Most people have an opinion about terrorism but not many have spent a life-time studying it.
While Australia is fairly new to the threats and concept of terrorism, Israel is not.
For one night only at the Shalom Institute’s 2015 Graf Oration dinner, over 400 people from Sydney’s Jewish community and beyond were lucky enough to hear the world’s leading counter-terrorism expert, and distinguished guest, Professor Boaz Ganor speak about the global threat and problem of international terrorism.
From the crumbling economic power of Hamas to the crowning of ISIS as the largest ever terrorist organisation, from the Israeli operations in Gaza to the disaffected foreign fighting youths, Professor Ganor did his best to cram his life’s work and as much information as he could into just over an hour.
As a new member of Plus61J, I had never attended one of the Shalom Institute’s events but first impressions are everything. Immediately entering the bustling foyer of the Shangri-La, any nerves I had were washed away by a wave of comfort as I was handed a glass of wine and looked around to see many familiar faces young and old. I felt a strong sense of community knowing everyone was here in honor of Ervin Graf and of course here with the same intentions to learn more.
One would expect nothing less than an illustrious career from Prof. Ganor. He co-founded the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, consulted to the Israeli government, lectured throughout the US and published numerous articles and books.
Terrorism is a threat that confronts us all, challenges us, and in fact, is something we don’t really understand. Prof. Ganor emphasised the importance of a universal definition of the word to be able to counter terrorism effectively. “I am familiar with 109 definitions for terrorism, how can we join forces and counter terrorism when we don’t have a standard definition,” he said. “Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence, aimed against civilians in order to achieve political ends,” Prof. Ganor defined.
He clarified that one should understand that religion is no more than a cover up tactic used by terrorist organisations to hide their true political goals and motivations. Whether they are lone wolf or organised attacks, “terrorism is terrorism,” Prof. Ganor said, and “one cannot differ between Hamas, Hezbollah, IRA and ISIS.”
In order to counter terrorism we too need to define our enemy. Instead of pointing fingers at organisations Prof. Ganor said, the real enemy is the ideology of jihadists.
The ultimate way to counter terrorism is to deal with the “terrorism formula,” tackling both the motivational and operational capabilities of terrorists at the same time, but that is “easier said than done,” Prof. Ganor said. “There is a contradiction between the two, we call it the boomerang effect.“ If we act on operational capabilities by fighting back or imprisoning terrorists, this only raises their motivation to retaliate, “and how do we deal with that? That is the art of counter-terrorism…”
Prof. Ganor expressed his concerns about the other contradiction we face having to balance between efficiency in counter-terrorism and guarding our democratic values. Sometimes we have to “sacrifice some values in order to secure some efficiency in counter-terrorism and sacrifice security in order to cherish our own values,” he said.
In Australia, the focus has been shifting towards counter-terrorism strategies following the siege at Sydney’s Lindt café and more recently the luring of young people to ISIS. However, according to Australia’s leading constitutional lawyer George Williams in his Sydney Morning Herald opinion article published in April, we are placing “too much weight on the idea that terrorism can be prevented by enacting new laws.”
Prof. Ganor opened his speech discussing the rise of multi dimensional warfare, whereby not only motivational and operational capabilities need to be tackled simultaneously, but the legal field too in order to be successful in countering terrorism. While Australia is acting on the legal battlefield, it’s not doing anything to stop the motivational or the operational. Or even if they do act on the operational such as the counter-terrorism raids earlier this year, like Prof. Ganor said, this only motivates them to retaliate.
On that note, Williams mentions that the overreaction of nations to terrorist attacks such as the portrayal of fear and anger through the media also produces a cycle that only feeds terrorist organisations more. Instead of giving terrorists exposure in the media, which is exactly what they want, perhaps counter-terrorism messages should be projected on TV and digital media screens like they are in the UK.
“ISIS is becoming an epidemic,” Prof. Ganor warned, “inspiring the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism.” Targeting the uneducated and vulnerable, Jihadists use social media and glamorised videos to reel young people in and tell them they belong with Islam and not in their country where they feel ostracised. With the ubiquitous Internet, there needs to be some security over what young people can access to stop them from being conned into thinking fighting for ISIS is their only hope.
Prof. Ganor played a short ABC video interview of two Australian foreign fighters in Syria (there are now estimated 70 Australians actively fighting in Syria). This really struck home seeing such young men draped in black uniforms sporting rifles, especially hearing them speak with Australian accents
Now more than ever is a close family, social and community environment and sound public policy essential to counter the growing radical online environment.
“It takes a network to beat a network” Ganor said “and we are dealing with the network of global jihadists and we need to create a global network to combat them.”
Our leaders shouldn’t just band-aid terrorism with laws but rather compliment them with community-based initiatives and terrorism prevention strategies that may help combat the cycles we keep promoting and getting ourselves into.
We need to be resilient not just as a country but as a local and international community working smartly and cohesively to counter terrorism.