Lakhdar Brahimi Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Negotiating: Conversation with Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Special Envoy; April 5, 2005, by Harry Kreisler

Page 5 of 6


Help us understand what the world can do about terrorism. Clearly, your work in Afghanistan shows us how the international community can and must respond to straighten out a situation and over time [bring about] a positive result. But there are other issues here, namely the extent to which we can build up moderation in [these countries]. We're all working toward the emergence of moderate elements in the Islamic world, and that the center not be abandoned and taken over by people on the extreme. You come from Algeria, you were part of that struggle, and you assume this multilateral mandate. What insights can you offer us about the directions that we must take beyond these situations like Afghanistan, so that we foreclose the possibility of a situation like 9/11 occurring [again] anywhere?

This phenomenon of terrorism, the way it is, manifests itself in attacking embassies. What happened on 9/11 is something totally alien to my experience. I think it's very important to remember that, that I'm not talking about these kinds of activities. This is totally alien.

We never did it, we never thought of doing it, but if you had come to me in the late 1950s when I was involved in that struggle that you are talking about, and you told me, "Look, this extremism is not good, moderation is better," I think I would have told you, "Thank you very much. We have tried that. It didn't work. Our objectives are legitimate. If you can help me reach those goals, achieve those objectives, fine. Otherwise, we have been occupied for 132 years. It's enough. And if violence is necessary, we will practice violence."

So, I think today, if you are talking about this blind international terrorism, that is an anger against humanity. That is something I don't understand. I think it is understandable that you fight it by all the means -- and I don't think they would be interested in talking to you, because I'm not even sure that they have objectives. But if you are talking about other people, whether it is the Basques, or the Palestinians, or the Chechens, I think it's a different situation. I don't think it serves any purpose to speak of one war on all forms of terrorism, or what you or I call terrorism. I think you've got to make sure that you know what you are talking about. Here too, there isn't one size fits all. You've got to understand why are people doing what they are doing.

At times one feels that what is being said in the West is that the fact that you are a Muslim predisposes you to this blind, stupid terrorism. Whether your are Palestinian, or a Saudi, or an Iraqi, well, you are just Muslim, therefore you are a terrorist, and we are not interested in what motives you may have. I think this is wrong and this is not going to lead to a solution of the problem. If you really look at the problems, by all means, fight force with force. But that is not what is going to solve the problem.

Let me give you one example that I have used on several occasions. We have spoken about our liberation war. We have not spoken about our civil war in the nineties. We've had terrorism of the worst kind by Islamic fundamentalists that your country, your people, were refusing to call terrorism: 100,000 of our people were killed. Yet when friends of mine in the security forces come and told me, "We are making progress, we are defeating terrorism," the question I used to ask them is, "Are there still young people joining the ranks of this rebellion or not? If they are, then you are not winning anything. You are just killing some of your young people." And the second question is, "Why are our young people joining the ranks of this? These are our kids. They went to school with our children. What happened to them?"

If we don't ask ourselves these questions, we will not solve the problem. If we do not accept that we, we in Algeria, are responsible for what has happened, it's not only those kids that are responsible, they are individually responsible, but as a society we are responsible for what they are doing. If we do not understand that, if we do not accept it and do something about it, then we will just destroy our youth, because they will continue joining the ranks of this rebellion.

I think it's the same thing. If you are talking about terrorism, you need to sit down and understand what is making these people put dynamite around their waists and blow themselves up. Because they are Muslims, because they are stupid, because they want to go to paradise? Maybe some do, but I think most of them have other motivations.

So, again, it's this idea of understanding what's going on, on the ground, and in fact, not making the mistake of calling an apple an orange. So, you may have an occupation, and that suggests that we have to look at the history of people wanting liberation. And that is something very different from a failed state or a failing state.

From a failed state, and also from narrow ideological attitudes. You have that young man who destroyed that building in Oklahoma. What made him do that? He is probably somebody like some of our worst people, but definitely not like the Basques. You cannot say he and the Basque man who -- although the act is probably the same -- are the same kind of people. You have also some very, very extreme Jewish organizations. I'm told that there was a rabbi in Israel who said that this tsunami hit the world because the world is supporting Sharon's decision to leave Gaza. That's different from objective situations that create anger and push people to despair and to desperate acts.

Next page: Conclusion

© Copyright 2005, Regents of the University of California