The three men who are suspected of taking part in the attacks at Belgium’s Zaventem Airport. The man at right is still being sought by the police. Photo / AP
A Kiwi terrorism expert says attacks in Europe and the rest of the world will continue until world leaders change the way they react and respond.
Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, this morning told the Herald that he was “profoundly depressed” by the deadly attacks in Brussels yesterday.
“Mostly because it was and it is completely predictable in the sense that we’ve had 15 years of responding to terrorism in the same way.”
He said this response involves increasing security, intensifying military attacks on areas of the world where we think the terrorism is coming from, increasing restrictions on civil liberties, increased surveillance and the targeting of Muslim communities, and the introduction of “draconian” legislation.
“And the only thing that has achieved is more terrorism.”
Professor Jackson, also the founding editor and current editor-in-chief of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, said world leaders are doing the same things over and over again, only to see the same predictable results.
“It’s impossible to secure everywhere in modern society from these kinds of attacks. So to say we are going to make our society secure by increased security measures and by vigorous military action is either a lie or it’s a delusion.”
People holding a banner reading “I am Brussels” behind flowers and candles to mourn for the victims at Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels. Photo / AP
When asked what the alternative to that would look like, he said: “The first thing to do would be to undertake an honest and rigorous investigation into the root causes of this violence – to try and understand where it comes from.”
Professor Jackson said there is plenty of academic research showing the Iraq War – the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq – was probably the single most important event that galvanised attacks and “radicalised a whole generation of so called jihadists”.
He said theories of radicalisation and extremism that blame it all on religion have been shown to be “bunk science”.
“It just doesn’t tell us anything at all. There’s a lot of academic research which shows that political reforms and social reforms – in a progressive way, holding to principles of democracy and law and order and civil rights and human rights – produces better results.”
He said there was also room for more forms of dialogue with the different groups.
“It doesn’t have to be directly with the terrorist groups themselves, but with movements and organisations and groups of people who probably sympathise with that perspective.”
Professor Jackson said there is no question in his mind that the Brussels attacks were directly linked to the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism and the continued bombing of the Middle East, as well as the continued restrictions and xenophobia towards Muslims across Europe.
“The fact that Brussels is where the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is based has a lot to do with it. They attacked the American Airlines’ counter at the airport – that’s clearly symbolic.”
The Brandenburg Gate is illuminated with the Belgium national flag in reaction to the Brussels attacks. Photo / AP
He said there was a clear “action and reaction cycle – a revenge cycle” currently at play, as there was in dozens of other conflicts involving terrorism around the world.
“This is part of a context where some small groups of individuals feel that the only way to kind of get their message out there – to create publicity for their causes – is to use this kind of spectacular violence.
“That’s what terrorism aims to do. It’s a form of public communication, it’s about saying ‘listen to us … we’re here, you can’t ignore us, we’ve got something to say’.”
Professor Jackson said you can’t squash that with force.
“One of the things that’s depressing me is that in the immediate aftermath we’ve heard all the European and global leaders saying exactly the same words as they said after 9/11, after 7/7, after Paris, after every terrorist attack.”
They keep saying: ‘this is terrible, there’s no excuse for violence caused by religious extremism, this is a war of civilisation against barbarism, we’re not going to put up with this and we’re going to hunt them down’.
The same rhetoric in very, very extreme and stark terms, which portrays no real understanding of why people want to attack Europe.”
He said this also displays complete ignorance of the fact that world leaders have been saying the same stuff for 15 years with the same result.
“Why do they think that this time it’s going to work? That this time we’re going to smash the terrorists and eliminate them? It’s like Groundhog Day – we just keep living the same day over and over again because no one can learn the lesson.”
That lesson, Professor Jackson said, is that this kind of violence comes out of politics and until there is a political solution – political reforms and an alternative way of dealing with it – it’s just going to keep happening.
“This is not the end of it. There will be more attacks, particularly if we respond in the same way we have to all the previous ones.”