Editorial | Terrorism a criminal act, not war

OPINION: 

The post-Charlie age begins with a fire-fight in Belgium. The shootout in the city of Verviers is a tough reminder that terrorism remains and sometimes it will bring death. In this case, the terrorist plot seems to have been foiled and it was the terrorists who died. And thereby hangs a lesson.

Terrorism should be treated as what it is, criminal violence. It should be dealt with primarily by the police and the security forces. It must not be used as an excuse for a "war" of any kind. War is armed conflict between nations. Terrorism will threaten democratic nation states only if we allow it to.

The American-led war against terror did not put an end to terrorism: it made the problem worse. There are now more fundamentalist terrorists in more countries, from France to Nigeria and from Syria to Indonesia.

The massacre in Paris led to a massive street protest showing that democracies will not bow to terrorism or be panicked by it. That is a splendid thing, but it is now becoming clear that Charlie Hebdo does not really lie at the centre of the terrorism issue.

Charlie was a tiny and little-read magazine on the brink of bankruptcy. Its appeal for funds had failed: Charlie might well have quietly expired and hardly anyone would have noticed or cared. And then came the massacre.

Charlie is the extreme case, where fanatics butchered a gleefully iconoclastic organisation that deliberately insulted Islam along with some other creeds. But extreme cases are not always a useful guide to policy.

Some of the politicians who marched in Paris are not a good advertisement for free speech and tolerance. Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu launched an indefensible slaughter in Gaza that cost the lives of 2000 people. Britain's David Cameron is now proposing swingeing restrictions on freedom of the internet.

Dealing with terrorism after Charlie will be much more complicated than trading slogans about free speech and murder. Part of it will require the voters to refuse to let the politicians who postured about Charlie to panic them into surrendering vital civil liberties.

The debate about Charlie has also clarified certain issues - about free speech in Muslim countries - which make liberals uncomfortable.

Fundamentalist terrorism does not symbolise a clash of civilisations and it does not mean all Muslims are responsible for political murder. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has realised this and recanted his tweet that said so.

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It is vital to understand that Islam is a broad church divided by argument and debate, just like all faiths, and it is not "inherently violent" or "inherently" anything else. The politics of Muslim countries vary hugely, from the brutal theocracy of Saudi Arabia to the more open societies of Jordan and Indonesia.

But there are some notable clashes of values between most of these states and Western democracies. In many Muslim countries apostasy - the abandonment by a Muslim or his or her faith - is a crime, often a capital one, although enforcement of the law varies widely between states. No Western nation can ever accept that changing one's religion is a crime, and the West must work with the liberal forces in the Muslim world to change it.

 - The Dominion Post

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