This past Saturday night, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman — the first Yemini, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel prize — gave an insightful talk on the nature of terrorism, its relationship with despotism, and how we can combat both.
The talk, held at Campbell Hall on Saturday at 7:30 pm, was well attended with a large audience. The evening began with a call for a moment of silence in recognition of those killed in the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria.
How regimes use terrorism to suppress reform movements was a subject Karman frequently focused on in her talk. She discussed how this can be seen in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad used terrorism as an excuse to hold onto power, murdering civilians and those pushing for reform in the name of fighting terror. She went on to elaborate how these actions lead terrorism in the region to grow, as terrorist groups like ISIS formed to fight tyrannical regimes.
She laid a heavy condemnation on the feet of the international community for their role in supporting the cycle of terrorism and tyranny. She explained how the world often supported or turned a blind eye to the tyrannical regimes in the Middle East like the ones in Syria and Egypt. This allows these regimes to suppress any calls for reform, causing terrorism to spring up in response to brutal oppression.
“ISIS has come to life because of the international community’s support for tyrannies,” Karman said.
Karman levied another heavy condemnation upon the international community, stating that “you have replaced Arab Spring with ISIS Spring”. Through the international community’s failure to properly respond to the suppression of reform movements in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, terrorism has been allowed to grow and prosper. Karman also touched upon how the international community’s support of dictators, and in turn their oppressive governments, has allowed terrorism to prosper.
Another point Karman emphasized in her talk was how these oppressive regimes often presented the false dichotomy that the people must choose between terrorism or despotism. Karman refuted this notion and claimed she will only choose democracy. She went further in her refutation of this notion presenting terrorism and despotism as two sides of the same coin, exclaiming “every dictator is a terrorist and every terrorist is a dictator”.
Karman also took the time to comment on how intolerance for others can help propagate terrorism. She cited President Donald Trump as a clear example of this because of his rhetoric concerning Islam and terrorism, which she claimed only helps terrorism, driving some into its arms and feeding into an ‘us versus them’ narrative between Islam and the rest of the world often peddled by terrorists. This view can be seen to be shared by many other prominent figures such as former President Barack Obama, who during his presidency was careful not to portray the U.S as being at war with Islam. He expressed at a CNN presidential town hall that in concern to terrorists, “we do not lump these murderers into the billion Muslims that exist around the world.”
Karman wrapped up her talk proclaiming, “we shouldn’t let extremist lead us, we shall combat terrorism and despotism together.” She stated that only through the establishment of democratic systems and an acceptance for all people can despotism be extinguished, in turn leading to a decline in terrorism. She further emphasized that this goal can only be achieved through the help of the international community and that everyone has a responsibility to help those under tyranny. Another point Karman made that related to the need to help the oppressed was that “peace within nations is no less important than peace between nations.” Though it may be easy for the international community to ignore crises that do not impact them, it is still vitally important that they lend their support to those seeking freedom.
Karman concluded her talk with stating not to expect regimes to fight terror since they use it to maintain their power; rather, that one day the “people will prevail” and universal freedom will be achieved.