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Conference Tackles Key Issues in Fight Against Terrorism

By Anne Fugate
Special to American Forces Press Service

ANKARA, Turkey, May 15, 2007 – Dealing with the underlying causes of terrorism is an issue nations continue to struggle with, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey said in opening remarks at the Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism conference here yesterday.

"Most people would find it hard to argue against the idea that terrorist violence arises, sociologically speaking, out of poverty, despair, hopelessness and resentment," Ambassador Ross L. Wilson said.

Wilson made his remarks to more than 45 academic specialists and counterterrorism professionals from more than a dozen nations attending a conference conducted by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies and the Center of Excellence-Defense Against Terrorism in cooperation with the NATO-Russia Council. Participants will take an in-depth look at how societal conditions enable or prevent terrorist movements from attracting new adherents during the five-day conference.

"It is true that terrorist leaders seem more often than not to come from middle-class backgrounds," Wilson said. "But terrorists do not just spring forth from Medusa's head, and effective government policy will seldom just involve cutting off terrorism's tentacles. The causes must be considered, and constructive policies must be devised to draw people away from the dead ends of violence and despair."

The conference's goal of producing recommendations for policy-making bodies falls in line with the ambassador's call for a two-pronged approach.

"At the end of the day, terrorism is about a struggle by a very small number of ideologues with unlimited aims who seek through fear to defeat a very large number of people who seek to live in peace in harmony," Wilson said.

"We need effective strategies to defeat the small number. We need effective strategies to divide potential followers from that small number. We need both a negative agenda -- sometimes kinetic and always active -- to make sure that the die-hards cannot succeed in their goal of creating havoc and fear, and we need a positive agenda to show the way of participation, prosperity and peace.

"There is no single right set of answers to any of these issues," Wilson told participants of the weeklong conference. "Discussions like these can help produce shared understandings."

The multicultural, interdisciplinary approach of the conference addresses recommendations that came out of a conference on countering ideological support for terrorism the Marshall Center held in September 2006, according to conference coordinator and Marshall Center Professor Sharyl Cross.

"One (recommendation) was that in our ongoing effort to facilitate a dialogue, we should hold a conference in a nation with a predominant Muslim population," Cross said. "That is one reason that I believe coming to Turkey was important for us. We're very interested in building our network of communication, sharing expertise with the Muslim world, so this facilitates our effort to reach out and work together and cooperate."

The previous conference also identified several critical dimensions of countering ideological support for terrorism that needs to be explored further, Cross said. As a result, the current conference includes panels that examine this mission in terms of democratization and economic opportunity, family values and ethics, education, religion and policy.

"We hope that this conference, with these panels, will help us move to an even greater level of specificity in our recommendations," Cross said. "We're particularly interested in sharing the successes, failures and challenges with regard to specific concrete examples. What has worked elsewhere, and what is the potential for application in other contexts?"

Involving those from different cultural and professional backgrounds is key to addressing the complex issue of terrorism, Cross said.

"There are still a lot of barriers to understanding. Dialogue in itself is critical," Cross said. "That is one of the most important contributions of the Marshall Center, that it creates and provides a venue, bringing together expertise and knowledge from all over the world, including the Middle East and Southeast Asia, those areas most affected by this issue."

Maj. Gen. Ali Erdinc, the head of training for the Turkish General Staff, underscored the importance of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism as he welcomed participants.

"Unless international cooperation, collaboration and common understanding are achieved for countering terrorism, it is highly expected that in the near future, terrorism will rapidly mutate and inevitably give way to new types of terrorism, which will be more complicated and harder to counter," Erdinc said.

The conference runs through May 18. A final report will be released to policy-making and other international organizations, as well as the academic community, according to Cross.

(Anne Fugate works for the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Public Affairs.)

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