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Article Released Thu-11th-August-2005 13:24 GMT
Contact: Timo Kivimäki Institution: NIAS -- Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
 Islam, the West and Violence: Sources, Catalysts, and Preventive Measures. Timo Kivimäki (ed.). Foreign Ministry of Finland Helsinki. 2005.

This book has two objectives:
1. It analyses the sources and catalysts of violence in relations between the Muslim world and the West. (Part II).
2. It offers strategic perspectives for reducing Islamic-West inter-civilizational violence. (Part III)

Book: Timo Kivimäki (ed.). Islam, the West and Violence: Sources, Catalysts, and Preventive Measures. Foreign Ministry of Finland
Helsinki. 2005.

The review carried out reveals that individual economic grievances contribute to terrorist recruitment only through their contribution to war mobilisation, and only when individual grievances are political (alienation, “rootlessness”, lack of political channels of protest) rather than economic in nature. Terrorist individuals come from less democratic countries and have often been deprived of political rights because of their immigrant status.
Drastic economic decline on a national level contributes to terrorist recruitment directly, and indirectly through its contribution to war mobilisation: a drastic drop in relative economic well-being among groups of people, and ethnic and religious based differences in economic opportunities, are therefore associated with the rise of terrorism.
Economic and political grievances that are most clearly linked with conditions conducive to terrorism are the transnational and international grievances of Muslims. These grievances are used successfully in creating tolerance for terrorism. This tolerance is then the foundation for individual motivation to join terrorist groups, as well as for the creation of opportunities for groups to organize their terrorist recruitment.
Problems in the national economy contribute to the growth of terrorism by increasing the risk that the state will become seriously weakened or break down completely, which again is an important precondition for terrorist organisation.

To a large extent the idea of ‘the Western world’ and the idea of ‘the Islamic world’ are fictitious constructs that have relevance only in the context of anti-Islamic and anti-Western groups. Neither extreme of the tense Islam-West relationship is united, and neither is explicitly against the other.
While Muslims tend to perceive Western resentment of Islam more clearly than the West perceives Muslim resentment of the West, in reality Western attitudes towards Muslims and Islam are more positive, while the attitudes of Muslims towards the West are more negative, than conventional wisdom believes, according to recent polls. While it can be shown that the West does not systematically target Islamic people with aggression or discrimination, the global reality of Muslim marginalisation and the power asymmetry of the Islam-West relationship makes it easier for Muslims to perceive the West as an enemy.
The unity of the West as a block in its relationship with the Muslim world is a myth as much as is the unity of the Muslim world in its relationship with the West. In particular the military aspects of Western counter-terrorism seem to put most European governments and a great majority of their people on the side of the Muslim world rather than on the side of the US.
An antagonistic approach in West-Islam relations originates from the difficulties in finding and the neglect of seeking for mutually acceptable rules for a Western military and economic presence in the Islamic world, and for a Muslim presence, primarily as immigrants, in the West.
The antagonism is fuelled by the logic of tension, which tends to exaggerate the negative perceptions of the Other, the representativeness of the extreme views and deeds against the Other, and the unity of the Other against oneself. Furthermore conflict as a tradition is often used to fuel this antagonism.

The causal links from various levels of poverty to terrorism are such that they can be dealt with by paying attention to the counter-terrorism aspect in many types of poverty reduction measures. Rather than just designing interventions specifically to address solely the problem of terrorism, the aim of preventing violence, conflict and terrorism should be integrated into all normal development cooperation programmes. Poverty reduction and support for democracy could be made to better serve the purpose of preventing terrorism (while primarily focusing on other development aims) through including them in the following:

1. Solving the political problems of cooperation:
• For successful cooperation in the prevention of terrorism, one needs to develop a common political platform for operations. UN coordination should probably play an important role in the creation of this platform, which should include planks on poverty reduction and support for democracy.
• When the basic principles of joint action are in place, it is still important to consider carefully the power sharing in actual cooperation. Equal partnership, broad-based societal dialogue and joint development of the rules of counter-terrorism should be the operational principles of counter-terrorist cooperation that aims at avoiding legitimacy problems and counter-productive backlashes.

2. Refocusing some priorities:
• Relative poverty, rather than absolute, is at the core of a great deal of political violence and terrorism. Thus, the focus should be on groups with relatively declining economic and/or political status. Deprived groups might not be subnational, they can also be transnational, for example, groups (such as the Kurds, Islamic Malays of Southern Thailand and Malaysia, and Palestinians in several Middle East countries, etc.) that exist in border areas.
• Focus on Muslim poverty.
• Poverty alleviation has to reach difficult areas, some of which may not necessarily fulfil some of the criteria of program countries.
• Promotion of democracy should seek ways to address the problem of international democracy, not only the problem of national democracy.

3. Opportunities offered by concrete cooperation in fighting the ideological battle against terrorism should be utilised. The main ideological problems that could be tackled are:
• The violent ideology of civilian targeting. This ideology, rather than organisations with imagined or real formal organisational structures, should be seen as the main enemy in counter-terrorism.
• The linking of Islamic grievances with desperate acts of civilian targeting. Working with the grievances could be paired with ideological work to show that terrorism should not be seen as an automatic, logical consequence of these grievances nor should it be seen as the obvious solution to end them.

Dialogue should focus on finding culturally accommodating rules of cooperation on issues and in areas where the West needs to collaborate with the Muslim world. Instead of seeking agreement on the foundations of inter-cultural norms, the dialogue could utilise Western and Muslim experts in trade and military relations and focus narrowly on the pragmatic normative issues related to the main bones of contention, which are:

• International commodity (oil) trade, which is sometimes seen as Muslim resources being taken by (military) force.
• Western investment in the Muslim world,
• Rights of Muslim immigrants and visitors in the West, an issue which has motivated many immigrant terrorists to commit acts of violence. Correspondingly, the rights of Western individuals in the Muslim world,
• Western military presence, which is often seen as occupation of the Holy Lands, and
• Joint humanitarian crisis-prevention operations in the Muslim world, which, without dialogue and normative consideration is sometimes seen as based on religious and economic objectives.

Failing to establish a functioning, normative dialogue on economic and security issues would prove very costly for economic relations and extremely dangerous for security relationships. The Asia-Europe Roundtable could be taken as the model for establishing a forum for security and economic dialogue between the Islamic world and the West.
Unstable elements in Islam-West power asymmetries should be addressed by means of poverty alleviation and support for both national and international democracy. Addressing the issues fuelling terrorism in the ongoing conflicts in Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, and Kashmir would also help in reducing tension. Perhaps establishing an institutionalised dialogue forum, along the lines suggested above, for each of these conflicts could be useful, together with serious political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflicts themselves. Because of the broad basis of the escalating negative images, any dialogue intended to modify the negative images should also be broadly based. Dialogue should be used to deconstruct the main elements underlying the logic of these negative images. Thus such dialogue should:

• Reveal the diversity of Islam to the West and reveal the diversity of the West to the Muslim World. Cultural dialogue should give visibility to different ethnic and cultural expressions.
• Rehumanise “the Other”. There are constructive examples in Foreign Ministry educational programmes about the everyday lives of people “beyond the ethnic barrier”. Further, the scheduling of diplomatic events, state visits, etc. could emphasise the ordinary people when diplomacy is dealing with inter-ethnic relations.
• Show how marginal the violent extremist groups opposing the West/Islam really are. This could be done by promoting transparency instead of controlling the media as part of counter-terrorism. Media cooperation should value transparency of the media as an example to be followed and as a move to be reciprocated by governments in Muslim countries.

International cooperation between the Islamic world and the West for the prevention of terrorism would need to be sensitive and sensible. It should put the counter-terrorist aims into perspective. The prevention of terrorism has become a dominant issue on the international agenda, partly because of the threat it poses to Western people. Based on statistics in US State Department annual reports on global terrorism, about 700 people are killed in terrorist attacks in one year. Compare that to the more than 7 million (non-Western) children killed by hunger in one year. The issue of the global international income gap is very low on the international diplomatic agenda. The high priority put on the prevention of terrorism thus exemplifies the West-centric agenda and the lack of global democracy that are sources of some of the grievances that give rise to terrorism. In dealing with the problem of terrorism, Islam-West cooperation should try to avoid exaggerating the gravity of the problem despite the fact that terrorism has the potential for much greater destruction than we have so far seen. Resolving some of the grievances behind terrorism, such as the national and international political and economic grievances of Muslims, alleviating the weaknesses and deficiencies of the states in the Middle East and North Africa, settling the conflict in Palestine, and deconstructing the perceived antagonism between the Western and the Muslim worlds, might prove more important in the long run than simply taking short term counter terrorist measures today.

Journal information

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Elements for Discussion

Funding information

Finnish Foreign Ministry

Keywords associated to this article: Terrorism, Inter-civilizational relations
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