Discussion on TERRORISM

“Terrorism – The Politics of Violence” is the title of the discussion that took place on Thursday, March 18th at 12.00 at the packed STAVROS TORNES theatre of Pier 1 at the port of Thessaloniki, in the framework of the 6th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. The panel was comprised of: Mary Bosi (Greece), Yorgos V. Papakostandis (Greece), Antonio Solaro (Italy), David Ofek (Israel), Ismat Sabri (Palestine) and Jon Blair (Great Britain). The discussion was coordinated by journalist Stelios Kouloglou. Also participating were reputable political analysts including Ioanna Mandrou and Yorgos Votsis from the VIMA and ELEFTHEROTIPIA newspapers respectively, representatives from activist organizations such as the Greek Social Forum, and students from the Aegean University and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Mr. Blair spoke about the meaning of terrorism and if he was once considered by some a terrorist: “I’m from S. Africa, a country that deals with terrorism in a very particular way. For example, in the 19th century, white Dutch colonialists were able to triumph through a series of terrorist acts. When I traveled to the United Kingdom in the 60’s, some considered me a terrorist because of my courage. Some people are seen as heroes by some and as terrorists by the regime. On the other hand, they were curious in England about how I was able to communicate with the regime –who they considered terrorists- while I was in S. Africa. In ’95 even Mandela was considered a terrorist in some places. There is a joke that says that the most successful terrorist is the president. I mention these things because I believe that there isn’t a single definition for terrorism. Everyone is characterized by the fact that their endeavor is not what constitutes terrorism, but rather, the ways to oppose it. The United Nations refused to define terrorism. Terrorism is like an elephant at your door, you know its there, you don’t have to define it. I don’t agree with Al Kaida, I don’t desire to live with it, but in order to fight it, you have to comprehend it, and in order to comprehend it, you must know its purpose”.

Mrs. Bosi picked up where Mr. Blair left off, saying that terrorism is a notion entirely subjective. “The essence of terrorism springs from nations, not organizations”. She pondered on whether the Palestinians, for example, are performing terrorist acts or acting on military strategy. “Europe used to understand the Palestinian plight, but in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a series of new notions was formed by a number of ‘employees’ that changed the general perception and gave birth to terrorist concepts. Today there exists a form of networked terrorism that justifies the subversion of order and preventive wars. I would like to clarify my position, though. Hamas is one thing and Al Kaida is another. However, the extension of violence in the Middle East allows for terrorist acts”.

Mr. Ofek was asked what he thinks about the fact that Israel committed terrorist acts during the formation of the Israeli state. “I believe we must discuss this correlation. There was dialogue for the problem’s solution at that time. Today, though, the problem has to do with the disjunction of occupation and terrorism. Whenever there is Palestinian terrorist attack, Israel answers back and we have this ongoing vicious circle. The constant winner is the Israeli government which remains in its seat. It’s the poor that suffer and are in danger”.

Mr. Sabri spoke about other possible solutions, saying: “If we don’t begin with the occupation and the UN resolutions as well as the other international organizations’ resolutions for the occupation, we can not shine some light upon the matter. We can’t disregard the international outcry. We thought that the time when we had to prove ourselves was over, but it isn’t. In 1974 the Palestinian plight was acknowledged by the UN and the Security Council”.

Mr. Sabri mentioned the Goldstein attack and its repercussions with the outbreak of Palestinian attacks. Mr. Blair interfered noting the need to break the vicious circle of violence, saying that Goldstein never had the official approval from the state of Israel. He continued, insisting that violence begets violence and mentioned the IRA and its brave move to finally decide to negotiate. “Since we insist on giving misleading answers, we’ll never be able to break this circle of violence”. In a tense atmosphere Mr. Sabri admitted that terrorist actions cannot be deployed by Palestinians or Israelis since everyone is a victim. He pointed out, though, the need for an immediate solution to the Palestinian plight and considered the fact that it hasn’t been done yet insulting. “We know about human values much better than some of those who speak about it today. But who stood up for us when we were being pursued? We are aware of the situation and the fact that the international community is against us”.

Clarifying his position, Mr. Blair said: “Of course I believe that Israel is committing terrorist acts. Terrorism accommodates military purposes. Palestinians, though, should estimate the results of their actions and whether they actually gain anything from them. Somebody once said that terrorism is the poor peoples’ atomic bomb, a metaphor I consider very appropriate. It’s not a matter of justifiable cause; terrorism is a strategic means, not an end in itself”.

Mr. Solaro spoke about the situation in Italy and the unrest caused by the recent bombings in Madrid. As he said, the unrest is evident since an older smaller scale bombing had also occurred there. The concern is because of the fact that, with the pretense of humanitarian aid, the Berlusconi government supported the war in Iraq without the parliament’s approval. Italians are now avoiding the Metro and prefer other safer means of transportation. They believe that there might be an attack in the Vatican, or a stadium, or an airport.

Mr. Papakostandis spoke about how bureaucracy increases the fear of a terrorist act. He noted that terrorism has two sides, one being the threat and the other being fear. Bureaucracy accentuates the danger and he defined bureaucracy as the sum of all military, police and governmental institutions. Mr. Votsis mentioned the existing concern for security in Greece during the Olympic Games, as Greece is a member of NATO and is considering the possibility of sending troops to Iraq. He also mentioned that we can no longer speak about a lingering fear hovering above Europe, but rather, a cloak of terror. According to Mr. Votsis, there is no acceptable definition for terrorism and he gave a number of misleading descriptions. He continued saying that there are two types of terrorism: the fundamentalist terrorism and that by the White House clique that launches terrorist threats throughout the world. He believes, though, that the Olympic Games are safe, no matter the amount of fanaticism. However, Votsis was troubled by the fact that the Games’ security will be overlooked by NATO and the USA, turning the Olympics into a derby between NATO and Al Kaida.

The discussion ended with questions from the audience. In a question about what should be done with the Palestinian plight, Mr. Blair said that he should be the last to speak about a solution and that he believes in democracy, human rights, equal rights and women’s rights. He pointed out though, that in order to change anything, we must begin with our own society and put the pressure on our own governments to make them see terrorism as a political movement and differentiate Al Kaida and other similar organizations from the whole matter. Another question involved the difficulty in dealing with Al Kaida throughout the world. Mrs. Bosi answered saying that nobody is actually dealing with the essence of the problem, but rather, is using it as a pretense towards their own aspirations and interests.

Finally, Mr. Blair spoke about the concern for the security of the Athens Games: “I disagree with the belief that Athens is not a target. Anyone who believes that, is not thinking like a terrorist. For example, Al Kaida believes sports are evil. The main thing with terrorism, though, is the fear that dwells inside you. The actual danger is insignificant”. Mr. Papakostandis added that an attempt to avoid dangerous situations will at many times make you a target.