By Abu Khawla (*)
A basic misunderstanding of the nature of the challenge humanity has been facing, during the recent decades, led to the inescapable outcome, with atrocities like 9/11, 4/11, and 7/7 unfolding. Nevertheless, there are indications, after the recent London bombings, that business couldn't go as usual. Soon after the terror capital of Europe was struck, Tony Blair announced that "condoning or glorifying terrorism" anywhere not just in the United Kingdom would become a crime. Places of worship used as centers for "fomenting terrorism" are to be closed down. Measures will be taken to deport foreigners "fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person's beliefs, or justifying or validating such violence." And Britons engaged in "extremism" will be stripped of their citizenship.
Those who have long been advocating for the need to criminalize incitement and to engage in the war of ideas to counter hate-mongering, bigotry and deceit, should still hold their breath, for talk is cheap, and the evil is in the details. Nevertheless, the announcement -and the circumstances under which it was made- may mean, indeed, that this time the British authorities mean business.
The practical implementation of the new rules came on August 24, 2005 when Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced a string of "unacceptable behavior," and a commitment "to use his powers to deport and exclude foreigners engaging in any of the activities listed." The immediate reaction took the form of "serious concerns" expressed by terror apologists, ranging from the Muslim Council of Britain, best known for managing jihadist centers in the UK, to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, best known for his encounter with Sheik Youssef Al-Qaradhawi, Egypts' Muslim Brotherhood prominent cleric, who became famous with his "Fatwas" (religious edicts) justifying women beating and killing American civilians in Iraq. But didn't prevent the immediate expulsion of a dozen of Ben Ladin representatives in London out of the country. And more is expected to follow suit.
Moreover, to counter global terror we need global action. Of particular interest, in this respect, is the announcement that was made the same day by a British diplomatic source about the UK's attempt to organize a meeting of the 15 members of the UN Security Council to look at ways to prosecute "incitement to terror." An announcement that was also confirmed by the spokesman of US diplomatic mission at the UN.
If serious this time, the Security Council may well want to refer to a document called "The Arab Liberal Petition," a copy of which, Mr. Kofi Anan should already have on his desk. The petition was authored by prominent liberal Arab intellectuals, namely free thinker Lafif Lakhdar (currently under death threat for blasphemy, due to an incitement coming from the London-based Islamist Web site Nahdha.net), Dr. Chaker Nabulsi, and former Iraqi Planning Minister Jawad Hasham, and issued on 24 October 2004. Signed so far by thousands of Arabs from all walks of life, the document is worth its weight in gold. It calls on the UN to establish an international tribunal to prosecute religious clerics guilty of issuing Fatwas calling for murder.
The petition then goes on to indicate how this would be consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 1566, which called for “practical measures to be imposed upon individuals, groups, or entities involved in or associated with terrorist activities." And it continued: "we, the signatories of this letter, a group of Arab and Muslim liberals, would like to draw your attention to an extremely dangerous source of terrorism. This source is the purported religious pronouncements Fatwas issued by some psychotic members of dogmatic Muslims encouraging the commission of terrorist acts in the name of and under the banner of Islam…It is not enough for the Security Council to adopt resolutions 'condemning' terrorism. What will be more effective is the establishment of an International Tribunal affiliated to the UN organization for the prosecution of individuals, groups, or entities involved, directly or indirectly, with terrorist activities including, but not limited to Fatwas issued by religious clerics in the name of Islam calling upon Muslims to commit terrorist acts. By these Fatwas all terrorists have died, or will die, fully convinced that they will immediately enter Paradise… [These] Fatwas remain the pivotal cause of terrorist acts, which clothe such terrorist acts with legitimacy as being one of the sacred tenets of Muslim faith."
As a matter of fact, the UN Security Council doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. All it needs is to respond to the Arab Liberals Petition by establishing the Criminal Court. This has a crucial advantage on any British/American initiative. Since the demand emanated from within the Arab world, it couldn't be easily dismissed as yet another foreign attack on Islam. Moreover, the petition was well conceived to target incitement to murder coming from within the Arab/Muslim world.
This is important, indeed, as the latter remains by far the main source of incitement in the world we live in today. In addition to traditional mosques with their Friday incendiary sermons against infidels, there are the so-called religious schools, with their number ranging from 7000 schools in Egypt to roughly double that number in Pakistan. And public schools are in no better position.
Thanks to the infiltration of education Ministries by Fundamentalists in all Islamic countries, except Turkey and Tunisia, textbooks of religious and history studies, in particular, contain generally the same message found in the religious schools.
In the same vein, the communication revolution enhanced well the jihadist cause, since its preachers are the only ones monopolizing nowadays the so-called "independent" satellite TV channels like obscurantist Al-Jazeera, of which Sheik Al-Qaradhawi is a founder and regular guest. And the recent creation of a State Department mouthpiece, broadcasting in Arabic from Washington (Alhurra TV), wouldn't obviously be in a position to counter that.
It is our contention that the mere announcement of the creation of the Criminal Court would send a strong signal about the international community's newly-found resolve. It would prevent jihadist terror from its current bases in Western democracies, strengthen Arab democrats' cause at home, and it would leave governments in the Arab/Muslim world with no choice but to clamp down on the sources of hatred and incitement, which are the root causes of the disaster that has been hovering over our heads, for so long.
(*) Coordinator of Lafif Lakhdar International Defense Committee and former chair of the Tunisian Section of Amnesty International. Contact: [email protected]