The Dutch antiterrorism-expert Peter Knoope searches for the motives of terrorists and warns the West. “A large part of the world hates us. What we think is progress, they find neocolonial.”
The Dutch specialist in international relations Peter Knoope warns the West: we force our way of thinking about history upon the rest of the world. And this is going terribly wrong. “We have no idea of what is developing. The anger, the dissatisfaction, the anti-Western sentiments.”
“We still think we need to democratize, and that our secular progress-thought still holds any relevance in a word were the majority of people are anti-Western. This disconcerts me,” Peter Knoope says. Until last year he was the director of the International Center for Counterterrorism (ICCT), we he is now an associate fellow. Additionally, he is a senior visiting fellow at Clingendael. the Dutch Instituut for International Relations, and travels around the world. It is utmost cynicism. I fly to Myanmar, to Mauritania, to South Africa, I’m hyper mobility itself. Someone who is stuck in Syria or Iraq is not welcome in Europe. This angers people.”
During one of those diplomatic travels he heard a remark, as a a red tread through a lot of conversations: “The majority of people here are anti-Western.” It came from a Frenchman he met in Niger. Knoope thought: the implication of what is said here, is tremendous. He repeated the sentence once more. Those words, in a random African country: “The majority of people here are anti-Western.” They stick, they hang as a sword of Damocles above our European heads. “Because it is not only like that in Niger, but also in Nigeria and also in Chad, and in Cameroon, in the of whole Sub-Saharan Africa, and also in large parts of Asia.”
Another incident. In the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria he read a pamphlet, meant for the citizens of the South-African Republic: “China is pleased that the hundred-year long humiliation of the European barbaric dominance has finally come to an end.”
Knoope: “We have no idea of what is developing. The anger, the dissatisfaction, the anti-Western sentiments. Beneath the small group of people that is mobilized by IS and that will actually take a step toward the use of barbaric violence, exists a sea of people that can understand well why those people do it.” Knoope wants to deal with the foundation of terrorism; this he finds more important that to merely battle the phenomenon.
It has been long overdue that we allowed ourselves to ask the question of what the motivations of terrorists are. It was politically incorrect to ask this question in the years after 9/11,” Knoope says. Between 2001 and 2007 that question would even make you suspect. “People believed that to would demand understanding for the perpetrators.”
He sees a change in the American war-rhetoric. The big turn came in 2011. “Thas had to do with the combination of the Arabic spring and the death of Osama bin Laden. The Arabic Sping brought a sense of hope. Just as the idea that Al-Qaeda did not play a role in it, That it was not a religiously motivated but a civil uprising. With that the demise of Al-Qaeda was proclaimed. A space developed to as the question of the motivation of terrorists. The America president Barack Obama has, inspired by Hillary Clinton, further built upon this agenda. He allocated money for it and initiated programs.”
But in the meantime the bombardments on Syria continue. Knoop: “The Pentagon has an own agenda and an own dynamic that is hard to control. While we know that to depose leaders is strategically unwise. A terrorist organization is like a pyramid. If you take away the top, other more aggressive people will replace them. Take a look at Abubakar Shekau, who succeeded Mohammed Yusuf as leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is strategically more wise to take away the public support, to break away the foundation. But for the military it is a difficult message that their machinery does not lead for the full hundred percent to the result they hope to reach with it.”
What binds 5 billion people?
The worldwide character of Al-Qaeda and IS is new. “The globalization, that started with Christoffel Columbus, has intensified itself enormously the past twenty years. The global character of terrorism was never before seen, and is not comparable with other waves,” Knoope says. It is just like a water bed. You push it don’t at one side and it comes up on the other side. This much we have learned the past few years.
But to break away the foundation, how to do that? Knoope: “The first step is to try to understand why people resist. Otherwise you cannot present an alternative. The IS has a force of attraction in China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the in the Central Asian republics, until Russia, the Middle East and North and West Africa. You could go on. What is the undercurrent here? What binds those people with the shared idea that “we have something to fight against”? As long as we don’t understand that, as long as we keep throwing bombs on it and answer the phenomenon with violence, we will not solve the question.
Pretentious view on history
A better insight into what history means for the other is a good start, he believes. Because the seed of the danger is already in our pretentious view of history. “Our Western society, with her whole modernistic view on life, is afflicted with a belief in the future. The whole idea of modernization is about the manufacturability of the future: the world will become better, the world will change, our economy will grow. But for many people in this world time is something totally different. For a large part of the population of the world the world is not about tomorrow but about yesterday: want we have gone trough, what happened in the past to me, my culture, and my ancestors. Those hundreds of years of history are the baggage on everyone’s backs. The future is a fantasy.” And this is were the problem lies. “Western modernism has the inclination to deny that view of history. And this is the cause of a tremendous short circuit.”
“A group of more than five billion people rejects that idea of modernization. They say: “What you are here for to tell us, is not our future but your future.”” Because of that short circuit youths are incited to go on a search for alternatives. Knoope: “Then appears the tradition and the history and the “true” interpretation of the Islam, and then arises a group that says: “We offer an alternative, we offer you a home in which you can live that is based on the past, in our own rich history, and that offers a kind of togetherness that runs from Indonesia until Morocco. Feel at home.” And in the meanwhile our conviction that the modern society will lead to a worldwide secularity, and to a growing market and scientific knowledge, is viewed by large parts of the world as a neocolonial agenda. The modernists have never intended it that way, but if you ask the people in Africa, they say: “This is your newest way to look at us and tell us that we are not in order.” And because the parting of ways with religion is part of the modernization plans, this causes resistance and also causes for the religious component to emerge in an even stronger way.”
So does something exist such as fundamentalist secularism? For sure, Knoope says. “It’s fanatic. People who are part of ISAF (the international peace coalition in Afghanistan) tell me without shame that people in Afghanistan are 2000 years behind. I ask then: behind what? They mean behind our modern, secular, scientific view of the future, to which according to modern thought the population of the whole world shall have to submit.
The problem if modernization started, according to Knoope, with the liberation theology after the postcolonial period, that started around 1960. A lot of the people in the colonies were disillusioned: the liberation had not brought what they had expected. “The postcolonial promise of improvement – we are now going to build up our own countries, we will make something beautiful – is turned over to postcolonial rage. If you ask an average youth in North Nigeria what democracy has brought, he’ll answer: “Nothing. A corrupt police officer and a life endangering army. That is our democracy. Thank you, dear Europeans.” The democracy that was installed in large parts of our former colonies did not bring the people anything. But we keep on telling them that democracy is the wonder drug.”
What concerns Knoope most is in many of those countries the traditional systems that existed had worked. “If one stole a cow, they went under the tree and spoke with each other. Conflict was dealt with amongst the people themselves. But the traditional way of conflict resolution was supplanted by a Western system of judges and lawyers. That Western system does not function over there at all. Prisons are full of people who have never seen a judge or lawyer. The old system of justice was completely destroyed and replaced by what the West implemented under the banner of democratization, human rights and “international law.” But in their daily practice people see that it has only brought misery. And then Al-Qaeda comes by, or IS or one of those groups, and they say: “Democracy? What is that for? What has it brought you?” Those groups demand a place for themselves in politics. There are of course masses of people that have huge problems with the reprehensible and brutal violence of the terror groups, but they do understand.
Is there, then, a peaceful solution? “As a first step we must realize that we cannot anymore force our modernity upon our former colonies,” Knoope says. “We must muster the humility that modernity is not attractive enough for everyone to embrace. After that you cannot but search in non-Western society for their own solutions for justice and good governance. Look at what the tradition brings to the table, and how they then become enriched with new elements. Looking back is also immensely important. They people must from within their own history and tradition give form to their contemporary society. Their uniqueness is in their history, not in ours. We think that – after the liberation movements and the independence – colonialism is already decades old an fully over. We left it behind, but the people that it happened to have not. In their collective conscience and history it is an important part of their identity.”
History of humiliation
It is important to realize that a lot of people that joined Boko Haram and IS really view us as the enemy, Knoope stresses. “We are not in order, that is their serious conviction. They are convinced that westerners try to marginalize Muslims, to humiliate and lower them, and that we allow them no fair, no rightful position in the world. We kill them in the Middle East, Chechnya, and Bosnia, we have them tortured in Guantanamo Bay. As soon as a Muslim crosses our border, he is picked out and humiliated. And now waves of Muslims enter Europe from Syria and Iraq. Then you know how it goes.” In this way the history of humiliation is fed. We must also consider this with regards to the influx of refugees.
Knoope takes a big lesson from history: Generational solidarity plays a much more important role with us then we realize. The anger of people about what was done to their parents, is many times bigger that the anger the parents themselves have felt about what was done to them. That anger travels over the generations. What you are is for a large part influenced by solidarity with your parents. That should not be damaged, because then people are touched in their fundamental values. That can be explosive material.
Interviewer: Anna Luyter
Interview: Peter Knoope
Translated from Dutch by: Jeroen Vlug
For more information about Peter Knoope see: http://www.clingendael.nl/person/peter-knoope?lang=en
To read the full interview in its original Dutch follow this link: http://www.knack.be/nieuws/wereld/terrorisme-expert-knoope-een-groot-deel-van-de-wereld-haat-ons/article-normal-624191.html