The Right Way to Combat Terrorism
The global war on terror needs to tackle the root cause of extremism
By Yu Lintao  ·  2016-05-03  ·   Source: | NO. 18 MAY 5, 2016


An investigator in explosion-proof gear searches for explosives in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels on March 25 (XINHUA/REUTERS) 

Since the 1990s, there has been an explosion in the number of terror attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. The United States' devastation on September 11, 2001 marked a watershed moment in global history—indicating no one was safe from acts of violence and terror. The attacks served as a catalyst for the birth of a new initiative, the global war on terrorism, led by the United States and other Western powers. However, rather than ushering in peace and stability, the war on terrorism only spurred the expansion of terrorist means and forces. What are the reasons behind this outcome?

Guiding principles 

Terrorists are global antagonists. Terrorist activity undermines social stability and economic security not just in one country, but also threatens peace and security on a global scale. UN conventions and resolutions define and categorize terrorist activities as criminal offenses that severely endanger social security.

As per that definition, anti-terrorism efforts should be guided by principles designed to fight against crime—but not be so exaggerated as to result in actual war. Terrorists around the world have entrenched themselves into their role as aggressors, fighting a campaign the likes of which the world has never seen. The fire of terror has been stoked rather than smothered, spreading farther than originally anticipated.

What's more, although some Western countries claim to be the defenders of human rights, the war on terror has demonstrated that when fear is involved, ideology is often shunned in favor of realpolitik. During the war in Iraq that started in 2003, for example, the Abu Ghraib prison that was run by the United States was host to numerous cases of well-documented abuse, including torture, of prisoners.

Double standard is rife in the utilitarian actions of some Western countries. Basic human rights may be ignored in the process of enforcing national security. This was also demonstrated in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba starting from 2002, where the United States held prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention until the Supreme Court ordered the prison to adhere to it in 2006.

At the same time, a number of Western countries have also revealed ulterior motives by sheltering or even sponsoring terrorist activities in other sovereign states. Israel's 1954 Lavon Affair in Egypt, for example, was allegedly a false-flag operation involving bomb attacks meant to stir violence in the region.

Such double standard has fomented further acts of violence and validated terrorists' beliefs and actions. This has weakened the foundation of international human rights laws established after World War II and have undermined the legitimacy of the campaign against terror.

The UN human rights protection body has always maintained that no one should commit terrorism on the pretext of ethnic, racial or religious discrimination, human rights violations, absence of the rule of law, or social and economic marginalization. Therefore, to protect the common interests of mankind, the international community must abandon double standard when combating these crimes.


Afghan schoolchildren take lessons outdoor at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, on December 2, 2013 (XINHUA/AFP) 

A path forward 

National governments should play a dominant role in fending off terrorism within their own borders. As for international anti-terrorism efforts, all nations should respect international laws and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the countries involved based on the principle of mutual respect and non-interference.

No nation can arbitrarily use force to infringe upon another country's territory to fight terrorism without the consent of the latter. But the fact remains that in the current campaign against terror, some Western countries still trample on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of others.

Terrorist activities violate the basic values on which human society is based, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law. When there is a conflict between security and freedom in the fight against terrorism, national security takes precedence. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, part of the International Bill of Human Rights, has stipulated that "In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, color, sex, language, religion or social origin."

From this perspective, effective anti-terror measures and human rights protection do not contradict each other but rather, supplement each other. Sometimes, personal freedoms can be curtailed by legal measures during the process of an anti-terror campaign in order to better safeguard social stability and economic development. Thus, the critical point is to strike a balance between anti-terror efforts and the protection of human rights so as to prevent any unnecessary infringements.

The success of a campaign against terrorism entails the eradication of the conditions fostering the spread of terrorism. The U.S.-led war on terror stresses only wipes out terrorists and extremist forces, but pays little attention to eliminating the foundation on which extremism is based. Such a war will not produce any victor.

China has also been a victim of terrorism. It has adopted different measures to root out the social causes and prevent the expansion of extremism. These actions include enhancing people's level of education in volatile regions and improving livelihoods.

When responding to terrorism, close international coordination is needed instead of unilateralism, and comprehensive measures such as political, economic, diplomatic, military and legal means should be employed rather than relying solely on force.

All members of the international community should be committed to creating more job opportunities for citizens while narrowing the gap between their rich and poor.

Regional conflicts should be settled in a just manner while simultaneously enhancing mutual understanding and dialogue between different countries—as opposed to stimulating confrontation, and security can be achieved through collaboration, dialogue, mutual trust as well as development.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan 

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