by Dr. Ichak Adizes

To solve a problem, you must first define it.

Terrorists kill and maim civilians, but so do armies when they fight a war. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not collateral damage; the bombs were dropped knowing there were civilians below.

So what makes terrorists unique? It is that terrorists do not dialogue with their enemies. They do not negotiate. Their way of dealing with conflict is, “Yield to our demands or experience terror.” Terrorists give no space to compromise. Hammas, for instance, would not agree to anything short of the total disappearance of Israel. And does anyone know what Al Qaeda is willing to compromise on in order to stop its terror attacks?

The Dangerous Confusion
Is there a difference between “terrorists” and “liberation fighters”?

They both kill or maim civilians, use non-traditional tactics – such as suicide bombings – and have non-negotiable demands.

May I suggest that the distinction between a terrorist and a liberation fighter is in the eye of the beholder: whose interests are supported versus whose interests are threatened by the acts. An example is the Algerian uprising against the French in the 1950s, which was seen as terrorism by the French settlers while Algeria’s Muslim population perceived it as a righteous bid for freedom. Another example is how Palestinian suicide bombers are perceived. For those who unequivocally believe in the right of Israel to exist, they are terrorists; for those who doubt Israel ‘s right of existence, they are freedom fighters.

I believe the confusion between the terms “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” started in 1974 when Yasir Arafat was allowed to address the General Assembly of the United Nations dressed in his military uniform, with a holster and (by some accounts) a gun on his hip. He received a standing ovation.

It is this kind of terminological confusion that gives those who commit atrocities legitimization to feel hopeful that their acts will bear the fruits they aim for, whether they are Chechens, Tamils or Iraqis.

I suggest in order to design a solution to the acts of terror, first there must be no distinction made between freedom fighters and terrorists. It should never be considered legitimate to use force without willingness to dialogue and negotiate first and compromise second, no matter how noble the cause. A family analogy might be the parents’ decision to forbid their children to use force against each another, regardless of how right a child might feel or even be in a situation. Another analogy would be deciding that spousal abuse is unacceptable under any circumstances.

If we stop making the distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters because we do not judge terror actions by their goals but by their means, we might discover a “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Steps to take
Countries should sign a pact refusing to recognize any state born out of terror which would deny terrorists/freedom-fighters the prize they are fighting for.

Chechnya, for example, could not receive world recognition as a sovereign country even if Russia finally capitulates and gives in. At its birth, Chechnya would be forced to deal with world sanctions. And the freedom fighters/terrorist leadership, even if they emerge as the leaders of the new nation, should be prosecuted at the International Court for human rights violations. They should be hunted down whenever they leave their country and any country harboring them would suffer sanctions and be isolated.

Not recognizing a country born out of terror and prosecuting their leaders in international courts might bring some reason, accountability, and restraint to terrorism. An unequivocal message would be sent that a legitimate country can no longer be born by illegitimate means. Yes, it happened in the past but it would not be sanctioned in the civilized and supposedly enlightened era we live in.

This solution leaves many minorities who might feel oppressed, without any options, so as a corollary, it is vitally important to offer a legitimate alternative path to every country’s minority population. If a minority (and there must be a minimum size for this solution to be operational, a detail to be worked out) wishes to secede and can convince an absolute majority of the population in the geographic area they reside in to vote in a democratically-conducted referendum that it is their wish to secede, those wishes should be honored. If the country in which they reside refuses to conduct a referendum, supervised by a blue ribbon international panel, or if it fails to act on the results, the consequences would be universal sanctions against that country.

This two-pronged solution – no recognition for countries that reach independence through terror while allowing for secession via a democratic vote – will force all sides in a conflict to use influence and political means rather than terror or oppression to achieve their goals. That is what we all should want and desire.

Change is inevitable and peoples’ changing aspirations or national identity need to be recognized one way or another. What we must do is legitimize change by providing legitimate means. People should not have to resort to illegitimate terror to emancipate themselves.

Is this a realistic solution?
Terrorism is a global problem that calls for a global solution. The above commitment not to recognize a country born out of terror and to prosecute in international courts those that led the terror / freedom fighting, must be accepted and carried out in good faith by all the major global players, or the solution will not succeed.

Is it realistic to expect this to happen?

I realize that many countries will not agree to sign such a pact because they will fear that some of their minorities will secede. Will Turkey ever agree to this? The Kurds will vote for separation in no time. How about Spain? The Catalans could ask to secede as well as the Basques. How about Russia? Will they allow the Chechens to vote and secede peacefully? This kind of a pact can open a can of worms very few countries will find palatable. In other words, the legitimate solution is not very attractive to those in power. What does this mean?

We have to face and recognize the consequences. We are bringing this disaster called terror on ourselves. Without a legitimate peaceful and democratic solution, those that seek to emancipate their national group have no choice but to seek terror as means to achieve their aspirations. So either we bite the bullet or recognize the inevitable; the bullet will hit us one way or another.

Cultural Causes
There is another, more complicated cause for terrorism beyond nationalistic aspirations, which also appears difficult, if not impossible, to solve, and it is cultural in nature.

We have come to accept that those who would terrorize the West hate Western civilization and particularly its leader, the United States . Only people who hate – and hate relentlessly – could conceive the 9/11 attack where thousands of civilians perished.

Psychologists tell us that anger is caused by fear, or is actually fear in disguise. If that is true, then hate must be extreme fear. Hate must be absolute panic.

What is this panic about?

I suggest that conservative Muslims are scared to death that America is forcibly, permanently changing their way of life; liberating their women to the point that it will destroy the structure of their families as they know it, introducing pornography (although what is pornography to them may look like nothing more than a bikini-clad swimmer to us), and offering innumerable evil temptations impossible to ignore.

In an article in the Sept. 19 2004 of the New York Times Magazine, “Fern Holland’s War,” Elizabeth Rubin describes the conflict as it played out recently in the Iraqi town of Karbala: “By February of this year, Ms. Holland was busy getting a women’s center up and running … . Holland … unloaded new computers and other fancy goods for the sole benefit of Karbala’s women. …. Why were the Americans spending their money in this way? In Friday sermons, clerics loyal to the young militant Moktada al-Sadr spread rumors: ‘You know what the Americans are doing in these centers, my brothers? They are offering free abortions. You know what these Internet centers are doing? They are offering free porn to the students of the Hawza [the Shiite seminary].”’

Conservative Muslims are fighting for their lives as they know and like them, against a country that threatens their way of life and value system and is clearly superior in military terms. They have to use anything that gives them some advantage, such as suicide attacks, justified and supported by a widespread religious extremism that we cannot begin to compete with.

To reduce the terror caused by this cultural panic we must reduce the fear, the panic. We must stop promoting our own cultural agendas – which is tantamount to cultural colonialism.

The same holds for political colonialism. We must stop proselytizing the forms of democracy like multi-party elections, which only weakens the central powers and allows terrorist cells to flourish. Instead, we must first promote the conditions necessary for democracy to emerge, such as a healthy middle class based on small, self-owned enterprises literacy, freedom of the press, and government accountability. When that is done, promote freedom of the judiciary system from political intervention or economic corruption. Then, the foundations will exist for a multi-party system. If democracy is forced into a country mechanistically ­- form without function – before the conditions for it to succeed exist organically, it will only make the new found democracy a sham and too weak to fight terrorists who might try to destabilize the country. We must hold off on multiple parties and multi-party elections; these are the forms of democracy, not its foundation.

Can this happen?

I am pessimistic. Who can stop cultural colonialism via the spread of DVDs or pictures via the internet? The threat to the old way of life is here to stay; it is accelerating and cannot be stopped. What about political colonialism? There is a chicken and egg problem here. How can you promote the conditions of democracy in a non- democratic regime, as the above solution suggests?

We are stuck.

Terrorism is here to stay for at least a bit longer. It is a manifestation of our cultural, religious, economic, and political disintegration. It is a macro-manifestation of the accelerated global rate of change. And since I do not see an easy solution, we might be rapidly sliding into more major terrorist disasters, some of which will make 9/11 pale by comparison. But maybe that is how the cookie has to crumble for a solution to emerge. The situation must get much, much worse before it can get better. It has to be bad enough so that all those who are needed for the solution will feel equally threatened and forced to cooperate in it. All countries will have to get together and do something really drastic, such as the deligitimization of terror as a means to political emancipation and / or democratization by force of totalitarian countries that harbor terrorists, remaining there at all costs until democracy succeeds.

Drastic? Very much so, but terrorism is a drastic disease that calls for drastic measures.

Fighting terrorism, Shimon Peres once said, is “like eating soup with a fork.”

The solution is not to eat the soup more vigorously. It appears that the solution will have to wait until the soup thickens more and more and we are desperate enough to eat it.

* Dr Ichak Adizes has authored ten books, translated into 24 languages, on how to manage change without destructive conflict. He consults to major corporations as well as leaders of countries worldwide. He serves as CEO of Adizes Institute, Santa Barbara, California.