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Terrorism, anti-terrorism and the law
by Jorge A F Godinho

Terrorism, anti-terrorism and the law

Some years have elapsed since the tragic events of 9/11. In these years the world has been confronted with a new type of terrorist acts characterized by suicide missions and a radical interpretation of Islam; on the other hand, research has enabled an understanding of the facts surrounding its appearance, and an answer to the question of whether the post-9/11 world is objectively an entirely new one.
It is clear that the new breed of terrorist acts inspired by al-Qaeda has a fundamentally destructive and utopian background. The agenda of the Islamic fundamentalists would be, ultimately, the destruction of all infidels including Americans, Jews, Western societies and, perhaps, the conversion of the entire world population to Islam. That will not happen: Americans and Jews shall not be destroyed, and Islam is a religion that will have to live together with other religions and, of course, with the millions of persons who do not believe in deities of any kind. Islamic fundamentalism has goals as realistic as some other terrorists of the past, from the anarchists of the late nineteenth century to the extreme left wing movements of the 1970’s.
One of the things that have happened in 9/11 is that the world in general and the US in particular were confronted with a terrorist group that has adopted a very American goal: the pursuit of the ‘spectacular’. Al-Qaeda has clearly favored the strong psychologic effect of multiple simultaneous coordinated attacks: the two embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, the four missile airplanes of 9/11, the various train bombings in Madrid in 2004, the four bombs in London in 2005, the failed multiple explosions of airplanes planned for August 2006, among others.
The fact that the vast majority of Islam does not share the views of these radicals is clear. The 1.3 billion people who live from Morocco to Indonesia are not up in arms against the West. If they were, the world would truly be in a third world war. Citizens of Western Europe had to endure the terrorist menace of the Italian Brigate Rosse and the German Baader Meinhof groups during some years, until these groups finally dissolved. The same hopefully will happen with Islamic fundamentalism, although, being an
internationalized phenomenon, having more resources, and being actively fed by the war in Iraq, the threat may last much longer and be much more serious. In any event, this quantitative aspect does not change the essence of the threat.
Meanwhile, the West needs to have a sober approach to the issue, and not a populist one. The so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is not a war. Wars are not waged against a tactic. Civilians may always be targeted by groups with political agendas, and this is impossible to completely control and prevent.
Terrorists are criminals, and should be treated by the criminal process, in accordance with the rule of law. The years immediately after 9/11 were seen by some as ‘window of opportunity’ to pass a range of measures having serious impact on fundamental rights, and that have indeed caused some erosion of some of them, including privacy, guarantees of criminal process, personal freedom and even separation of powers.
However, notwithstanding popular perceptions, crime statistics worldwide show that the world and societies in which we now live are much safer than decades ago. It is high time to abandon populism, return to normality, and question if all of the restrictions on fundamental rights that took place in the last few years are really justified and necessary, as measured against concrete trends, facts, evidence and results produced. An evidence-based paradigm is necessary. It is the restrictions on freedom that need to be justified, and not the opposite.

Date Posted: 01-Mar-2009

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Macau
jgodinho@umac.mo

Terrorism, anti-terrorism and the law
by JORGE A. F. GODINHO

Terrorism, anti-terrorism and the law
JORGE A. F. GODINHO
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Macau
jgodinho@umac.mo
[Macau Business, May 2008]
Some years have elapsed since the tragic events of 9/11. In these years the world has been confronted with a new type of terrorist acts characterized by suicide missions and a radical interpretation of Islam; on the other hand, research has enabled an understanding of the facts surrounding its appearance, and an answer to the question of whether the post-9/11 world is objectively an entirely new one.
It is clear that the new breed of terrorist acts inspired by al-Qaeda has a fundamentally destructive and utopian background. The agenda of the Islamic fundamentalists would be, ultimately, the destruction of all infidels including Americans, Jews, Western societies and, perhaps, the conversion of the entire world population to Islam. That will not happen: Americans and Jews shall not be destroyed, and Islam is a religion that will have to live together with other religions and, of course, with the millions of persons who do not believe in deities of any kind. Islamic fundamentalism has goals as realistic as some other terrorists of the past, from the anarchists of the late nineteenth century to the extreme left wing movements of the 1970’s.
One of the things that have happened in 9/11 is that the world in general and the US in particular were confronted with a terrorist group that has adopted a very American goal: the pursuit of the ‘spectacular’. Al-Qaeda has clearly favored the strong psychologic effect of multiple simultaneous coordinated attacks: the two embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, the four missile airplanes of 9/11, the various train bombings in Madrid in 2004, the four bombs in London in 2005, the failed multiple explosions of airplanes planned for August 2006, among others.
The fact that the vast majority of Islam does not share the views of these radicals is clear. The 1.3 billion people who live from Morocco to Indonesia are not up in arms against the West. If they were, the world would truly be in a third world war. Citizens of Western Europe had to endure the terrorist menace of the Italian Brigate Rosse and the German Baader Meinhof groups during some years, until these groups finally dissolved. The same hopefully will happen with Islamic fundamentalism, although, being an
internationalized phenomenon, having more resources, and being actively fed by the war in Iraq, the threat may last much longer and be much more serious. In any event, this quantitative aspect does not change the essence of the threat.
Meanwhile, the West needs to have a sober approach to the issue, and not a populist one. The so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is not a war. Wars are not waged against a tactic. Civilians may always be targeted by groups with political agendas, and this is impossible to completely control and prevent.
Terrorists are criminals, and should be treated by the criminal process, in accordance with the rule of law. The years immediately after 9/11 were seen by some as ‘window of opportunity’ to pass a range of measures having serious impact on fundamental rights, and that have indeed caused some erosion of some of them, including privacy, guarantees of criminal process, personal freedom and even separation of powers.
However, notwithstanding popular perceptions, crime statistics worldwide show that the world and societies in which we now live are much safer than decades ago. It is high time to abandon populism, return to normality, and question if all of the restrictions on fundamental rights that took place in the last few years are really justified and necessary, as measured against concrete trends, facts, evidence and results produced. An evidence-based paradigm is necessary. It is the restrictions on freedom that need to be justified, and not the opposite.

Date Posted: 14-Jun-2009

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Macau
jgodinho@umac.mo

 
 
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