Terrorism and anti-terror fight putting pressure on rights

Terrorism and anti-terror fight putting pressure on rights

The nature of terrorist actions has changed since the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. After 9/11, a global guerilla war and a global counter-guerilla war took the stage. 

History books in the future will probably note al-Qaeda as the first example of a state structure without a territory, an army without a flag, conducting action across borders with political aims for the domination of an extreme and brutal interpretation of a global religion, Islam, which means “peace” in Arabic.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has raised the bar of terror to a record high since 2013, as a byproduct of the civil war in Syria. ISIL, different from the internationalist Al-Qaeda, is bidding to form states in different parts of the world by carving out territories from existing nation states, rejecting their borders - as in Syria and Iraq. 

Now, after training enough militants ready to commit suicide attacks for their ideological cause, ISIL is sending them back to Western cities. There may be another motivation for this besides simply spreading terror across borders: By demonstrating that ISIL can damage Western interests and the Western way of life, they are probably aiming to recruit more members of Al-Qaeda or other extremist cells.

As a result, ISIL creates an evil new example for more traditionally structured organizations that use terrorism extensively, for example the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. 

Indeed, at the crossroads of many ancient trade routes and civilizations, in one of the most politically volatile regions on earth, Turkey has never been alien to the use of terrorism linked to political purposes. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the fight with the PKK since 1984, when the group launched its armed campaign for an independent Kurdish state carved out of the territories of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. 

The PKK used suicide bombers only once or twice over the past three decades. But since the emergence of ISIL, the PKK has committed a number of such attacks in public places, killing people indiscriminately, while also trying to organize armed uprisings in mostly Kurdish-populated towns near the border with Syria, Iraq and Iran, in order to create de facto controlled cross-border areas similar to ISIL.

As “terrorism sans-frontiére” escalates, the security measures of individual governments and supra-national organizations like the EU and NATO are also getting tougher. Parliaments are working on more measures and regulations to suppress acts of terror. Besides limits placed on rights due to terrorist attacks - from freedom of expression (as such organizations severely punish those who are not like themselves) to the right to use public space (as fear deters many people) - tougher measures by governments and international bodies are also putting pressure on rights. These measures include pressures on the right to know (through formal or informal limitations on the media) and new laws allowing courts to consider any opposition under the umbrella of terrorism, espionage, or similar heavy crimes. 

Gradually, the space for democratic rights is narrowing. A “sans-frontiére” approach is needed to both fight terrorism and maintain democratic rights at the same time.