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A strategy for counter-terrorism

  • Published at 12:05 am June 17th, 2019
Bullet gun
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Eradicating terrorism needs careful policy formulation

In November 2004, a report by the UN Secretary General described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” 

Nevertheless, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding definition of this crime. The failure to agree appears to originate from difficulties arising from the fact that the term “terrorism” is politically and emotionally charged.

It needs to be understood that criminal acts intended to provoke a state of terror is unjustifiable, whatever the considerations may be invoked to justify them. 

One aspect is however clear -- the behavioural typology of international terrorism, today, is linked generally to social revolution, religious extremism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and extreme right or left beliefs. 

In many cases, terrorist attacks take place by a terrorist group to draw international attention. Analysts have consequently suggested that terrorist organizations do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness. 

Individual terrorists tend to be motivated more by a desire for social solidarity with other members of their organization than by political platforms or strategic objectives, which are often murky and undefined.

The term “militant” is not associated with the military. In general usage, a militant is confrontational in his/her approach and displays aggressive behaviour. It is also sometimes used as a euphemism for terrorist or armed insurgents.

During a recent discussion on terrorist and militant attacks, there was general agreement that measures need to be taken to tackle these undesirable situations through carefully coordinated policy formulation and suitable legislation.

It was stressed that while developing such a policy, public sentiment, acceptance, religious tolerance, societal norms, and behaviour towards other members of the community need to be carefully evaluated to obtain a clearer perspective of the existing situation.

In this regard, one needs to understand that there has been a general shift because of digitalization and the widespread use of social media. 

This, in turn, has led to a shorter attention span and less interest in reading long texts. 

Consequently, the regular and traditional method of communicating with the public, regarding any regulatory measures and decisions through the official government TV channels also needs to understand that brevity on all matters is important.

There was also a general consensus that announcements, news, events, and communications through the TV, either through a telecast message or a TV scroll, was considered more trustworthy and authentic by the mass public. 

The use of broadcast media -- radio, FM, and community radio -- was considered as the second best alternative for communicating a policy decision on counter-terrorism, pertaining to a possible act of terrorism or militancy. 

The use of print media -- many pointed out that the print media had gained in importance since the introduction of online publications and websites.

There was also a general consensus that communicating a policy decision on such a delicate subject -- terrorism, militancy, or terrorist groups -- and measures that need to be taken in this regard could also be taken forward successfully through a more responsible use of the internet and the social media. 

There was also a reference not only to the need for prison reform and inmate education to prevent radicalization within the prison but also creating a support structure regarding rehabilitation of those who have been confronted with such a situation.

Another significant factor was also agreed upon. It related to the participatory discussion in educational institutions with the youthful population and representatives from different segments of the society, the civil society, and cultural and religious cross sections. 

This approach was particularly proposed not only for urban areas but also in the rural outreach in different sub-regions of Bangladesh. Such a dialogue could also be transmitted directly on the TV and also through the broadcast media. It was felt that this process could be financed through a public-private partnership.

This participatory approach would not only add to the civic consciousness about the mal-effects of violence, fundamentalism, terrorism, and militancy but would also create the necessary nexus in being able to successfully tackle the osmotic influence of terrorism and militancy. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]