Ideas Festival – Portrait of a Terrorist

This was a public lecture by: Joseph Pugliese, Helen Stacy, Richard Woolcott.

Issues that were discussed:

The speakers talked about the problems associated with describing potential terrorists as 'of middle eastern appearance' or as Muslim people. They described how this limits the public's ability to actually notice suspicious activity and therefore predict and stop terrorism because our definition of a potential terrorist is, well, wrong. It was also suggested that, unlike America and England, we live very close to countries which have predominantly Muslim populations and this is harmful to our international relations and future trade possibilities with these countries.

The speakers also discussed the importance of recognising that terrorists do not come from a specific country or religion, but that they have lived in particular circumstances where their opinions and concerns cannot be heard and they feel powerless to create change.

It was also pointed out that terrorists do value their lives and therefore must strongly believe in what they are dying for. This fact should really have made western countries try to uncover and understand these beliefs, rather than labelling all these people as extremists, and use it to create fear. Western countries have defined the terrorists' reasons for murder, as 'to threaten our way of life' (ie. our democracy and freedom) rather than listen to the real reasons, which probably would have been less about Americans living out their lives in America, and more about Americans influencing their lives.

And finally, it was pointed out (from a member of the audience), that we as democratic nations shouldn't resort to violence, torture and imprisonment to protect ourselves. As this may create a country of young people without respect for all human life, who place less value on freedom and don't appreciate the long road our countries have taken to be as lucky as we are.

The main idea I left with was that we should look at this not from our point of view (that is how to protect our borders etc.), but instead try to understand why terrorists do the things they do and how we can try to overcome this (ie. not try to change their ideas or perception of us, but actually change ourselves).