Terrorism is a multi-faceted term that has a wide array of connotations and interpretations depending on who you ask. To some, terrorism solely relates to groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda who are posing current threats to Western civilization. However, others have a longer and broader relationship to the term, which sees Western civilization as also guilty of committing terrorist acts. Some notable examples of this can be seen in the historical and present situation between Israel and Palestine, or in acts against First Nations groups in Canada. These diverse perspectives were on display as part of the University of the Fraser Valley’s second open forum on terrorism, inciting a lively and tension-filled discussion period following the formal lectures.
The lectures revolved around the seminar’s theme, Towards Peace and Security: Putting Terrorism in (its) Place, and was hosted by UFV associate dean of arts Ken Brealey. The forum featured nine five- to six-minute lectures by professors from multiple disciplines at UFV as well as Simon Fraser University. Furthermore, the forum also featured mini-lectures from James Ward (Sakej), a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, and Layla Mohammed of UFV’s Muslim student club. Each lecture focused on different aspects of the complex issue that is terrorism while also discussing what would be needed in order to put an end to terrorist threats and actions.
The three primary aspects of terrorism that the lectures focused on were state terrorism; the looming and active threat of groups such as ISIS; and the role “sense of place” plays into the terrorism equation today. In terms of state terrorism, Stephen Schroeder of UFV’s peace and conflict studies program discussed how Israel and their actions towards Palestine fit under this term. In this conflict, Palestinians have often been branded as “terrorists,” but Schroeder argued, using the framework of the poem Letter to the Americans by Ammiel Alcalay, that this simply isn’t the case. The poem discusses how Palestinians have been subject to incarceration without trial, adverse possession of land, inability to access clean water, and aerial bombardment. Schroeder posed this as a simple question: “How would you respond to living under these circumstances in your own country?”
Ward took the same approach when discussing the position of First Nations groups in North America.
“Canadian colonial terrorism looks like the naval bombardment of native villages … the administering of biological terrorism through smallpox … [and] the forced removal of 150,000 children who had to suffer sexual and psychological abuse just to be taught that they had to be subjects of Canadian authority.”
Political science professor Ron Dart expanded on this growing concept of “state terror,” noting that it was related to the term “constructive terrorism,” which he described as “what first world people have done to the third world.” He noted that this type of terrorism is the basis for all colonization movements, not only in North America but in South America, Africa, and the Middle East as well.
Another revolving point of discussion considered ISIS and the active threat of terror. This involved small lectures on why people turn to terrorism, how to recognize the process, and the complex nature of terrorist cells. Though all these discussions were important, modern languages professor Ghizlane Laghzaoui’s breakdown of the drastic differences between Islam and Islamism was most insightful. Laghzaoui broke down the differences in structure, belief systems, and even language use, such as with jihad in Islamism and ljithad in Islam. She noted that “there is a fundamental difference between jihad, which is more like a crusade, a vicious conception … while ljithad is a personal journey; the discovery of faith.” Laghzaoui added that just this alone presents a huge difference in perception between the two.
The last key aspect that was discussed revolved around the loss of place among people in the world today. Garry Fehr, director of the Agricultural Centre for Excellence, noted that “in the past there were place-based wars where official armies met,” and they fought to gain territory. Now he suggests that acts of violence have “been spatially separated from the people of the homelands.” For example, Fehr explained that Canada dropping bombs on foreign countries beyond our borders is not done to add territory to the country, and almost relates to the foreign war broadcasts within George Orwell’s classic novel 1984. He theorized that the global drawing of boundaries “that in many cases are straight lines that don’t follow anything besides natural boundaries” ignores the traditions and languages of the people who live there. This causes the people to strike back to where they see the cause of the division: history.
Following the lecture portion of the seminar the floor was opened up to questions, which ended up bringing drastically diverse perspectives regarding the term “terrorism.” While the discussion was held in the Student Union Building on the Abbotsford campus, many members of the community filled the audience, more so than students. One man discussed in length his idea that terrorism stemmed from colonialism, and that we are still dealing with that history today. He also noted a need to realize that terrorism is a larger issue than just “suicide bombers.” Dart responded by noting his observations were “apt and insightful,” but asked whether he had anything to offer towards the current acts of violence through groups such as ISIS, and attacks such as those in Paris and 9/11. When the man stated that we don’t have the facts on the people attacking Paris, that we only received information about current terror through the media, panelist Gareth Davies, from the SFU criminology department, got up from his seat on the panel and sat across from the man in the audience.
“We know ISIS were behind the attacks in Paris,” Davies said. The man replied with another set of questions: “Does an ISIS person come up to you and say this? How do you know?”
“Because they say they did,” Davies responded. “It’s not like [the] government is telling us, it’s them telling us.” The audience member repeated his question, asking, “How do you know it is them?” Davies replied by simply saying, “I have faith,” and moved from the seat in the audience to collect his things. He left the forum shortly after.
This altercation displayed the gravity and complexity of the term “terrorism.” Though the title of the forum looked to “put terrorism in its place,” the forum itself added to the multiplicity of the issue. Broadening the discussion from simply focusing on attacks such as 9/11 and Paris, it revealed that there are multiple layers throughout our history, buried in the past, that relate to terrorism, and that events that happen on a daily basis often don’t get recognition in the regular news cycle. The seminar sought to shed light on all these facets of the complex terrorism question — because without all the facts, it is always impossible to answer the question.