Saturday, March 12, 2005

International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security

The International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid March 8-11 was organized by the Club de Madrid around the first anniversary of the 11-M attack in Madrid.  The related Web site is under the name of Safe Democracy.

Ironically, this summit on democracy took place "under the High Patronage of His Majesty the King of Spain."

They are making availabe on their Web site quite a bit of information from the conference: see The Madrid Agenda.  It's worth checking out.  For instance, you can hear the plenary session on Democracy and Terrorism of 03/09/05 featuring, among others, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with accompanying text.  I gather from one of her remarks that Bill Clinton was scheduled to appear, but his recent surgery prevented him from attending.

One of the other participants in that session was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who is kind of a celebrity Green politician in Europe, currently the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament.  Cohn-Bendit, a citizen of both Germany and France, first became famous as one of the leaders in the May-June 1968 semi-revolution in Paris.  He wrote a book about those events, from his own sort of anarchosyndicalist viewpoint at the time, called Obsolete Communism: The left-wing alternative (it's still in print in English).  His politics have become more practical and less utopian since those days, but he still has a passion for reform and many useful insights into political affairs.

For instance, he has this to say (from the text transcript) on the relationship between terrorism and poverty, one of many issues that becomes hopelessly muddled in the polemics of the Foxists here in America:

While we have a complicated situation, we have improved our capability to fight against terrorists and this fight against terrorism makes the world a little bit safer. At the same time we haven’t made the world more just. This doesn’t mean that terrorism is linked to poverty, but  terrorists can surf on the poverty and the inequality in the world. And because inequality in the world is growing, the world is more and more insecure. So even if we fight al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, all of them, until the world is more just, there will be people to exploit injustice for terrorism. This is the situation in which we live. [my emphasis]

Madeleine Albright expanded on this point:

You're not saying obviously that everyone who's poor becomes a terrorist or automatically sympathises with terror, but that if you are disenfranchised, to use your term, you are more susceptible and therefore down the road from now, more likely to form one or another or join or create one or another of the groups in the insecure environment which do threaten the interests of peace and stability of everyone else?

Madeleine Albright
I think yes, but I think our problem is that we aren't fully aware of what creates terrorists. We know that some of them are ideologically motivated because they disagree with the government that they have in their country and don't like the fact that the US supported them—that's the Osama Bin Laden type. We know that there are those who feel disenfranchised in their own country, people who have an education but aren't able to get jobs so they have no dignity. Then we know that there are people, that the real recruiting ground is in the poorest places, where people are told, 'If you attack the rich man, you will have something', and our problem I think is not knowing what creates the terrorists and therefore not knowing fully how to attack it, and I agree with those and Daniel who basically said poverty is part of it, hating the people that have something you don't have, and that's why it does take passion. But to use the term we all use, it's complicated, and there is not one answer to this, and how a democracy deals with it I think is a very complex issue.

This kind of nuanced discussion, of course, is very different from what we get from the ravings on OxyContin radio.

A big part of the discussion had to do with what kind of restrictions on freedom are necessary in order to fight terrorism.  Fernando Savater, a Spanish participant, notes that in Spain since the 11-M attack that some anti-terrorism measures restrict freedom to some extent, and that there's nopointin denying that.  But, on the other hand, he also thinks that there has been no real violations of civil rights in Spain as a result.  (Spain did not pass any equivalent to the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the 11-M attack.)

Albright makes the following distinction, with an amusing anecdote to go with it:

Well I have tried very hard in my own mind to separate what I find irritating and a pain in the neck, frankly, when you go to airports... I have a very interesting time, because I actually am recognisable and so I stand there like this. I'm always wanted and then they say 'Can we have your autograph?', so I say 'Well, you have your choice, here'. But, basically, and then, if you're a former person like me you can never get mad because that ends up in the newspaper, but I do think that there are things that are irritating, and you put up with them because they're irritating but you do it. Then there are things that really are derogations of civil liberties and we need to distinguish those. I have recently published my book, which is for sale in Spanish, but what happened was...

Moderator [?]
(Have you got copies to sign)

Madeleine Albright
...but it meant that I spent a lot of time in the book world, and there the people were very worried about the Patriot Act, which in itself is a misnomer, and it is something that President Bush has felt very strongly about, he has called for its renewal, and the basis of so many things in it—some of them are not all bad, because it tries to get the CIA and the FBI to work together—but specifically, what it can do is, if someone is suspicious of you, they can go to the library and find out what books you've checked out or books you've bought. That is an intrusion of civil liberties. I also think that something that is corrosive to American democracy is what happened at Abu Ghraib and what's happening in Guantanamo. That is not an irritation; that is an undermining of the way that the United States sees itself as a country that abides by laws and then terrorism becomes something that contributes to ending democracy and so you have to make separations about what's happening where.
[my emphasis]

Cohn-Bendit adds some longer historical perspective on the dilemma of restricting democratic freedoms in order to fight the enemies of democracy:

I'll put this in a general thought. What we are discussing now [...] started with the French Revolution. The French Revolution starts with the problem of no liberty for the enemy of the liberty. This is Robespierre, this is Robespierre. And now, in the fight of terrorists, we are in the middle of this today. Who is allowed to have liberty? And I think the danger is the red line. It is a success of civilisation that in the European Union we have no death penalty any more, and I'm proud of it, and I will defend it against everybody. Everybody. It's a success of civilisation that in the European Union we have banned torture. It's easier to fight something if you torture people. Torture. And then we have the third point. Madeleine said it: Abu Ghraib, Guantámano —delocalization of torture. Take people prisoner and put them in countries where torture is not forbidden: what the CIA did. This is the end of our civilisation if we accept this. So, now we go and say—and that is the big problem--; the big problem is, 'Of course, the terrorists are Muslims'. They are safe, they are Muslim fundamentalists. So they are hiding inside the Muslim community, and of course, the Jewish, white, red-haired young man is not a Muslim, so he doesn't fear if the police are looking there, but the problem is if we want that everybody accepts civil rights, and civil rights have never been defended by the majority. It was always first a minority who started. In the United States, civil rights for the blacks: it was not the majority of the middle class who went on the streets and said they'll have equal rights; it was a minority of young people, black and white, to fight so that the biggest democracy in the world had to recognise the rights of black people in the United States. It was a big fight, it was courageous what they did. But for this, we had to defend all the Muslims who are not terrorists and to say it is not true that the Muslim is a genetical terrorist. This we have to say in our country [France], because the people have an easy way, they want to be protected and if I demonstrate that without any Muslims they will be better protected, then I'll buy it. I'm sorry but I'll buy it. This is the danger. [my emphasis]

When he says "I'm sorry but I'll buy it," he's describing the mindset that makes people willing to accept abuse of others, not his own attitude.

Cohn-Bendit had an interesting observation as well about the dangers of overgeneralizing about how "America" or "Americans" were traumatized by the 9/11 attack:

... [W]hat I find fascinating is that a lot of people who are looking for third ways—you know, nuances—are people for example from New York, and people who are never touched with fear, in Texas, are completely refusing this, so it's not the experience, the fear. Madeleine was right: America has been traumatised, but different countries or parts of America have been traumatised in a completely different way, and this we must understand, you know, because, I want to say, you can instrumentalise the poverty for terrorism, and the power can instrumentalise terrorism for another project of the world and this is not as dangerous, it's a completely difference, but this is, politically, very dangerous. [my emphasis]

As a final quote from this session, I found this comment of Albright's striking in terms of approaches to combatting the crass fear-mongering of the Bush administration:

I think that we are involved in a truly vicious circle here. I happen to believe that we have created more terrorists. Bob mentioned that the Administration says two-thirds of the known leaders – or whatever the number is – have been destroyed, but we have no number about how many new ones have been created. At the same time, if you ask me the question of do I feel more secure or not, I have a hard time answering it for the following reason: the more I say I’m not secure, the more opportunity I give to the government to say ‘Okay, we have to protect you more’, and therefore there begins to be a greater erosion into the civil liberties. And the truth is that democracy is difficult enough, but it also is a very porous and open system in which people who disagree can thrive. So I hesitate. I’ve been saying ‘I don’t feel safer’, but then I thought to myself ‘I’m giving grist to the mill exactly to the people who want to keep closing down the society’. And we are more and more operating in societies of fear, which are not societies which are good for democracy. So it’s a vicious circle, I think. [my emphasis]

There's reallysome good stuff about the issue of terrorism from that conference on their Web site.  It's definitely worth checking out.

[Correction made on the name of the Summit sponsor.]

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