Terrorism is by its very nature is anti-democratic as it seeks to achieve political ends by violence. It has no interest in any of the bedrocks of democracy such as building consensus, stimulating debate or protecting the rights and interests of minorities. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC twin towers, the 'clear and present' danger to democracy, freedom and liberties has become even more pronounced. There is consensus among all those who cherish democracy that urgent steps are necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. The key question is: how to accomplish this? In this essay we shall examine how terrorism undermines democracy and whether setting up an international committee can help to fight terrorism. We shall also look at short definitions of democracy and terrorism.
Definition of Democracy
Democracy (Greek demos, "the people"; kratein, "to rule") is a political system in which the people of a country rule through any form of government they choose to establish. In modern democracies, representatives of the people elected by popular (usually universal) suffrage, exercise supreme authority. These elected representatives are responsible to the electorate. (Pious, para I)
In certain democracies, such as the United States, both the executive head of government and the legislature are elected. In others, such as the United Kingdom and Norway, only the legislators are elected, and from among them a cabinet and a prime minister are chosen.
Definition of Terrorism
There is no universally acceptable definition of terrorism, in part, perhaps, due to the aphorism "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." In the U.S. federal statute, terrorism is defined as "violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that... appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping." (Quoted by Hoffmann)
Non-governmental groups usually carry out such terrorism, but at times governments too are accused of committing "state terrorism."
How Terrorism Undermines Democracy
It is ironic that the word 'terrorism' was first used in France to describe a new system of government adopted during the French Revolution (1789-1799) intended to promote democracy and popular rule by 'purifying' the revolution and getting rid of enemies. However, the violent excesses of the terror that followed the revolution has given terrorism a negative connotation ever since.
The ways in which terrorism undermines democracy have become more pronounced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some of which are discussed below:
Counter Terrorism Laws:
Just as it is often said, "the first causality in a war is truth," the first casualty in an emergency situation such as the one that followed 9/11, is "democracy" and its ideals. For example, several laws have been enacted by the U.S. government such as the Patriot Act, 2002, in the wake of 9/11 supposedly to fight terrorism but which severely curtail the cherished Civil Rights and liberties that are the very essence of American democracy. The Amnesty International has noted with concern some of these laws such as the ones that give the right to security agencies to arrest 'aliens' and keep them in detention indefinitely without being charged or being given access to lawyers. ("Amnesty International's Concerns..")
Such anti-terrorism laws invariably allow anti-democratic acts such as arrests without warrants (written authorizations) and prolonged detentions of terrorist suspects without the bringing of charges; broader police powers of search and arrest; trial by judge alone rather than by jury; and denial of access to the media for banned groups. (Hoffmann) The harsh measures adopted by the U.S. sent a powerful negative signal around the world, and emboldened other governments such as Belarus, Cuba, and India to curtail domestic liberties, supposedly in aid of their own struggles against terrorism. (Carothers, p.87)
Restricted Flow of Information
One of the major differences between liberal democracies and totalitarian regimes is the right and access to free flow of information. After 9/11, this 'free flow of information' has been severely restricted in the U.S.A. For example, a few days after 9/11, the White House press secretary Ari Fleischer made the threatening statement that "Americans should watch what they do." The White House deleted the statement from the official transcript of the press conference in which that remark was made. (Prados) President Bush issued a directive on October 5, 2001 restricting congressional access to information to a handful of the most senior lawmakers after a senator had told the press that the intelligence community expects further terror incidents. Another example of restriction on information was the non-publication of the Weekly Compilation of the President's public statements covering September 11 (the first time in memory that this publication had not appeared.) The reason being that some public declarations made by Mr. Bush on that fateful day reflected poorly on the President. (Ibid)
Support of Dictatorships
On the international level, the terrorist acts of 9/11 have prompted the U.S. administration to embrace several former pariahs such as the Military dictator, President Musharraf of Pakistan, the autocratic leaders of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan and even the most blatantly coercive regime of Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan. (Carothers, p.85) This contrasts sharply with the U.S. foreign policy under the Clinton administration when considerable pressure was being put on some of these regimes (especially in Pakistan) to return to democracy.
Now all these dictators can live happily ever after: thanks to terrorism that occurred elsewhere.
Dictatorships: Breeding Grounds for Terrorism?
Paradoxically, there is an acute realization in the U.S. administration that dictatorial regimes previously considered to be protectors of U.S. interests (particularly in the Middle East) are breeding grounds for terrorism. For example, Saudi Arabia is a particularly autocratic dictatorial monarchy that has been an American ally in the Middle East for the last several decades. An overwhelming majority of the terrorists who flew the planes into the WTC twin towers belonged to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. administration seems to have realized now that its previous policy of bolstering autocratic regimes in the Middle East as bulwarks against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has backfired. It has, therefore, decided to "promote" democracy in Palestine and Iraq to provide "inspiring models" for the rest of the Islamic countries. The flaw in the plan is the apparent decision to go it alone.
Role of an International Committee on Terrorism
Although there seems to be skepticism in the United States about the effectiveness of international agencies such as the United Nations in tackling terrorism, fact is that the solo flight of President Bush in tackling the problem is not likely to succeed. The reasons for this are multifarious. The most obvious reason is inherent in the very nature of 'terrorism.' It provides a means by which the weak can confront much stronger opponents and has an enduring appeal to the alienated, disenfranchised, aggrieved and vengeful. (Hoffmann) The more United States asserts its military prowess, the more resentment it is likely to provoke. The only way out, therefore, is to involve international agencies such as the UN for fighting terrorism.
Several recent events (even dating to the pre-9/11 period) had shown that there was greater international determination to fight terrorism by meaningful cooperation among governments. To illustrate the point: the United Nations had taken important steps to punish Afghanistan's Taliban regime for providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden by passing U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1333 (2000), and 1363 (2001) that imposed sanctions on the Taliban for harboring bin Laden and failing to close down al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. (Hoffmann)
Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the UN Security Council approved Resolution No. 1368, which reaffirmed the UN's commitment "to combat by all means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts";…