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War on terror breeds terrorism { March 11 2004 }

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War on terror may breed more terrorism, experts say
09 March 2005 1415 hrs (SST)

MADRID : Military strikes and draconian measures against terrorists may create even more terror, US-based academics warned at a summmit here as Spain prepared to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadly train bombings in the capital.

The experts said Europe could learn from Washington's mistakes in this regard.

"Europe can learn from America's mistakes and successes. Among the successes was not to allow any religious group to dominate society. But a strong militant stance may lead to more violence," said Mark Juergensmeyer, the director of international studies at the University of California.

He was speaking to the press on the first day of a summit marking the anniversary of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, where several delegates pointed to the dangers of the "war on terror" led by the United States.

Juergensmeyer said the US military's detention of Islamic militants captured in Afghanistan as "prisoners of war" at Guantanamo Bay had exacerbated the threat of extremism.

"We have the Guantanamo effect. That is dealing with terror in such a way that it has an incubator effect. One has to examine the penal system's role in creating more terrorism," Juergensmeyer said.

Arguing that government should behave in a "counter intuitive way", he said military strikes in the aftermath of a terrorist attack were meant to appease voters. But they often played into the hands of extremists by helping them recruit more followers, he said.

Jerrold Post, a professor of psychiatry and international affairs at George Washington University, said "many terrorist acts are designed to provoke a societal backlash.

"Most strong counter terror attacks are for ensuring domestic voters that something is being done," he added. "But there is usually an increase in terrorism afterwards."

Louise Richardson, the dean of the Radcliff Institute at Harvard, said she opposed the US-led war "on Iraq precisely because I feared that it would have this effect.

"The US government has done a lot of things in response to terrorism that it may regret," she said.

"The over-arching message we want to share is that we need to ensure in our counter-terrorism strategy that our short-term efforts do not undermine our long-term objective."

Praising the response of the Spanish government, which is holding 23 suspects for the bombings, she said Europe and the United States dealt with terrorism "differently" though sharing the same aims.

Some 200 delegates, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and about 20 heads of state and goverment are meeting in Madrid over four days to search for a democratic response to terrorism.

The summit is organised by the Club of Madrid, a group of ex-government leaders, whose president Fernando Enrique Cardoso urged here that no measure to fight terrorism breach international law.

"Sometimes resorting to force is necessary but it must strictly adhere to international law. Sometimes the effect of military force is counterproductive," he said.

US billionaire financier George Soros, who is also attending the summit, on Tuesday told Spanish radio that Washington's strategy was dangerous because it had sparked anger around the world.

"In Iraq," he said, "there are more people wanting to kill Americans than there were before.

"These people didn't think like that before the Americans arrived and did what they did. The attitude of creating innocent victims creates terrorists. It's as simple as that."

Participants at the conference also pointed to the need for the world to work together to combat terrorism, while warning of the dangers of straying from democratic solutions.

"We all have to work on a common way to face these threats," Lee Hong-Koo, a former prime minister of South Korea, said.

"Unless we have a common standard to deal with terrorism we cannot succeed," said Lee, stressing that this applied as much to countries with centuries of democratic tradition as to others.

Lee, ex-Irish president and UN rights chief Mary Robinson and former president of Cape Verde, Antonio Mascharenhas Monteiro, who briefed reporters on the sidelines of the conference, all underlined the need for democratic standards in fighting terrorism.

Robinson warned of a "knock-on effect of a lowering of standards" in the pursuit of terrorist suspects.

She singled out the United States for taking draconian measures against terror suspects, detaining some without trial at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba following the conflict in Afghanistan, in Washington's attempt to prosecute a global "war on terror."

And she warned that democracies, had, in seeking to combat terrorism, to address the root causes of terrorism, the "anger, frustration and despair" of groups who perceive themselves as marginalised.

Cape Verde's Monteiro for his part warned against accepting religion as an "excuse" for fomenting terrorist violence.

"Violence can never be an option for religion. Religion preaches love, tolerance and harmony," he said, warning against false "interpretations" of religious doctrines.

"We must combat poverty. The rich countries bear an enormous responsibility here," Monteiro said, while echoing Robinson's warning on abuses within a democracy.


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