Guarini Institute Presents: "The War on Terror: Eight Years Later"

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The panel assembled in the Aula Magna Regina on October 14, 2009 at John Cabot University concerning “The War on Terror: Eight Years Later”, which emphasized the importance of understanding numerous perspectives concerning this complex topic. Among the panel members were: Tasnim Aslam, the ambassador of Pakistan to Italy, Fausto Biloslàvo, an important Italian journalist, Musa M. Maroofi, the ambassador of Afghanistan to Italy and Stefano Silvestri, the President of the Istituto Affari Internazionali and the moderator Dr. Valentina Colombo researcher and translator of Arabic and Islamic issues. These five individuals shared their unique experiences and perspectives and allowed the audience to learn much about the conflict.

The evening opened with a brief introduction from Professor Argentieri, director of the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, who elaborated on each panel member’s accomplishments and the value they brought to the discussion. Then, Dr. Colombo gave a more detailed introduction to the participants, outlining their careers and main topics they would speak about throughout the evening. She outlined the basis of the conflict, “The War on Terror” and why she believes, based on her background and perspective, that studying this conflict is an important endeavor and that only through discussion and compromise can the issue be fully resolved. She then handed the floor to Mr. Silvestri.

Mr. Silvestri gave a global perspective on the conflict. He explained many of the reasons why “The War on Terror” has been so controversial and ultimately will be impossible to resolve. He pointed to three main negative issues which have impacted the war. Firstly, he emphasized that the lack of steady and competent definitions as a large problem in the war. There is no universally understood definition of “terrorist” or “terrorism” and thus no way of knowing when a war on terror could be completed. Mr. Silvestri demonstrated that violent movements are not always terrorist movements by pointing towards some environmentalist and labor union movements. Thus, it becomes impossible for the world to understand what a terrorist truly is, and it is impossible then to combat an unknown enemy.

Secondly, he emphasized that the American mindset towards the war was initially flawed. The American idea that the war could be won through simply military stratagem and battles, and with the conquering of the nation of Afghanistan, was incorrect. Terrorism is not a nation state which can be fought simply through battles; it is rather, a social and economic creation, which permeates borders and nationalities.

Finally, he pointed towards the decision to invade Iraq as a pre-emptive measure as ultimately being a major failure. The decision to invade Iraq greatly loosened the interpretation of the meaning of “The War on Terror” to a new and dangerous extent. Whereas in the invasion of Afghanistan it was proven that the Taliban government was directly supporting self proclaimed terrorist movements, the reasoning behind the invasion in Iraq was less direct and relied on a more elastic interpretation of defensive doctrine. Professor Silvestri then yielded the floor to Fausto Biloslàvo.

Fausto Biloslàvo is an Italian journalist who has been on the ground in Afghanistan many times. He was captured in 1987 by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and spent 7 months in an Afghani prison where he spoke to many young men who were considering following the Jihadist movement to defeat the Soviets. From this background, he was able to explain why Jihadism has such a powerful role in the Middle East. He explains that Jihadist movements have existed since before the mid 1980s, and thus it was a mistake for the United States to think they had defeated the movement just through overthrowing the Taliban and conquering Afghanistan.

He points to the escape of many Taliban and Al Qaeda members to Pakistan as one of the biggest mistakes in American history. He asserted that these mistakes will undoubtedly lead to years of bloodshed and ultimately the retreat of the United States from their military force driven “War on Terror.” Biloslàvo emphasized that if we want to defeat terrorism we should fight it with “bread and jobs”, two tools Jihadists use to attract new followers into its extremist doctrine. He also asserted that the United States must accept that democracy looks different in each nation, and cannot always be perfect. He then showed a clip from the documentary Diari di Guerra which highlights Italian soldiers’ experiences during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Next Ambassador Maroofi spoke. Ambassador Maroofi highlighted the troubled history of Afghanistan, emphasizing that the nation was no newcomer to occupational forces, and thus has devised efficient systems of rebellion against their occupiers. He also gave a detailed history of the Taliban as a primitive government which suffocated the nation and the free thinking of the people. He then emphasized the positive effects of the aftermath of “The War on Terror” for Afghanistan in particular.

He stressed the liberalization of civil rights as a major improvement for the nation, the education of women and liberalization of the economy as key direct results of the in Afghanistan. In fact, Ambassador Maroofi compared fighting against terrorism as synonymous with fighting for the sanctity of free human thinking. He emphasized that although Afghanistan is not a perfect nation, the over all effect of the “War on Terror” has been a positive experience for the nation, allowing its citizens new rights and allowing the nation to grow unboundedly in recent years both economically and politically.

Then Ambassador Aslam from Pakistan spoke. She emphasized the negative impact the “War on Terror” has had for her nation. The Taliban and Al Qaeda fled from Afghanistan to the Pakistan border, where they have continued to grow and cause many problems for the Pakistani government. She expressed that the war should be clarified and that the United States should avoid targeting specific ethnic groups because terrorism is an ideology not a nationality or ethnicity. Ambassador Aslam stressed that human rights are more than just American values, and that she fears the “War on Terror” will lead to a forced assimilation of American ideals on Pakistani society and sovereignty.

She emphasized the importance of recognizing the cultural disconnect between the East and the West, and hopes that through education and communication this disconnect can be combated. However, she seemed apprehensive for her nation concerning the future of the “War on Terror,” her main issue is that the next front line for attack may be Pakistan. She stressed the importance of communication among nations to eradicate terrorists, and hopes that through collaboration with the United States, terrorists can be expelled from Pakistan rather than through the invasion of sovereignty and use of foreign military force. Although she respected the ideals and good will of democracy and the eradication of terrorism, the worry of national sovereignty and violence pervaded her lecture.

After Ambassador Aslam had concluded a series of questions were asked. Mostly pertaining to whether a political solution was applicable to resolving Afghanistan’s main issues. The panel expressed a variety of opinions, from the very hopeful Ambassador Maroofi, to the more apprehensive Ambassador Aslam. One thing is certain, however, as Dr. Colombo pointed out; the “War on Terror” is a complex conflict which will continue to affect everyone throughout the world for the rest of our lifetimes. Only through communication and discussion is their any hope for the reconciliation of the conflict.