Values Clarification:  Fixing Terror, Facing Ourselves. Dr. Robert Zuber

15 Feb

On February 10, under Lithuania’s leadership, the Security Council held an important discussion, “The Importance of the Rule of Law in Countering the Current Terrorist Threat,” pursuant to SC Resolution 1373. The event featured the presence of France’s Minister of Justice, HE Christiane Taubira and Deputy Secretary General Eliasson.

The event also highlighted some fundamental truths, one of which was in the form of a welcome reminder from Minister Taubira not to allow threats of terror to motivate us to ‘abandon our values’ and ‘restrict our freedoms.’

Of course, a review of our recent history suggests that this is easier said than done. It was DSG Eliasson who urged that we not accept the prospect of societies living in fear.  He surely understands the degree to which fear paralyzes thoughtful action; but also the degree to which it impedes the implementation of a sound, balanced security policy. Fear tends to remain riveted on its source – imagined or real – leaving little inclination to self-reflection. It tends to produce morality plays with good guys and evil doers, not comprehensive analyses of threats, causes and consequences.

For her part, Minister Taubira rightly reminded the audience that ‘decent institutions humiliate no one.’ However, especially in the current psychological climate, it would be a considerable, if inconvenient stretch to suggest that the institutions committed to addressing threats of terror in the world have themselves achieved this high benchmark.

While countering their values of ‘brutality,’ as the UK and others frequently ascribe to ISIS and Boko Haram, we need to do more than identify and address the ‘loneliness,’ ‘social isolation,’ and other factors that we seem to have concluded are the primary pathways to extremist ideology. Other, less comforting pathways are tethered to our own, long, collective history of inflicting humiliation and economic subjugation on one another, a history that we are thankfully doing much to address, but not yet in full measure.  We still make (and sell) too many weapons, pollute large swaths of our oceans and waterways, ignore the rights of the disabled and other marginalized persons, and persist in economic policies that, as Romania’s Amb. Miculescu, Chair of the recently concluded Commission on Social Development noted, are addicted to ‘growth models’ that compromise efforts to address poverty, climate health, inequality, discrimination and other persistent social ills.  Few of these global threats, if any, can be neatly packaged and then dropped off at the doors of the terrorists.

Nothing justifies the brutalities of Boko Haram and other groups.  Nothing.  We don’t have to change much in ourselves to fully acknowledge that reality.  We might, however, need to change a bit further in order to find a sustainable solution to the fear and carnage that such brutalities engender.

In the end, it might not be too much more complicated than adopting a somewhat sophisticated application of two the west’s most enduring value formulations—“doing unto others as we would have them do unto us,” and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” The focus here, of course, is on the doing, not on the branding.   It’s about specific commitments to build the kind of world that terror cannot easily undermine, a world in which there are more winners, less hypocrisy, less bitterness. During the Feb. 10 discussion, Malaysia suggested that terrorism, like climate change, affects us all.  We might add that much like climate change, the roots of terror are inclusive of many factors and agents, certainly more inclusive than a collection of bad guys with black hoods, sharp knives and stolen mortar canons.

On Feb. 12, the Security Council passed resolution 2199 that increases pressure needed to dry up terrorist sources of funds.  This is a welcome step, but as the Council itself recognizes, it is well short of that elusive, final resolution of the terror challenge. Indeed, DSG Eliasson reminded us that there likely is no “universal solution” to terror threats. He urged diplomats working on such threats to commit to practice both cooperation and attention to context. Indeed, Lithuania’s Amb. Murmokaité and colleagues recently embarked on what was hopefully a context-refreshing trip to Niger and Mali. Such visits can only help craft policies that effectively address both threats of terror and the vast and growing social voids left in their wake.

But part of honoring ‘context’ involves fidelity to the‘doing unto others’ values that we need to practice more than espouse, values that become harder for insurgents to ‘dismiss’ as their potency in the world becomes more apparent. Such values include refraining from activities that might well be deemed humiliating by others; upholding ‘rule of law’ standards ourselves that we insist on for the rest of the world; addressing inequalities across borders and not simply within our own; and rooting out the corruption and institutionalized self-interest that undermines trust in government, thereby needlessly blurring the lines separating legitimate authority and illegitimate insurgency.

These are large and complex matters that continue to challenge the policies and values of global governance.  It is unlikely that we can effectively ‘bomb’ our way out of our terror dilemma, nor should we deceive ourselves that the ‘problem’ of terrorist brutality is only about the behavior of evildoers in the lightly governed spaces on the margins of overly ‘shocked’ African and Middle Eastern states. It seems more likely that any short-sidedness regarding the motivations and objectives of terrorists – or of ourselves — will serve to prolong the agony of terrorized populations and reinforce the paralyzing fearfulness of media consumers.


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