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THURSDAY, October 06, 2022
It is fear, not terrorism, that tests the civilised

It is fear, not terrorism, that tests the civilised

TUESDAY, December 20, 2016

Opposite readings of the disturbing news from Europe illustrate the depth of the challenge humanity faces

Terror struck Europe once again yesterday with the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey and the killing of 12 people in Berlin by the driver of a large truck that ploughed into a crowded market.
While German authorities remain cautious about characterising the Berlin tragedy as a terrorist act or even anything other than an accident, it bears alarming similarities to the truck rampage in Nice, France, in July, in which 86 innocent Bastille Day celebrants were killed. Though no conclusion about motives has been reached there either, the terror group Islamic State (ISIS) claimed it had “inspired” the Tunisian driver.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has been rightfully restrained in offering any premature suppositions about the Berlin massacre. “The words we choose have a psychological effect on the whole country,” he said. “I am consciously avoiding using the word ‘attack’, although there is a lot that points in that direction.”
In an age when politicians often hastily seize on popular suspicions and sentiments, de Maiziere’s calm and sensible stance is to be applauded. The same cannot be said about US President-elect Donald Trump, who – in line with the exaggerated fear-mongering that helped sweep him to victory last month – has brashly drawn conclusions about the incidents in Europe even as investigations are just beginning.
“ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad,” Trump declared yesterday. The Berlin horror and the ambassador’s murder together indicate to him that “it is only getting worse”. “The civilised world must change its thinking,” he said.
While such caustic language will appeal to conservatives of a militant mindset, Trump’s exclusionary use of the phrase “the civilised world” can only add fuel to the flames of terrorism. Since 9/11, untold millions of Westerners have maintained a narrow view of radical Islam, failing to acknowledge any rationale behind its struggles against first the post-colonial authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and then foreign invaders who came seeking vengeance and control over politics and resources. 
Westerners suffering this tunnel vision ignore the facts that Islamic leaders have formally denounced terrorism conducted in the religion’s name – and that far more Muslims than non-Muslims have died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.
It is not yet clear whether either incident yesterday was part of a plot or the act of a crazed individual. Even if the shooter in Turkey and the driver in Germany had jihadist sentiments, they might well have been “lone wolves” beyond the control of any organised command structure. Their despicable actions might have arisen from mass ideology or from personal umbrage.
The off-duty police officer who shot dead Ambassador Andrei Karlov reportedly shouted as he did so that he was seeking “revenge” for the Russian bombing of civilians in Aleppo, Syria. “No one can be safe as long as our brothers there are not,” the gunman was quoted as 
Pro-government newspapers there promptly suggested the gunman must have been a follower of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled head of a religious-political movement against current President Recep Erdogan. In Russia the finger of blame pointed at terrorist groups 
fighting in Syria. “They want to cause a confrontation between Russia and Turkey,” a Russian senator decided.
Amid anguished reactions and the causes behind them, this does not feel like a “civilised world”. In a truly civilised world, leaders would be re-examining strategies and seeking to adjust public attitudes accordingly. Instead, governments around the world fail to foresee the globe-spanning consequences of their conduct in fighting terrorism. Removed from the context of fear and hate, Trump’s words become acceptable: “The civilised world must change its thinking.”