Let’s Start With Our Preoccupied Perceptions – OpEd


By Suleyman Ozeren

Today, terrorism is still one of the most important security problems in the globe, if not the most important. But since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the terrorism problem has been considered or modified by some who think that it is an illness of others. The incident in Norway has been considered or defined as anything but terrorism. Different terms, such as crazy, mass murder, mass killing have been used to describe the incident. That incident is a typical example of right-wing terrorism, but for some reason the use of the word terrorism to describe the incident was carefully avoided. In a way, the Western media has turned a blind eye to the painful incident by portraying it as a mass murder by a crazy person. However, the court’s final verdict clarified the issue by sentencing Breivik with the maximum imprisonment available in the Norwegian law system.

The inherent problem here is that when you deny an ever-deepening problem, it does not go away. Right-wing terrorism or extremism is as dangerous as al-Qaeda terrorism. The concept of radicalization on the other hand “is an identity building process where the dynamics of group membership (re-socialization) and teachings are highly effective in moving new members from being sympathizers to full-fledged members who embrace violence.” These individuals have gone though similar routes, but the end of their journeys ended in different locations. Almost every terrorist organization uses similar methods in a group dynamic. In fact the fundamental logic behind their violent actions is exactly the same. The difference is the terms, statements, or notion through which they justify their actions. Otherwise Bin laden and Breivik are almost ideological twins. They seem to be opposites in terms of their aims and targets; however, they had a similar attitude when they defined friend or foe, good or evil.

For instance, Osama pointed out the West as a cause of every negative thing and defeat that the Muslim world has experienced. Likewise, Breivik points out the Muslim world as the cause of every negative thing in the Europe and in the Christian world.

Osama pointed made the West and those who cooperated with the West targets to be attacked. Breivik like Osama made Muslims along with people and leaders in the West who tolerate Muslims targets to be attacked.

Osama claimed that Muslim casualties (those wounded or killed by al-Qaeda attacks) were victims of a sacred war on Muslims. Breivik claims that his victims are sacrificed Christians to further a greater cause.

Osama targeted Turkey as it is a democratic and secular country with a 95% Muslim population and because Turkey has a tolerant and mainstream moderate Islamic view. In the same way, Breivik views Turkey as a great enemy though Turkey has a long history of a good relationship with the West.

As a society, we should not become prisoners of our preoccupied perceptions and fears. If we make such a big mistake, we might end up putting ourselves in a very dangerous situation, in which not the facts but our perceptions will lead us. This kind of direction alone will be a source of insecurity. Terrorist attacks in New York, London, Istanbul, or Madrid should be treated as red flags. But the Norway incident should also be treated as equally important. Therefore it is fair to say that Bin Laden was as much of a terrorist as Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik.

These incidents should be taken into consideration as window of opportunity to find an answer to a fundamental question: What is going wrong? Otherwise we might find ourselves in similar situations where we would ask what went wrong, and we would be grieving our losses. Denying the fact that terrorism can come from any society will not create any solution to the problems; on the contrary, these problems will grow. It is up to societies to accept the fact that turning a blind eye to the social, economic, cultural, and political problems, and feeding violent extremism, will not make our world a safer place. Thinking about terrorism as an illness of others makes things worse.

Even those in the counterterrorism sector also become “the victims of their own presumptive concerns,” and these individuals become captives of their concerns, emanating from a lack of communication, lack of knowledge, miscommunication, or misguided perceptions. When it comes to enlisting channels of communication, the same dilemma applies to NGOs or religious groups as well. To overcome such a dilemma in the security apparatus, agencies, local governments, and NGOs should work together at the organizational level as well as community level.

Othering will help terrorists, not those who are fighting against them. Therefore, claiming the ownership of the problem will send a strong message to everybody.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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