Nothing has hurt the fight against terrorism, such as the devaluation of the term itself, writes Dr Anas Altikriti.
Make no mistake, terrorism in all its forms, manners and formats, whether of the Islamic variety or otherwise, is a very real threat. However, the fact that it has become the go-to excuse for anyone with an axe to grind, an opponent to eliminate, a land to usurp or a nation to suppress, has rendered the term “terrorism” of virtually no value whatsoever.
On Saturday, the level of absurdity surrounding the usage of the term reached new levels. The UAE cabinet issued a Federal Law, listing no less than 83 organisations, associations, charities, groups, parties and entities from around the world, and charged them all with terrorism.
Clearly one would expect to see ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda on the list, but never the likes of Islamic Relief, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) as well as my own The Cordoba Foundation (TCF), among dozens of other similarly inclined organisations. Such extraordinary haphazard stacking attracted bewildered astonishment from all corners, to the extent that most of the news producers who called requesting interviews didn’t even try to stifle their chuckles as they mentioned “that UAE list”.
But whilst one might derive much merriment and come up with a whole list of jokes from “that list”, the fact is that the world is now such that even an absurd act such as this could turn into something of extremely serious implications before one’s laughter has even trailed off.
The Cordoba Foundation
For years, various writers, commentators, so called experts frustrated by the line adopted by The Cordoba Foundation and its intellectual and physical output, have tried having a go at labeling it as an extremist outfit. From David Cameron who as leader of the opposition in 2009 under parliamentary privilege, falsely accused TCF of being a “front for the Muslim Brotherhood”, to a catalogue of others who have tried to intimidate, slander and sling mud, it was notable that no one dared accuse us of the “T” word.
“Extremism” is loose enough to be used without incurring the threat of legal repercussions, but terrorism is an entirely different matter and is so serious that even our most ardent critics stopped short of using it in respect to our work.
Therefore the cavalier manner in which the UAE authorities chose to lump the likes of Boko Haram along with outstanding organisations who have achieved so much on a community and society level, is stunningly callous, quite foolish but also extremely dangerous.
However, none of that seems to matter to the rulers of the UAE…
A state obsessed with its “brand” and its image on the world front, but even more obsessed with cracking down on any signs or indications of dissent regardless of the implications, the oil rich emirate is acting on the regional and world stages with the confidence and posture of someone who could.
A regime that made no bones about its instrumental role in supporting the military coup that brought Egypt’s brief encounter with democracy to an end last year, bloodied its hands with a high profile assassination in Tunisia with the hope of creating a popular uprising against the then government led by the Islamist Ennahda party, and several attempts to poison the already chaotic scene in Libya by backing a rogue General from the pre-revolution era to launch air strikes via Egyptian fighters; the UAE is definitely going all out to crush not only its own reformist movement but virtually every reformist pro-democracy movement going throughout the region.
Hence, the absurd list. If The Cordoba Foundation is anything to go by, then it certainly sits on the wrong side of the UAE regime when it comes to supporting radical changes and reforms in a region seen as arguably the most oppressive and tyrannical, with records considered among the worst in the world on human rights and freedoms. And for that we make no apology. Indeed, if that’s the price that needs to be paid to support the transition of the entire region into the light of dignity and freedom, then so be it.
Gradualism vs. “Quick fixes”
However, what the rulers of the UAE need to also realise is that such recklessness with the charge of terrorism will come back to bite far close to home than it might anticipate.
Young frustrated men and women, tired of being told that this is the best that they will ever have, have a chance to work with mainstream, moderate and effective organisations for gradual but solid steps towards a better future.
If these platforms are labeled as terrorists however, and that charge is accepted or indeed supported by the wider context, why then should they accept gradualism and why should they settle for the long run when there are others, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda who are constantly offering quick fixes albeit at hefty prices?
Eliminating the middle ground will see more and more restless youngsters head for the margins and that’s something which none of us can afford.
The UAE regime is playing with fire, which shall eventually consume it.
It’s down to British, European and American governments to send it a clear and unequivocal message that it cannot continue to behave with arrogance nor with impunity, and by continuing to stand in opposition to the tired, frustrated and fed up people of the Arab world, it’s only a matter of time before it has its own comeuppance.
Dr Anas Altikriti is the founder & CEO of The Cordoba Foundation UK and Chairman of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). Born in Iraq in 1968, Dr Altikriti holds a Doctorate in Political Studies from Westminster University, London. He is a international speaker and lecturer, and advisor to a number of governmental and non-governmental bodies on strategic issues pertaining to MENA region. Dr Altikriti is an expert on Middle East affairs, political Islamic thought and extremism. He is also an advisor on peace building, reconciliation and conflict resolution.
Dr Altikriti is a hostage negotiator, and up until Mid-2014, actively contributed towards the release of 17 hostages from various conflict zones through direct and indirect negotiations. He is a media commentator in both Arabic and English, and writes for a number of printed and online newspapers, including The Guardian and the Huffington Post.
You can follow Dr Altikriti on Twitter @anasaltikriti