Ladies and gentlemen,
I cannot begin this speech without thanking the Universal Peace Federation, Jacques Marion, its general secretary and Mr. Veracx who offer me the honor and pleasure to invite me in such a prestigious place. I wish I was here for a conference on a different topic, but we are all gathered today here to talk about terrorism.
Fortunately, we’ll also treat its complementary topic, peace, which we aim for in our daily work. But it remains fragile; recent European and world events prove it every day.
All of us revel in the idea or I should rather say in the illusion of living in peace, in civilized nations, where armed conflicts have disappeared, giving way to urban debates, which, even if they are sometimes fiery, never lead to bloodshed.
And it's true that we’ve had peace for quite a while in the large scale of Western history after World War II. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the balance of power has evolved and new realities have emerged.
It’s an illusion to think that our life in this corner of the world is peaceful forever. Because we can find terror in our countries, too; terrorism has swept many of our convictions, open new perspectives in terms of human relations too, and it is undoubtedly a sign of this era, our era but not only.
Indeed, from hearing experts of all kinds we may believe that terrorism was born with Ben Laden, continued with the Taliban and reached its peak with the Kouachi brothers in Paris, Salah Abdeslam in Brussels, or Daesh.
But terrorism is almost as old as mankind; when two opposing groups have met, one has systematically treated the other as a terrorist.
I will not explain a history of terrorism. I will not give them this honor. But in all conflicts, what the ones consider an act of resistance, the others considered it an act of terrorism.
Take the example of the Palestinian people, of the Palestinian youth, forced to live under the yoke of a powerful Israeli settler, of a state that enjoys almost total impunity in the eyes of the international political world.
What can you do when, day after day, year after year, you observe powerlessly your parents’ harassment, your mother’s desperate looks and your father’s humiliation? What can you do except rebelling against the oppressor with your own weapons?
Of course, the eyes of the world media will almost always treat you as terrorists that are not expected to do any good, with whom it is impossible to negotiate a new, just and lasting peace.
You and I know that what is called terrorism or in the best case Intifada, is indeed a set of violent actions but that this one-time, emotional violence is well below the institutional, militarized, concerted and planned violence of a state that claims to be democratic.
Thus, we understand that we need to find parameters, a framework to distinguish, say legitimate, violence from purely barbaric violence that can be defended only if we give up our human values. There is indeed a huge difference between fighting injustice and killing with the sole purpose of spreading terror.
Terrorist acts that have been on the news for months or even years are characterized by their global nature. The Islamic state rages in Iraq and Syria, yet Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels are hit, too. Never forget that the first victims are found in Iraq, Syria, Libya, even though the acts currently affecting us are hard to take.
Although terrorists were often of European Muslim or converted citizens, the fact remains that the international terrorist exists and that is new.
Basically, there was no reason why the globalization of economic relations should not touch these geeks of a new kind. The global nature of the terrorist communication is also a major challenge for police and intelligence services around the world.
Although I have said how important it is to me not to abuse the martial vocabulary of Ministers of Interior, I do not forget that in terrorism there is the word terror and all of us, wherever we are and whatever private life he or she has made, has the right to live in peace, in dignity too.
A recent survey in Belgium reported a conclusion: three Belgians in five fear another imminent attack. Should we accept to live in fear?
It is up to the authorities to protect individuals and ensure the right to tranquility, to peace. In France, there is a debate between those who think that the current terrorism is the result of "Islamization of radicalism," and those who believe we are witnessing a "radicalization of Islam."
In other words, what is at stake in this debate is the question of the instrumentalization of Islam as a cover for young people, hardly religious indeed, which in any case wanted to express their rejection of the society in which they live, and those who see in those events a regression of Islam, a regression of perception and interpretation of the sacred texts.
I’d like to open a parenthesis on immigration. I was talking about the youth among us in Western Europe, who reject the society in which they live. I recall that in Belgium we have just celebrated 50 years of Moroccan and Turkish immigration. If the first generation has struggled to integrate, today we can find the 3rd or even 4th generation Moroccan and Turkish.
The Abdeslam generation, often has dual citizenship, precisely. As a specialist of Education, since I chair the board in one of our constituent entities, I think we have a responsibility. Of either side of the Mediterranean, we must ask ourselves what went wrong. And act.
In Belgium, everything was done for integration, non-discrimination, but we find that many of these young people feel neither Belgian nor Europeans, nor from Maghreb or Morocco. The only identity for them is that of extremism, although they were not even with radicals or attend mosques initially.
Even though that kind of debate is exciting and the different arguments equally relevant, it is important for me, as a Democrat, as a woman, as a Belgian member of parliament to know how to protect our children from drifting into being reduced to their religious affiliation, their skin color, or their family name.
It is also very important I think to deconstruct the images, assumptions that freeze people into certainties, final judgments, cleavages and fractures within our societies.
This work of deconstruction, education for tolerance and citizenship applies to all societies, all sectors of a society.
I hope you won’t mind if I consider that school is in the center, the heart of our mission for the youth. Education is the basis of tolerance and knowledge of the others. But you also need strong actions to get things done.
The francophone governments of my country initiated radical changes and acts fraught with meaning. In the Walloon Region and Wallonia-Brussels, we have compulsory training of imams.
They will now be trained in Belgium, and live in the country where they preach the word. They will have an understanding of Islam rooted in our reality. We want to build an Islam of Belgium, open, tolerant, consistent with Western society.
My grandfather always told me that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, openness and solidarity. This is the message that must be given in all mosques of Belgium.
And again, in the Walloon Region, we have legislated. We now require that mosques be identified and transparent about their funding. We know that too often funding came from extremist currents that could easily manipulate the followers.
Today, the entire Muslim community was singled out and it now wants to find its place in a society in which to live in peace, as was the case when we arrived in Europe.
Author: Senator Latifa Gahouchi
Member of Parliament, Belgium
Mrs. Gahouchi was born in Oujda, Morocco. Her father, a social activist, had to leave his country for political reasons. She engaged in politics in Belgium and became in 2007 Charleroi City’s Alderman for Education. In 2012 she became a Deputy of the Walloon Parliament. Since 2014, she has beeb a Belgian Senator, and presides over the Commission on Education of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.