It is a great honour and pleasure to be able to address you on a question that is so relevant to the times in which we live:  “The Global Challenge of Terrorism and Personal Security”.


The reality is that since 9/11 the security focus of the world has shifted away from traditional concerns of conventional international conflict to the threat posed by the more insidious and less visible phenomenon of global terrorism.


9/11, Madrid, Bali and now most recently London have seared themselves into our consciousnesses.  They have had a more powerful and immediate impact on most of us than traditional conflicts elsewhere in the world that have claimed many more lives.   Just think of the present unresolved struggle in Dafur which has already cost some 50 000 lives and the wars throughout Africa in which more than six million people have died since 1990.


Perhaps there is some truth in the old observation that 100 000 deaths in Africa have the same impact on us as the deaths of 1 000 people in our own country, or ten people in our own community, or a single person in our own street.


This is because most of us can imagine having been in the World Trade Centre in New York when the planes struck. Many of us probably visited the twin towers and ate at the Windows on the World restaurant.  We can identify with passengers on the hijacked aircraft because we regularly fly in similar planes.  We can visualize the terror of bombs exploding in the London underground or the Madrid commuter train system because many of us undertake such journeys every day of our lives.


But it is difficult for us to identify with villagers in Dafur being raided by heavily armed horsemen of the Janjaweed; or Tamil or Sri Lankan farmers having to flee from one another’s forces in the bitter civil war that has taken more than 60 000 lives; or the war-ravaged inhabitants of the eastern Congo, waiting for the attack, rape and pillage of the next ‘liberation army’ to emerge from the jungle.


The objective of terrorists is to fill ordinary civilians with terror.


Here, I think, it is important to stop for a moment to consider our terminology:  after all, it is said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.


I do not agree.  I feel strongly that we need to use clear and exact terminology when we deal with phenomena such as this.  A terrorist is someone who consciously and purposefully attacks civilian targets to create a climate of terror with a view to promoting a political agenda.  There can be no excuse for such behaviour.


By this definition, the authors of the 9/11 attacks were spectacularly successful.  Despite the horrific damage done to downtown Manhattan and the Pentagon and despite the 3 000 lives that were lost, it can be argued that the secondary damage caused by the attacks was even greater.  It took many months for airline flights to return to pre-9/11 passenger levels; markets throughout the world were affected, as was the American economy.  The attacks also had a dramatic effect on the American body politic and led to the adoption of quite draconian measures, including the Patriot Acts and the establishment of a powerful new bureaucracy – the Department of Homeland Security.  This necessarily more restrictive political atmosphere provided the backdrop for the United States decision to invade Iraq and for the development of global politics ever since then.  As intended, the terrorist attacks in Spain had a significant impact on the national elections that followed shortly afterwards.


How then should we as individuals and societies react to the threat of global terrorism? What should we do to ensure our collective and personal security?


Firstly, 9/11 and the ensuing terrorist attacks illustrate the degree to which we now live in a globalised world.


Who would have imagined that the grievances of Moslem fanatics based in caves of Afghanistan, one of the most remote and backward countries in the world, could possibly have an impact on the high-tech nerve centre of global capitalism in down-town New York?


The attacks in the United States, Spain and the UK were  global events.  People all round the world watched them unfold from hour to hour on television sets from Sydney to Stockholm; from Toronto to Tokyo; from Mexico City to Cape Town. Virtually every person on the planet with access to a TV set was drawn personally into the crisis caused by terrorism through the omnipresence of the media.


9/11 also underlined another frightening escalation in terrorism: the fact that easy access to modern technology has greatly enhanced the destructive potential of terrorists.  Powerful bombs can be built with industrial and agricultural components that are commercially available to anyone.  Seemingly peaceful items – like cars, trucks, ships and planes – can be converted into deadly weapons. Populations can be threatened with potent biological and chemical agents. Most seriously, terrorists might one day acquire a nuclear weapon.  Coupled with implacable fanaticism, modern technology can present a potentially disastrous threat to society.


One of the central implications of globalisation is that we cannot ignore crises and grievances in other parts of the world.   In particular, in an age of rampant global consumer culture, we cannot ignore the insistence of many people around the world on maintaining their cultural and religious identities.


The reality is that most terrorists are motivated by nationalism or religious fanaticism.  Think of the Basques and the Chechens; think of the fanatical graduates of radical Islamic madrasas.  In some cases, particularly in the Middle East, terrorists are motivated by both nationalism and religious fanaticism.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union global politics are no longer dominated by confrontation between opposing ideological blocs or by warfare between nations.  Nearly all conflicts now take place within countries primarily between religious, ethnic and cultural communities.  These conflicts often have their roots in deeply held perceptions that minority cultural and religious identities  are under threat.


A deep sense of cultural or ethnic alienation lies at the root of many of the nasty little wars throughout the world – most of which seldom impact on the evening news.  Who, for example, has ever heard of South Osetia, a break-away province of Georgia, where local forces supported by Russia are ranged against Georgian forces trained by the United States and Britain?  Who knows about the bitter conflict in Guatemala where the native Mayan people are struggling to maintain their cultural identity –  or the numerous cultural, religious and ethnic tensions in India?


Too often, minority communities around the world feel that they are not sufficiently accommodated, politically or culturally, in the processes by which they are governed.  They feel that their governments are insensitive to their languages and cultures; that they are subject to discrimination, repression and efforts to integrate them forcibly into the majority culture.


This sense of alienation often breaks out in conflict, rebellion, demands for secession and sometimes in acts of terrorism.  Present or recent conflicts in Chechnya, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Thailand and Northern Ireland   and in many countries in Africa provide more examples of this phenomenon.


Religion also lies at the root of much of the ongoing conflict in the world.  Differences between catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland; Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs in India; and Moslems and Christians in Nigeria and Sudan all create volatile situations that can explode into violence and terrorism at almost any time.


Most seriously, the rampant advance of globalised consumer culture with its attendant political and social ethos, poses a fundamental threat to conservative Moslems.  They fear it with every fibre of their being precisely because their people find its shiny consumer products, its flashy, free-wheeling life-style and its amoral pop culture so alluring.


They believe – probably quite rightly – that the attendant liberal values of unrestrained freedom, democracy, sexual emancipation, abortion on demand, gender equality and materialism are irreconcilable with the austere piety and purity of the vision of their prophet.


The result is fanatical rejection of western culture and its chief exponent, the United States.


This is further exacerbated by the sense of deep injury that most conservative Moslems feel over Western influence in their region. They are deeply aggrieved


Their response is a type of religious fanaticism that has introduced a dimension of irrationality into global affairs.  The new terrorists are not people who bargain, who put demands, who wish to see mutually positive outcomes. On the contrary, they are motivated by blind hatred and by a cold-blooded determination to destroy and to kill, without remorse and without compassion.  As they themselves boast:  they embrace death.


How should we react to such irrational fanaticism which lies at the root of the most serious terrorist threats?



  1. We must address the problem of cultural and ethnic alienation

The international community must devise principles, approaches and mechanisms to deal with the relationships between groups in multi-community states.   We must create a climate for the promotion of collective rights of minorities in the same way that we have promoted a climate of civil and political human rights for individuals.


We must develop approaches that include:

  1. We must show the greatest sensitivity when dealing with other religions and cultures.

Although we may be convinced of the superiority of our liberal, democratic and free-market model, we must refrain from trying to impose it on others. We must engage with other religious and cultural groups with a sense of respect and toleration. Let them conduct their affairs as they see fit and evolve systems of government and social values that best suit their cultures and conditions. We may find many of their customs unacceptable – particularly those relating to women’s rights. However, they are equally affronted by many of aspects of our attitudes and our lifestyle.  Despite Francis Fukiyama’s idea that we in the West have perfected human political and economic society, we must in all humility accept the prospect that our system might not be best for all people at all times.


  1. We must address political conflicts that exacerbate international relations. The international community should redouble its efforts to work for a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This unresolved conflict remains one of the primary causes for regional and international terrorism.  Similarly, the United States, it allies and the countries of the region should do everything they can to create a situation in Iraq that will enable them to withdraw their forces as soon as practicable.  Whatever its justification, there can be no doubt that the continuing presence of western troops in Iraq is the other principle cause of international terrorism.


  1. In the long term the West must address the prime reason for its continuing involvement in the Middle East – its dependence on oil from the Gulf.

For as long as the West remains dependent on the Middle East for its primary energy source it will be tempted to secure and promote its interests in the region.  In so doing it will inevitably alienate significant elements within societies that are both complex and extremely volatile. Sooner or later, environmental factors and the rising price of oil will force western economies to lessen their dependence on Middle Eastern oil through the development of alternative energy sources.  The sooner this happens, the better – also from the point of view of the campaign against terrorism.


I believe that these then are the prime steps that we need to take to combat terrorism:


If we do all these things we shall greatly limit the threat posed by international terrorists.  However, it is doubtful that we will ever eliminate the threat entirely – precisely because it is irrational.


What impact does all this have on our individual security?


We will simply have to factor the threat of terrorism into the equations by which we rule our lives.  We should encourage our governments to take the steps that I have spelled out above and we, ourselves, should take whatever reasonable measures that may be necessary to enhance our individual security.


But we can’t allow the threat of terrorism to dominate our lives.  We can’t allow it to affect the decision of whether we are going to take a flight or not;

of whether we are going to ride on the London underground again;

or even, within reason, where we are going to take our next holiday.


Neither should we allow it to influence the way in which we view Moslems, Israelis or any of the other people from the Middle East.


And in particular, we should not allow the threat of terrorism to scare us into diluting our own freedoms or disturbing our sense of balance.  We must not be scared into voting for this or that party or into supporting unbalanced policies in the Middle East or anywhere else.


If we do any of these things – if we allow ourselves to be terrorized – we shall behave exactly as the terrorists want us to behave.  We must not allow them to achieve that victory.