked the Westerners to help them win their fight, not to aid the radicals.” This last petition was in the opinion of Madeleine Albright a veiled allusion to the Palestine Isreali conflict.”
For his part, the Spanish philosopher and anti-terrorist activist, Fernando Savater, said that he did not believe in the concept of a clash of civilizations, “the only thing that exists in different cultures is a different idea of how to administer each civilization.” Savater also explained that tragedies like 11-S “have helped the world to finally understand the drama that the Spanish people live with ETA.” Cohn-Bendit answered Moussa by asking the Arab world to take the responsibility to confront its radicals” the same way as I, white, liberal, Western, should face the violent, Basque left-wing sepretists.”
Economic data was given by Lars Thunell, executive director of the Swedish company SEB. Thunell asserted that the 11-M attacks had cost the American economy until now 150.000 million dollars, not only in material losses but also in terms of economic recession.
The plenary closed with an emotional speech by the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón who offered as a positive example the emotional recuperation by Madrid citizens, who choose to go forward without bitterness.
Complete audio of the plenary
- Democracy and Terrorism
- Audio Archive (original, English) [92 min., 21 MB, MP3]
Transcripción completa / Full Transcript (English, Spanish)
Moderator: Jonathan Dimbleby
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), United Kingdom
Ladies and Gentleman, good afternoon, good evening. This plenary session is, as you know, about Terrorism and Democracy. Given the speed with which you managed to get here for a session that started at six o’clock, perhaps we ought to have the relationship discussed between Democracy and Anarchy – but that’s by the bye. I work in radio, television, politics and the rest, I write books occasionally and make films when I can about the kind of issues that we’re discussing. I want briefly to introduce my panel and then suggest to you some of the headlines on our agenda that we’re going to discuss between now and around 7.30. You will know most of them, if not all:
Madeleine Albright was at the National Security Council, she was the US representative at the United Nations, from 1997 to 2001 she was the US Secretary of State – the first, although as we now know not the last, woman to hold this high office. On her watch there were terrorist attacks against United States targets, especially, you’ll remember, in 1998 in East Africa and in 2000 against the USS Cole.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who is one of the leaders of the almost successful but actually unsuccessful so-called May Revolution in Paris in 1968. He was expelled from France and ended up in Germany, where he led the revolutionary struggle with another young German, now the Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer. He joined then the Green Party and is now the Co-President of the Green Party and the Free European Alliance in the European Parliament.
Robert Hutchings, from February 2003 until January 2005 was Chairman of the American National Intelligence Council (NIC) and he was therefore at the heart of the intelligence community during the Iraq conflict and, indeed, its aftermath. He’s now safely back in the groves of academe at Princeton University.
Fernando Savater chairs the Philosophy Department at the University Complutense in Madrid. He’s the author of forty-five books and plays and I guess he’s probably lost count –there are probably more than that. He’s a columnist. As a native of the Basque Country, he’s an outspoken critic of ETA. He’s indeed the winner of the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights from the European Parliament in 2001 and he is – it is said – high on ETA’s target list.
Lars Thunell is President and CEO of the CEB bank in Stockholm, which is Sweden’s largest. With a PhD on the Impact of Instability on Global Business, political risk in the international marketplace is his speciality.
Now we’ve got two broad aspects to discuss here: the way in which the threat from terrorism, especially since 9/11, has challenged or changed the way in which democracy is practised, both internally and externally; and the extent to which democracy and/or democratic values offer a long-term strategy against terrorism. Of course, this unpacks into a host of related questions, many of which have been raised by some five thousand contributors to the summit website and the further one thousand contributors to the web magazine at opendemocracy.net. And I’ll just give you one or two of them, because they frame the backdrop to what we’re talking about:
‘Does it make sense to wage a war on terror? Has it really paid off so far?’ – that’s from Spain. From India: ‘The rise in Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Western values or democracy; it’s a response to the United States’ support for Israel and its oppressive treatment of the Palestinians’. From Malta: ‘Since 9/11 and the war on terror, we’ve seen two international wars; does the panel think these wars have made us more secure or have they increased our vulnerability to terrorism by creating yet more resentment against the West?’ And from Portugal: ‘Does the panel believe we can simply transfer our ideas of democracy to countries which are totally different in tradition and culture?’ And from Germany: ‘Europe has not been successful at integrating immigrants and in particular Muslim communities who live in ghettos and suburbs who are not being given equal economic and social opportunities; would the panel recommend any change in policy’. And just two more: ‘Is terrorism really the most important issue we’re confronted with today, or shouldn’t we care rather more about global warming, poverty and hunger, which are threatening to kill far more people than have ever been killed by terrorist acts all taken together?’
And one more, from America: ‘In almost every Western country, civil liberties have been restricted in the name of fighting terrorism; does the panel believe this is helping our effort to curb terrorism or is it undermining our democratic way of life and alienating those who are affected?’ So how should and do democracies deal with the issue, the threat, both at home and abroad? I’ve sort of put this into broad topical headings for our use and rather than having a formulaic set of statements from the panel and then coming to the audience, in the spirit of democratic accountability and a democratic encounter, I’m going to invite one or two or three to address some of the topics and then come to you in the audience with your response, if you would be kind enough, to what they have said, rather than moving forward into future areas for discussion.
Just on a show of hands, who, if I asked you, would like to stand up and hold the floor for five or ten minutes now if I give you a hand? Would you be kind enough to put your hands up? Come on – I don’t believe it. You’ve all got egos as large as your professions! Yes, I can see some coming up. Good. Now that said, I would be grateful if you would be brief with any contribution you make. There is a microphone; when it comes round just say your name and your organisation if you have one and you wish to. Make your contribution brief, in the form of a direct statement or question to any member of the panel, and we’ll get as much dialogue to and fro as we can in the time. We’re going to start with the scale and character of the threat of terrorism. Briefly, before we go on to look at the impact and wisdom of the approach that is currently adopted at least in counterterrorism and military means. Robert Hutchings, would you kick off for us? The scale of the threat.
I think some things can be said with some confidence, speaking of the terrorist threat posed by organisations associated with Islamic extremist groups. Since 9/11, the al-Qaeda organisation has mutated into a much more diffuse, eclectic, dispersed set of actors. Official spokesmen in the United States like to point to the fact that some two-thirds of the known al-Qaeda top leadership has been either killed or put in custody. So we can say some things about the nature of this challenge having evolved quite a bit since 9/11. I think the template may be wrong and the war metaphor may have caused at least some in my country to think about this challenge in a too-narrow way. If you think of the challenge as one of a global jihad – to which I regret to say the Iraq occupation has probably contributed – of which terrorism is a part but not the totality, you think about this challenge in a somewhat broader way than simply a military one.
Madeleine Albright, your thought of the scale or character of the challenge as you read it, and with your experience, of course.
Well, I think that we do not fully understand either the scale or character of it and a great deal goes to the problem that we aren’t even able to come up with a common definition. It is clearly a tool of those who have massive disagreements with whatever policy is being carried out and the definition is normally one where innocent people are killed in order to prove a political point. I was recently at an economic conference in Jedda, where I tried to define various kinds of terrorism, obviously including the suicide bombers, what happened at our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, hitting refugee camps as terrorism, and a whole series that was much wider, I think, than the normally accepted definition of terrorism. I actually think that we are not dealing with it particularly well because we can’t define it and because we are attributing terrorist acts sometimes where they don’t exist and missing those where they are. And for me the most complicated problem is what Bob said, this mutation of various groups, where in fact – there are various definitions – it’s a little bit like if you hit mercury, it actually spreads into a lot of different places. I’m an American, but I’m not here to defend the Administration. It’s difficult always in a foreign setting, but I do think that the ways we’re dealing with terrorists are, actually, maybe creating more of them.
Does the very controversial term ‘war on terror’ have any content for you beyond that of a slogan, if you can look at that in as non-partisan a way as possible, given what you’ve just said?
I agree also. I don’t think it’s a useful term, because it is a term that demands total victory, that often you think will have a real termination, and I think that is not where we’re going and I think that it kind of was seen as a motivating factor to get everybody energised, but it’s not a useful term. But just one point, if I could make it now, is that I don’t think it is possible, even in the setting of Madrid, to explain how psychologically damaging or basically traumatising to the American people 9/11 was. And it has affected them in a way that makes people accept terminology like ‘war on terrorism’ or a very broad definition or an exclusion of people that we like from being part of it.
I would say that it’s definitely right that it is an immense challenge, because it’s a threat, because it kills people and, of course, politicians have to organise life so people are not killed. I mean, this is our task. We can’t let people say they have the right to kill in Madrid or New York or wherever it is. And at the second level of challenges, this terror challenges the strength of our democratic identity. And there the war on terror is dangerous, because with the war on terror you put entre parenthèses all the democratic structure of our daily life, because war is an exception. But the terror we live in is in our normal daily lives, in a normal structure. This is completely different to a war. And for this, I think, this terrorism wants something that we should prevent. They want a clash of civilisations and if we answer wrongly against this terrorism, they will have what they want. They are winning in the clash of civilisations because we don’t understand that for a lot of people they were the first victims of terror; we only react when we – in New York, in Madrid – are threatened. If there is a terrorist act in Nigeria or wherever, it’s on the 8 o’clock news on the BBC perhaps, but no more. This is the first thing. And the second thing that really, really is a challenge for us is: do we believe in the threads of our democracy or are we ready to make laws to fight terror, to de-structure our democracy? – this is the big danger.
That’s what we’ll definitely come on to. If you don’t mind, Lars Thunell, from the perspective of the business community – I’m sure you feel passionately and strongly about it as a human being as well and so perhaps it’s unfair – but from your perspective, what impact on the global market economy has and is the threat of terrorism having?
I think it has impacted on everybody’s life and thereby also businessmen, both in their own security, but more importantly, I think, in their choices and decisions – where to expand, where to invest and how to do it. On top of that you have the effects on the daily running of the business. You have higher insurance, you have to develop contingency plans, you have to double up your computer systems, you have to – like we have done in my bank – simulate what happens if you have a terrorist attack on one of your computer centres, how you move things around. So it really has a tremendous impact. I’ve read numbers – I don’t know whether they’re true – that just for the American industry the costs have been since 9/11 about $150 billion; so it’s big numbers that are being paid. Of course, that’s being paid in the end by the consumer.
It’s an unfortunate term, but when you gameplay the possible consequences of large terrorist attacks, do you have in your mind the thought that actually, terrorism can bring the whole thing to a standstill, so business, the economy, is frustrated from the point of view of mobility?
Well, if you’re a bank or the whole financial system and one of your major computer centres is taken out, if you can’t move it somewhere else and you don’t have the processes for doing that, it comes to a standstill – and you don’t need many bombs to do that.
Fernando Savater, we’ve been through the invasion of Iraq, the consequences of that and there’s the situation in the Middle East. When you look from here, a country which has experienced persistent terrorism from ETA on the one hand – and I suppose one ought to start to make some quite important distinctions – and the attack in Madrid on the other, do you feel that the way in which the governments of the world are at the moment – particularly the Western governments, led by the United States – approaching in antiterrorist terms, military terms… Do you feel safer as a consequence that they are now focused on it the way they are or not?
Realmente para los que hemos padecido el terrorismo en el País Vasco y en España desde hace casi treinta años, verdaderamente el ataque terrorífico en Nueva York el 11 de septiembre tuvo al menos una consecuencia positiva dentro de tantas malas y terribles, y fue que atrajo la atención mundial sobre el problema del terrorismo. Porque nosotros aquí en España hace casi treinta años que hemos estado intentando convencer no ya al mundo entero, sino solamente a nuestros socios europeos, de la Unión Europea, de que aquí había un foco de terrorismo, que había una sociedad moldeada por el terrorismo. Porque la sociedad vasca es una sociedad enmudecida, sin verdadera expresión política, etc. por la amenaza terrorista y sin embargo muchos de nosotros nos movíamos por Europa e intentábamos contar estas cosas y como no era un terrorismo que amenazase más que a los españoles, y en particular a los vascos, no encontrábamos ningún eco. Al contrario, los terroristas de ETA se movían libremente o casi libremente por Europa, encontraban asilo y más o menos incluso apoyo intelectual en muchos países y los que íbamos denunciando esta situación éramos mirados como si exagerásemos, como si quisiéramos dar la importancia a cosas muy pequeñas.
La única suerte de los terribles atentados de al-Qaeda y de cómo el terrorismo se ha convertido en un problema a escala mundial es que hoy cuando hablamos del terrorismo de ETA y de los grupos terroristas que hemos padecido durante treinta años en España, ya en toda Europa y en muchas otros partes del mundo se nos da la razón, se reconoce que eso es algo importante. Yo creo de además del terrorismo digamos global están casos de terrorismos muy particulares. En el caso del País Vasco hay un terrorismo perfectamente discriminal que no pone bombas o ataca a cualquiera, sino que ataca concretamente a adversarios políticos, a líderes políticos, a líderes de opinión, a periodistas, a profesores, a jueces, es decir, a personas que ocupan puestos importantes en la sociedad, y que poco a poco ha ido purgando a la sociedad vasca de todos aquellos elementos que se opongan al nacionalismo etnicista. Piensen que en los últimos doce años casi 200.000 personas, es decir un 10% de los ciudadanos vascos, se han ido del País Vasco. Y esto ha ocurrido en la España democrática, y sobre todo en la Europa unida, democrática, desarrollada, que francamente ha mostrado muy poca sensibilidad frente a este problema del terrorismo que ocurre en Europa...
Fernando, I don’t want to; actually, I do want to interrupt you, but only temporarily because I want to explore some of these things a little bit more down the road and we’ll come back to that point. But on the question of security, from your perspective, Robert, when you look at the antiterrorist measures that have been taken so far post-9/11, in the context of the invasion of Iraq and now the elections, is it your judgement that the world is getting safer – if I can put it like that – or more dangerous?
I think it would be too early to conclude we’re safer. We want to see how the dust settles from the elections in Iraq… It’s certainly too early to conclude that the Iraq elections have heralded the beginning of a process that will lead to a reduction in the threat; I think we simply don’t know yet. In the short term, Iraq has certainly proved to be a magnet and a training ground for terrorist activities and it’s perfectly clear that the next generation of terrorists will be those who have gained experience in Iraq and other conflicts, so we can see that to some extent.
While we have a complicated situation, we have improved our capability to fight against terrorists and this fight against terrorism makes the world a little bit safer. At the same time we haven’t made the world more just. This doesn’t mean that terrorism is linked to poverty, but terrorists can surf on the poverty and the inequality in the world. And because inequality in the world is growing, the world is more and more insecure. So even if we fight al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, all of them, until the world is more just, there will be people to exploit injustice for terrorism. This is the situation in which we live.
I think that we are involved in a truly vicious circle here. I happen to believe that we have created more terrorists. Bob mentioned that the Administration says two-thirds of the known leaders – or whatever the number is – have been destroyed, but we have no number about how many new ones have been created. At the same time, if you ask me the question of do I feel more secure or not, I have a hard time answering it for the following reason: the more I say I’m not secure, the more opportunity I give to the government to say ‘Okay, we have to protect you more’, and therefore there begins to be a greater erosion into the civil liberties. And the truth is that democracy is difficult enough, but it also is a very porous and open system in which people who disagree can thrive. So I hesitate. I’ve been saying ‘I don’t feel safer’, but then I thought to myself ‘I’m giving grist to the mill exactly to the people who want to keep closing down the society’. And we are more and more operating in societies of fear, which are not societies which are good for democracy. So it’s a vicious circle, I think.
I want to come back to Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s point, because I agree with his line of analysis. I mean there has been enormous progress in lots of ways since 9/11: we cooperate better internationally in all sorts of ways, we all of us have become more careful about closing some of the more egregious vulnerabilities in our societies and making us a little more secure to terrorist attack. So I think in terms of the war on terror, one has to point to some success. I think now we’re three and a half years since 9/11 and almost one year since 3/11 in this city, it’s time we redefined how we approach this challenge. I’ve called it ‘opening a second front in the war on terrorism’: the social, educational, cultural, political front in addition to what needs to be done in tracking down terrorist activities, and here is where I think the real challenge is for us going forward.
Those are the thoughts about the tension between security and democracy that Madeleine talked on, and Daniel was talking about the poverty, alienation and frustration that terrorists can surf on. I want to pick up on all of those things in a moment, but if there’s someone from the floor who’d like to contribute to what we’ve heard so far without going down the road of democracy versus or with security…
Delegate on the floor
My name is Amre Moussa; I’m an Egyptian diplomat and an Arab politician: I want to take up a point raised by Mr Cohn-Bendit about the clash of civilisations, which really led to a lot of tension in the world. This clash does exist between extremists on all sides and in all civilisations and cultures and they have special interests in following this clash of civilisations to the point of using violence, terrorism and extreme ideas. When I talk about that, I’m not only talking about those extremists in the Muslim world, but also the extreme neoconservatives in the Western world, who have ideas about how to control the world and how to use violence in order to change the world. That is the first point. Second point: I heard you talking about whether we are safer now than before. What do you mean by ‘we’, if you feel safe or do not feel safe? We in the Middle East, for example, do not feel safe. In Africa they do not feel safe because of poverty and so many weaknesses they have in their societies and economies. We in the Middle East are not safe because of wars, occupation and the Palestinian question. Those in Asia are not safe. Therefore we will have to have one language to talk about all of us as members of the world society.
How in that context does democracy fit in? Because, yes, you’re right there’s been an assumption here – which I was going to get on to in any case – not that one size fits all necessarily, but we’ve been talking about how democracies respond, the assumptions being the United States and those Western allies like the United Kingdom who’ve been on side. Egypt is not by those standards at the moment a democratic country. Egypt is – it’s up to you how to describe it – from a Western perspective an emerging democracy or whatever phase you like to use. You say ‘we don’t feel safe’; how is democracy relevant to the resolution of your sense of insecurity?
Delegate on the floor (Amre Moussa)
I would agree with you that democracy is relevant to any sense of security in any society, but it is not all. A sense of fairness and justice plays an important role. Added to good governance and democracy, but do not drop from your thinking that democracy is a cure for all ills – it is not a panacea. For one, the Third World feels the ills of the Third World. It is useful and we have to call for it and move towards it, but now the Palestinians, they have gone through a democratic process electing their President, electing their government and in two months’ time they have other legislative and municipal elections, but does this mean their problems are all solved? What about the occupation and what is happening to them? So democracy has to be coupled with work to put an end to the injustices, the unfairness, the maltreatment, the occupation and the clash of civilisations that is engulfing the world now.
There are potentially two things there: one is the clash of civilisations, which is an ideological, cultural divide, and you might say competing religions may be at the heart of that, and the other is the perceived sense of injustice, both of which can cause people to move towards terrorism, using religion as a banner. Do you believe the sense of injustice, poverty and unfairness is a breeding ground for terrorism in the Middle East, as well as the sense that the Palestinian issue is unresolved?
Delegate on the floor (Amre Moussa)
Yes, indeed. It is a breeding ground for violence, including terrorism.
We must find a way to talk. I have a theory on this: we here, white men, me coming from the left, we have to say to the white man ‘You produced injustice’. We have to say to the leftist, to the Basque, ‘What you do with your terror is fascist action. You are not liberating anybody; you are acting as fascists.’ This is our duty. And your duty is to say ‘I agree totally with the Palestinians’, but you have to tell the Palestinians that if you want freedom, you can’t do it through bombing. Everyone has to address their own difficulties, not only the difficulties of others. I completely agree with you that without stopping injustice we won’t solve it, but we also have the responsibility of our own family, because the illness is in both families.
Delegate on the floor (Amre Moussa)
Yes, I agree and I must say that we also committed a lot of mistakes, as you have done also, but the solution will not be just talking about democracy as a panacea for everything. And also not with a policy based on double standards.
But no double standards on the other side either!
Delegate on the floor (Amre Moussa)
We’ve got that. It’s clear and you both agree on the fundamentals. There’s a hand up there…
Delegate on the floor
My name is Matthew Burton and I represent two organisations: one is a consultancy called OMA; the other is a charitable project. The first thing I want to say is how refreshing it is to see Daniel getting all heated; in the last room a man stood up and said we all need to be more rational and less emotional, and I think if this debate gets any less emotional we'll all disappear into the dust. This is about passion; the whole thing has to be about a passion for change and vision, so it's good to see it. I'm reminded of an Irish poet who said, 'A false sense of security is the only one there is', and we need to wake up to that. If there are three types of people, those only interested in themselves, those who say they're interested in the collective but when things go wrong fall back to position (a) and the third type: when things get tough these people really step into leadership, then we need those third type of people, and we see them here.
I want to challenge Madeleine Albright –I mean, in a nice way, I hope. She said in the previous session...
She can look after herself, don't worry.
Delegate on the floor
Yes, all right, I respect that. She said at the previous session that she wants to live her life as if the challenge that she's in the present is as exciting as anything in the past, and that that's tough now she's out of office. But, I challenge you, Madeleine, to step into that leadership, you and Rand and others stateside, and to stand up and be the figureheads for a secular, progressive, humanist way of doing things. Thank-you.
(Continued in: Plenary: Democracy and Terrorism, part 2).