In contemporary times, the media has mostly sensitized the act of ‘terrorism’ by labeling it as a recent idea associated with a particular religious group. This particular definition of the act of terrorism has largely overshadowed the political nature and historical roots of terrorism at large and diverted the focus of the counter-terrorism efforts towards military solutions.
Professor Ioannis Tellidis of Kyung Hee University has argued for a change in both the perspective and approach to understanding terrorism and in employing more effective counter-terrorism policies. His approach informs the reader of the birth of these violent acts as means to bring about a change in the political order and ideological narrative. He further adds that the recent surge in more inhumane acts by terrorist groups has increased the threat perception of violence among the masses, resulting in these groups being labelled as ‘others’. This has implications for the social psychology of society as a whole and the current dominant global sentiments indicate this.
For example, there is an evidence that the fatality risks from terrorism in the United States are far fewer than the fatalities that have occurred due to lawnmowers. These figures also show similar trends among the major nations spending on counter-terrorism efforts like the United Kingdom. In the USA alone, Homeland Security expects to spend USD 89 billion on counter-terrorism through military actions till 2020. This depicts the misplaced priorities of the legislature and alludes to efforts by the administration to capture resources. Nations like these are not even close to rightly defining the term “terrorism” as all-encompassing violent acts, and instead limit it to some particular groups. This trend has been witnessed among other nations of the world too, with some exceptions. The comparative case study by Professor Ioannis Tellidis on the divergent approaches of some countries to ‘terrorism’ confirms their misplaced priorities in defining, designing, and implementing counter-terrorism strategies.
In presenting his findings at a special lecture at KDI School, Professor Ioannis compared the counter-terrorism policies of South Korea with those of Norway. According to him, the South Korean leadership has adopted a harsher approach towards terrorism by passing an act in 2016 called the “Act on Anti-Terrorism for the Protection of Citizens and Public Security”. It defines the term “terrorist” as one who is “impeding the exercise of the authority of local and national government” – Article 2(1). In addition to Article 2(1), there are other articles incorporated in the said act that provide for sweeping powers to national security agencies to collect information on potential terrorists and suspects. He was of the opinion that despite the fact that South Korea has never faced any act of terrorism in the last two decades, this act seems to serve as a tool to quash any dissent in political views and can be employed to suppress any political foe. He cited the example of banning the pro-North party UPP in 2014 from operating and de-seating of five of its sitting MPAs.
On the other hand, there is the example of Norway which, despite being part of the European Union, opted out of its proscription list (2007) that defined terrorism for all the EU states. Instead, it has been engaged in dialogues with the groups like Hamas that have shown an intention to change the political order. Norway faced an act of terrorism in 2011 from a member of a group espousing a right wing ideology whereby the said person killed 80 innocent people. In spite of this, Norway has adopted a more inclusive approach to address the problem of terrorism by avoiding the use of laws for propaganda and other motives and calling for ‘more democracy, more openness and greater political participation’. The idea was to shift the society’s attitudes by addressing the root cause of terrorism that had a political nature. Employing these strategies quells any sense of “otherfication” of groups in society and gives equal representation through the attitude of the ‘everyday’; that is, every single day counts in changing the overall perception. In this pursuit, Norway is promoting spaces for the practice of expression to prevent the social fabric from being torn apart. For example, street art and graffiti are used in Norway to highlight the message of inclusiveness and ways of treating terrorism.
These contrasting approaches in South Korea and Norway provide a glimpse into the divergence in policy priorities and help underscore the lacunae within them. At the same time, understanding these approaches helps societies to dig deeper and untangle the foundations of the myths that promote exclusion and hatred. The students at KDI School as the representatives of diverse territories were encouraged to emulate these ideas in their everyday lives.
Anees Abbas (2018 MPP, Pakistan)