Budapest Centre Position Paper on tools to fight terrorism

Are there other ways to fight terrorism?

The Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities expresses its sincere condolences to the loved ones of victims of the recent terrorist attacks. The Budapest Centre unreservedly condemns such wanton violence and all such atrocities which destroy life and undermine human dignity.

These sad events, unfortunately, also provide an occasion to raise some issues that may help the international community to make progress in fighting radicalization and extremism and to further prevent these crimes.

The terrorist attacks have rightfully provoked public outrage and must be prevented by all available means. Populations must be protected and terrorists brought to account for their crimes and vital security to be restored. Many citizens are now feeling fearful and hostile towards those that they perceive as associated with these acts of violence. Emotions are high and there are calls for revenge. In such an atmosphere, there is a real risk of fragmentation and destabilisation of societies. Scapegoating, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and hatred gain public space. All these elements could potentially lay a foundation for the commission of further mass atrocities.

In the wake of terrorist attacks, such as we have witnessed in the last few months, the first reactions of governmental agencies have justly included the introduction of administrative measures to arrest the perpetrators and those who supported them either directly or indirectly. The mobilization of domestic and international resources to strengthen security is likewise an appropriate response in this emergency situation.

There is a greater resolve to destroy the capabilities of the so-called Islamic State, which continues to recruit, train and equip terrorists with the physical and psychological means to perpetrate mass atrocities in this manner.

All these measures correspond to the expectations of the general population and will help to recover trust in the power of states and governments to protect their citizens. At the same time, other questions must be posed: Are “hard” measures sufficient to combat terrorist attacks? Will vengeance in itself bring peace, calm and security? The reply to such queries is undoubtedly no.

It would be a strategic failure – and an illusion – to create the impression that terrorism and atrocities of this sort could be defeated definitively. Unfortunately, there will always be those who will be ready and able to commit atrocities and to kill innocent people for political and other reasons. Terrorism has been around for a very long time, and the world will most likely not be able to rid itself of it in any foreseeable future.

Terrorism has taken the form of an international guerrilla war with the specificity of local guerrilla activities: attacks occur at unexpected times and locations. Such operations can never be entirely predicted or prevented with one hundred percent certainty. History has shown that guerrillas cannot be defeated by traditional means. There will always remain some guerrilla cells that will find a way to attack, kill and destroy in an effort to demonstrate their existence, power and influence.

We can realistically succeed in decreasing the number, frequency and amplitude of terrorist attacks and atrocities through an approach which combines both “hard” and “soft” measures, the latter including an energetic exploration of the root causes of extremism and terrorism. This exploration must be given priority in any long-term plan to address terrorism in our times.

When fighting terrorism we should be careful to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and apply appropriate tools for specific situations. Countering trends which lead to extremism and combatting terrorism in one context will not be the same for all. In the case of IS and similar movements, for example, military operations will remain a core strategy. That is a sensational approach for which we can expect a sensational outcome that it is easily mediatized.

However, responding to other radicalized non-state actors will call for soft tools, such as mediation and dialogue. These methodologies can take time and are often employed behind the scenes. They can also give insight into the reasons and conditions that led to extreme positions in the first place. Soft tools also include fighting poverty, social inequalities and ignorance. The promotion of universal human rights and values, such as dignity, mutual respect, tolerance and non-discrimination, can also emerge from these processes. Divisions within communities and societies can be bridged, the distinction between “us” and “them” diminished.

Politicians are more inclined to prefer “hard” tools, which offer to their constituencies the impression that they are able to manage crises, respond to risks and fulfil their need for stability and security. Politicians link the challenges of terrorism to perceived threats, such as migration, and appeal to populist notions in order to secure their own electability. Conversely, the effect of “soft” measures is typically seen only beyond election periods. The political will for implementing a “soft” approach is thereby weakened and even abandoned.

The proper application of “soft” methodologies requires an adequate assessment of trends to be countered in a given situation. Among the issues to be scrutinized should be the role and correlation of variables (social, ideological and psychological) that could motivate people to act to kill innocent people, including their own compatriots. An examination of the root causes requires an interdisciplinary and holistic approach whilst rigorously applying the lens of extremism and possibilities for prevention.

When applying soft tools one must avoid generalisations. For instance, refugees and migrants must not be equated with terrorists. This only leads to divisiveness and exclusionary attitudes as well as social hostilities that fuel extremism. One of the ways governments and institutions can help avoid such generalisations in the case of refugees and migrants is to provide information. Newcomers need information on the hosting country, its values, rules, habits and traditions. Citizens of the host country need in turn to be informed of the real stories and tragic situations from which the newcomers have fled. An intentional programme of sustained dialogue early on can significantly decrease the mistrust which often exists between any new settler and host.

Perpetrators of recent terrorist attacks and atrocities have often been people who have rejected an idea of peaceful coexistence and have instead adopted the values, beliefs and traditions of external actors that are hostile to the values of peace and integration. Such civilizational challenge cannot be adequately addressed by individual nations and governments. It requires transnational cooperation and dialogue at the level of “civilizations.” The greater the political will for collaboration and dialogue the greater will be the potential to effectively counter radical trends. That is why the Member States of the United Nations must find ways to fight terrorism and extremism collectively.

Under current global conditions and in terms of multi-polarism, where the values of different civilizations play an increasing role and are a driver of external policies, prominent representatives of different values, beliefs and civilizations must enhance cooperation.

The Budapest Centre is aware of the numerous efforts being made at this time toward soft approaches to the present crisis. By this reflection we call on all stakeholders within the international community to pay greater attention to the preventative tools that are available and to dedicate more resources to soft means even in these difficult times.

We also wish to encourage those who possess considerable expertise in preventative approaches to raise their voice and urge politicians to dedicate themselves to long-term actions, the impact of which will only be realized beyond election periods.

We also argue for intensifying the dialogue between religious leaders, as they can have enormous influence to mediate between civilizations and to encourage peaceful solutions for countering religion-inspired extremism. Their intervention can also help bridge the gap between universal and local values and harmonize their implementation. This constitutes a top priority to be addressed by the international community.

In this rapidly globalizing world, in the pursuit of universal values, tolerance and the acceptance of diversity should govern the way that civilizations, nations and communities relate to one another. These values preclude any attempt to forcibly impose one religion or ethnic tradition upon another. No civilization is entitled to supersede another. And new settlers to any country are bound to respect the social and legal structures as well as the way of life that prevail in their new environment or else they will naturally meet with reservation and resistance of the hosts.

Mutual respect and tolerance must be vigorously promoted, not just as a governing principle but also worked out in the very fabric of daily life in our modern pluralistic societies. We must do better in this respect, or else the scourge of terrorist violence will not be diminished and peace maintained at home or abroad.

Authors of the position paper: Gyorgy Tatar, Chair of the Budapest Centre, & Mark Barwick, Policy Adviser on Programmes for Dialogue