The Underlying Causes and Roots of Terrorism: Introductory Remarks
Ambassador Alexandr Vondra
Prague Summit Commissioner
Former Czech Ambassador to the United States
This panel on "The Underlying Causes and Roots of Terrorism" is going to discuss what is behind the current wave of international terrorism, particularly the terrorism that is based in the greater Middle East area. Is such terrorism an expression of broader political ambitions, with the goal of achieving power, and leading and unifying Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world, as the terrorists' backgrounds, finances, and programs indicate? Or is it simply an expression of frustration related to a particular problem-poverty, underdevelopment, an autocratic regime, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the total disorder typical of so-called failed states such as Afghanistan, or the problems associated with the Middle East peace process?
When the debate on this issue began immediately after September 11, I had problems joining in. It seemed to me that leading a debate on the root causes of terrorism was almost a justification of the attacks. My reaction was "Wow!" instead of "Why?" But now, many months after the attacks, I believe it is quite right to lead this debate, because we need to understand the meaning of the challenge and to shape our response in a proper way.
In Europe, particularly in Western Europe, the debate on the root causes of terrorism has been strongly influenced by those countries' own experiences with terrorism, including those of Germany and Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.
But it seems to me that now much more needs to be considered. One issue is the spread of anti-Western, fundamentalist, radical ideology connected with Islam. A second is the possession of weapons of mass destruction, and the third is international terrorism. If we study the causes of these problems, it can lead us to the proper response and the proper way to cope with the enemy. Many argue that this current enemy is comparable in significance to the old one we had during the Cold War. This panel will discuss the proper response to such an enemy, and how to fight this enemy, as many in the U.S. would like to do, or how to appease the enemy, as some in Western Europe may prefer.