5th Worldwide Security Conference
I am blogging directly from the EastWest Institute’s 5th Annual Conference on Security, held in Brussels. The food is incredible, but I’m frustrated.
The theme of the conference, which has gathered some 750 people from all over the world is “Protecting People, Economies, and Infrastructure”. As ever the threat from terrorism committed in the name of Islam is monopolising the agenda. More specifically, all the talk is about countering radicalisation and extremism.
Seeing as that what I came for, that’s fine. I’m frustrated because of the total lack of any original thinking. On the opening day, Nui Qingboa, Deputy Director General of External Security, China, said the reason we are seeing an increase in Islamic extremism is because of the gap between the rich and the poor. A little vague, but let’s go with it. Then Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, adviser to the Sudanese president on Peace Affairs, helpfully said that the way to prevent extremism was – and I quote – “democracy, human rights, and education”. Cue nodding en masse. As ever, someone from the audience then raised the issue of terminology: it's misleading to refer to Islamic terrorists as jihadists, because jihad in classical Arabic means “struggle” and in Islam, the spiritual struggle is the most important Jihad. More nodding from us.
It’s hard to disagree that global justice, decreasing the gap between the rich and poor, and an intelligent use of sensitive terminology are important. But we’ve hit a brick wall. The same issues are raised at pretty much every conference and are now empty buzzwords and slogans that guarantee enthusiastic nods from an already convinced audience.
What’s totally missing is an attempt to understand what it is that makes Islamic violence so appealing as a form of action. We are focusing on what we might call the “push” factors that drive people to support extremist ideology. But they don’t explain why it is that some people decide violent not peaceful extremism is the way to address these problems. In fact, for most home grown Islamic terrorists, accepting violence as a means of action is often simultaneous with, and sometimes even precedes, deep involvement with extremist ideology.
To have a more complete picture, we need to start understanding what it is about violent narratives and violent lifestyles that are attractive and appealing – the pull factors. For example, sometimes they offer young men the chance to transform themselves from a nobody in a run-down suburb to a heroic warrior battling dark forces in a global war on terror.
Without seeking to understand this side of the story, we are going to continue going round in ever decreasing circles.