Hard-line terrorists, soft sphere supporters: Terror can be overcome!

Where I spent my childhood, teenage and early adult years before settling in England, »»

Where I spent my childhood, teenage and early adult years before settling in England, A3 posters at every train station depicting the country’s most wanted terrorists reminded even a young citizen like myself that someone somewhere intended to blow up our cars, our houses and kill innocent people, perhaps even ourselves.

Key to overcoming domestic terror was the joint effort of all democratic forces in society and not an isolated one-party endeavor.

From a political scientist’s perspective, the most astonishing aspect in this regard is that the highest number of atrocities were carried out while a presumably “let’s try more democracy” party was in power (a famous slogan from those years). Hence, the population easily realized that those terrorists were not simply against one or two political tendencies or movements but had just one goal: to destroy democracy by pitting various groups of society against one another (workers against entrepreneurs; young against old; politicians against the people). They identified what they perceived as the bourgeoisie or establishment as their targets and ultimately wanted to establish a Stalinist-type authoritarian regime or total chaos, aka anarchy. Interestingly, after fleeing the scene of their crimes (and country), some of those terrorists then had to live under exactly that “anti-libertarian” type of regime, which indeed led a few to repent and realize their mistakes, albeit way too late!

As everyone felt under siege by a relatively small group of armed individuals who allegedly received logistic and financial support from a number of foreign governments, solidarity became the buzzword. Ultimately, this phase in the country’s development was overcome. Why did it not resurface? It did not resurface because society managed to isolate the figureheads of that terror and next approached the “soft sphere” -- those individuals and politically motivated splinter groups as well as a few larger movements that did not plant bombs but resorted to other forms of violence -- to be allowed to be re-integrated into society.

Those who wanted to turn the country upside down had a sizeable number of hesitant supporters who never agreed with violence but for one reason or another felt alienated from mainstream democracy. Allowing those people to learn about democracy and become part and parcel of it made all the difference. Education played a role, as did financially supporting new civil society movements.

Giving protest groups a public voice was crucial. Listening to the demands of the non-violent anti-establishment groups was vital as well.

Let me now try a delicate balancing act. No two countries are the same, yet let us take a look at today’s Turkey. There is unfortunately ongoing domestic terror, partly sponsored and facilitated from beyond at least two of its borders. Similar to where I grew up and rather surprisingly, domestic terror seems to increase while a political party is in power implementing full democracy perhaps for the first time.

There are a limited number of hard-liners, but there is a much larger “in principle not ruling out attacks as means of political activity” segment of society than in the country where I grew up.

Then there is a Turkish peculiarity in that some nationalistic tendencies in Turkish society were not entirely unhappy about the fact that there was a terror problem since having terror on its soil allows for draconian measures, including demands for martial law or curfews.

However, from what I temporarily learned to live with, first in Germany and later in the UK, makes me feel rather optimistic about what Turkish society can achieve, too.

Overcoming terror is indeed about civil rights and social inclusion, and the sharing of Turkey’s emerging economic wealth equally between the west and east is a crucial element, too. It needs a one-country approach. It needs education from school level onwards about civic rights as well as civil liberties and duties. Let us hope that, when at last two days ago the Turkish government and the major opposition party came together, the process of ending terror has reached its final stages.