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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 16:55, September 07, 2006
A panel discussion on the pan-internationalization of terrorism
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Panel guests:

Shen Jiru, research fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Shen Dingli, professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

Sun Jinzhong, researcher at China Institute of International Studies.

It has now been five years since the, "September 11" attacks, and since then the fight against terror has become a common concern for the world. However, attacks of terrorism have not yet been eliminated but have further spiraled out of control.

  • Interviewer: People have been divided on their understanding of terrorism. As time progresses, the double standards of the fight against terrorism have lead to increasing public doubt. How would you define the term terrorism?

    Shen: There has not been one single definition of terrorism from the international community. Due to a confusion of ideas, people tend to confuse terrorism with violent crimes in general, which is not useful in the international fight against terror.

    Personally, I believe terrorism can be described in different ways. It can be seen as groups of political extremists fighting against unjust international economic and political institutions. It can also be seen as a defense of national interests that are hostile to minority groups, or are religiously and culturally discriminate. It can manifest itself in terrifying organized slaughter and sabotage in any form or shape where the victims tend to be innocent civilians. Such violence is abnormal and such actions are inhumane and unrepresentative of the interests of any nation.

    Sun: So far, definitions of terrorism at home and abroad usually include: indiscriminate violence, political purposes and symbolic impacts. However they do not take into account a change where political aims are no longer the source of terrorism, or are practiced and supported by the state. My definition therefore is that terrorism exerts control using violent methods which does not include war waged by states or non-state entities (groups or individuals) for political, economic, cultural and ideological reasons.

    Shen: Most definitions highlight illegality, irrationality and violence. Being illegal means that such activities are not permitted by law in the region where they have occurred; irrationality refers to the spread of certain claims through extremist methods and violence refers to the terrifying effects on society and the mind.

  • Interviewer: Speaking about the roots of terrorism, Professor Samuel P. Huntington attributes it to the clashes within major civilizations, whilst others blame it on the widening rich-poor gap. What is your opinion?

    Shen: Different civilizations are not destined to clash. Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch in the imperial Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) made seven voyages to places including West Asia and East Africa between 1405 and 1433. His team visited several civilizations and built a bridge of communication and friendship. However, both the world wars which have been unparalleled as catastrophes in modern history first started between countries of the same civilization. Besides this, although terrorism often takes the widening rich-poor gap as an excuse, the reality is that unjust international political and economic orders are the fundamental cause.

    Sun: The prevalence of modern terrorism has appeared as a side-effect of globalization. It is an outcome of political, economic, ethnic, religious and other contradictions, and is also rooted in history and culture. The terrorist activities between the Arab world and Israel, contain both religious and ethnic elements, and both territorial disputes and internal struggles among various factions. Judging from the overall environment of the international community, unjust and irrational political and economic orders, as well as the enlarging rich-poor gap; these are both fundamental reasons for the prevalence of modern terrorism.

    Shen: Terrorism follows the logic of "righting wrongs in accordance with heaven's decree". Under extremely unjust social, political, economic and legal systems, disadvantaged groups might go to extremes to seek attention and protection for their own interests. There are certainly differences among various civilizations, but they don't necessarily lead to unsolvable clashes. I therefore believe that terrorism comes from two factors: unfair distribution of security and economic interests, whether domestic or international; and inadequate legal governance.

  • Interviewer: As it has turned out, terrorism has not faded with ever-enhancing counter measures or even the waging of war. What would you consider as the most efficient way of defeating terrorism?

    Shen: Terrorism must be addressed from its root and fighting violence with violence does not work. Excessive use of force and civilian casualties can only create further difficulties in the fight against terrorism as it would only result in indignation and opposition. This is the situation that Iraq and the Middle East are now facing. Therefore, to eliminate terrorism, we must try to narrow North-South gap, calm regional conflicts down; respect different civilizations conduct equal-footed dialogues and build a peaceful world. Along with the disappearance of groups in despair and the creation of a harmonious world, terrorism will have no reason for existence.

    Sun: In fighting international terrorism we should uphold justice by being opposed to the links made between terrorism and specific states, nations or religions and also the use of double standards. However in reality, some western powers fight terrorism which is detrimental to national interests but then turn a blind eye to terrorism when it threatens other countries. Such actions have significantly hurt international cooperation. Therefore, the most fundamental solution is to change the unfair political and economic order in the world.

  • Interviewer: Over the years, China has also been victim to terrorism. What do you think China should do to effectively combat terrorism?

    Shen: China should strengthen cooperation with neighboring countries within existing frameworks such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We should continuously improve intelligence networks and cross-border cooperation. International coordination should be enhanced and the role of the United Nations should be emphasized. Major cross-border operations should have UN permission and unilateralism and be firm opposed to double standards. We should also oppose the excessive use of force and harm to civilians.

    Sun: China firmly opposes terrorism in any shape or form, and is dedicated to international cooperation to set up a new concept on security focusing on mutual trust and benefit, equality and cooperation. If countries can set up such a concept they would refrain from imposing their own social systems and values on others, or act against the UN Charter or other widely recognized rules and principles in international relations. By doing so the international arena would see no interference in other countries' internal affairs and no abuse of politics or hegemony. By then there would be no grounds for terrorism to exist.

    Shen: We should encourage and facilitate the construction of neighboring regions and the international community as a whole, since a "good order", both domestically and internationally, serves the fundamental condition of wiping out terrorism on a global scale. The concept of "extended boundary", where things take place on foreign territory may also concern our interests; therefore we must be proactive with other governments as long as terrorist or other criminal activities continue to exist.

    By People's Daily Online

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