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Terrorism and Leadership

published 26 November 2015 updated 26 November 2015
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Recent years are a chain of horrors and tragedies. Lebanon and Paris are simply the most recent of serial attacks on human beings, but also on our very humanity. Once again, there are outpourings of grief and sympathy from throughout the world.

But, there are also dangerous reactions. Some seem to think that the only way to “wage war” on terrorists is to copy them. They would combat those who seek to strip the world of liberty and decency by doing it for them.

Those who thrive on fear and obscurity will not be brought to their knees by those who are also fanning the flames of fear. They may not be annihilating people but, by irresponsibly exploiting terrorism for narrow political gain, they are comforting it. They are, in that sense, both mirror images and “objective allies” of terrorists.

The initial reaction to the Paris attacks of the new Government of Poland was to say that they would not accept any refugees from Syria. The Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, was quoted as saying, “We must target the Moslem community who hate this Continent and want to destroy it.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the two leading Republican candidates for President, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, also missed the mark. Carson stated that the US should not accept any Syrian refugees and Trump blamed the large number of victims on French gun control laws, saying, “Nobody had guns but the bad guys”.

Such reactions are outrageous. They fail to meet even the minimum threshold for political leadership. Sealing off the borders of the world to Syrian refugees is the global and moral equivalent of forcing fleeing concert goers back into the Bataclan hall to face the Kalashnikovs.

Governments are right to seek to improve security and to reduce risks. There are a myriad of military as well as geo-political questions that must be considered carefully and intelligently.

But, the “war on terrorism” is not a traditional war. As we have seen repeatedly, there are no borders. And, it cannot be “won” by arms alone. Nor can it be won, nationally or internationally, by ignoring or avoiding the very values of democracy and human rights that we seek to defend.

The darkness of obscurantism can only be exposed and overcome with light; understanding and respect. Into this dangerous world, there is a desperate need to create space for reason, for ideas, and for discussion. Decent values are not imposed, they are learned. It is a challenge for education, in the broadest sense of the word, inside, but also far beyond our classrooms. As Albert Camus said, “We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives... inside ourselves.”

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.