Fighting Terrorism on their Own Terms

Top ministers from eight Arab League countries Monday agreed on measures to fight terrorism following a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Interior and Justice ministers from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Morocco and Algeria called on Arab states and international organizations to stop terrorism, but made a significant clarification between terrorism and armed struggle against an occupying power.

The recent statement issued from the Jeddah conference has been in the works for quite some time. The meeting of the Arab League’s joint ministerial committee, chaired by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, was a result of an earlier resolution written in April 1998 and signed by Arab states on April 22 of this year. The 10 Arab countries who have signed the resolution agreed to exchange information on suspected terrorists, bar terrorists from entering countries and not financing or otherwise aiding terrorists.

And there are similar efforts evidenced among Arab and other Muslim countries. A similar meeting was held July 14 in Tunis, where Arab ministers in charge of fighting terrorism debated a unified legal code to fight terrorism throughout the Arab states. Algeria will host a meeting at the beginning of next year where Arab countries will actually vote on the law. An Arab official attending the Tunis conference reflected the high level of concern over terrorism held by many Arab leaders when he told on July 13 that the meeting "is of special importance due to the dangers resulting from the phenomenon of terrorism in all countries of the world." Similar discussions concerning terrorism seem to have taken place at the 35th annual conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) held in Algiers, in mid-July. The OAU reportedly agreed on measures for the prevention and combating of terrorism and agreed to extend calls for an international summit on terrorism under OAU auspices.

Although terrorism, especially in Muslim countries, is generally equated with anti-Western crusades, it is evident that the spread of terrorism, even against specifically Western targets, directly threatens the stability of Muslim countries. It is perhaps true, as perpetrators of terrorist acts would likely insist, that Arab and Muslim outcry against terrorism comes on the heels of Western pressure to condemn terrorism. Indeed, the pressure exerted on the Palestinian Authority (PA) by Israel to curb Palestinian armed resistance, the American pressure on Afghanistan’s Taliban to hand over alleged terrorist master-mind Osama bin Laden and US sanctions imposed on countries such as Sudan, Libya and Iran that are alleged to support terrorism, clearly illustrates what must appear to be a Western hysteria over terrorist activities.

But Muslim countries suffer from terrorism in ways other than Western isolation. Muslim and Arab leaders are often the targets of assassination attempts by extremist groups. Such was the case of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has also had his life threatened and escaped an assassination attempt. And where attacks on civilian targets and other such terrorist activity are often aimed at ending Western influence in a particular region, they often are the indirect causes of, or at least the reason given for greater Western encroachment in Muslim and Arab societies. Terrorism is often the underlying justification for foreign involvement in Muslim lands, whether it be the U.S. bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, continued Israeli occupation of Lebanon and Palestine, Indian attacks in Kashmir or Russian encroachment in Chechnya. So terrorist activity actually plays into the hands of foreign powers rather than providing any lasting relief from Western domination. Muslim and Arab leaders have a vested interest in ending terrorism both for their personal survival and for the protection of any semblance of independence from foreign powers.

The Jeddah conference illustrates that Muslim leaders do have the power to fight terrorism on their own terms. While the agreement is an acknowledged cooperation with other, non-Muslim countries, the Jeddah conference produced two important statements that distinguish the efforts on the part of Muslim leaders. The first was the differentiation between terrorism and the right of armed struggle. In a final statement from the conference carried by the Saudi Press Agency, the ministers stressed there was a difference "between terrorism and the right of people to fight against a foreign occupation and aggression by all means, including an armed struggle."

A second significant distinction made at the Jeddah conference was found in Prince Nayef’s opening statements to the conference. The Saudi minister said, "Terrorism has no country and no religion" and that, "The Arab Convention on the Fight against Terrorism is inspired by Islamic law, and its ratification reflects our desire and our determination [as Muslims] to struggle against this phenomenon in the Arab world." Such a stand obviously undermines the particularly American and Israeli assumption that Islam can immediately be associated with terrorism.

The topic of the recent conference in Jeddah reflects a global concern over terrorism which seems to disproportionately affect the Muslim and Arab world. Whether by a conscious effort on the part of foreign conspirators or as a result of small irrational elements in the Muslim population, or perhaps both, terms such as "Muslim terrorist" and "Islamic extremist" are clearly present in media around the world. Given the timeliness and omnipresent nature of this issue, the recent conference in Jeddah represents a noble attempt to confront the problem on Arab and Muslim terms. If Muslims are successful in ending extremist activity or in revealing such images as false stereotypes purposely propagated by the West as the case may be, they will demonstrate to Western and foreign powers that Muslims are capable of solving their own problems in their own lands, and thereby undermine an age-old justification for Western and foreign interference in Muslim affairs.

Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at

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