Address by Minister Baird at United Nations Seminar on Understanding and Countering the Appeal of Terrorism

June 27, 2012 – New York City, New York

Check Against Delivery

I’d like to thank the President of the UN General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, for organizing this excellent seminar.

The topic, “Dialogue, Understanding and Countering the Appeal of Terrorism,” is both timely and pertinent.

While it is a pleasure to be here today and to speak on behalf of Canada, we face a grave challenge that is distinctly unpleasant.

I know each of us wishes that this seminar were not necessary.

The nations of the world, and the people of the world, long for the day when the threat of terrorism has abated.

The day when we achieve the vision painted by our Secretary-General just nine months ago: defeating terrorism and building a safer, more just and peaceful world for all.

Hardly a day or week passes that is not the sad and tragic anniversary of a violent attack on innocent civilians for some political, religious or ideological purpose.

Today, June 27, is the anniversary of the deadly nerve gas attack on Matsumoto, Japan, in 1994.

Today is also the anniversary of the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139. The hostages were taken to Entebbe where, a week later, most of them were rescued in a historic and unprecedented night-time raid.

Without diminishing the courage and daring of those who mounted the rescue, we all agree it is better to avoid and to prevent terrorist attacks than to deal with the consequences afterward.

This is why today’s proceeding is so valuable.

If understanding and countering the causes of terrorism can help us to avoid just one violent attack—can help to spare even one innocent life—then our efforts here will have been worthwhile.

This examination must involve both global cooperation and the engagement of member states.

In Canada, for example, we have launched the Kanishka Project, named after the Air India 747 jet that was blown apart by a terrorist bomb. Three hundred twenty-nine innocents, including 280 Canadians, were murdered.

The Kanishka Project will invest in research on pressing questions on terrorism and counter-terrorism, such as how to prevent and to counter violent extremism.

In the time that remains, please allow me to say a few words about each of the two aspects of this dialogue: first, understanding the appeal of terrorism; second, countering that appeal.

Understanding the appeal of terrorism

It is important to recognize and keep in perspective the nature and purpose of our inquiry into the appeal of terrorism.

The reason we identify the causes of terrorist acts is to eliminate them, not validate them.

We seek explanations, not excuses.

We need reasons, not rationalizations.

And when we have identified a cause of terrorism, our goal is to prevent that act, not blame the victim.

Terrorists employ violence to achieve political, religious or ideological goals.

Yet many peace-loving people of the world hold the same political, religious or ideological beliefs without resorting to violence.

The question is not, therefore, why people hold political, religious and ideological beliefs.

The question is why some become radicalized extremists who turn to violence.

It is tempting, but wrong-headed, to take comfort in simplistic, easy answers.

A paper prepared for our national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, debunks the myth that poverty and alienation are easy explanations for extremist violence.

“Poverty and alienation are popular explanations, but they do not stand up to scrutiny,” the report reads. “Domestically radicalized terrorists do not necessarily exist at the margins of society.”

As Norwegian scholar Laila Bokhari observed, “Few terrorists seem to be poor; on the contrary, terrorists themselves seem to be well-educated and middle class.”

Indeed that appears to be the experience:

  • The suspects in the failed terrorist attacks of 2007 in the United Kingdom were doctors, medical scientists and an engineer.
  • Members of the “Hamburg Cell” at the heart of the 9/11 conspiracy were all university students.

At the same time, there is evidence that terrorists can sometimes use poverty to advance their ends—by justifying their violence based on the plight of the poor or by using that plight to appeal for support.

Countering the appeal of terrorism

I will now turn to the second aspect of this dialogue: how to counter the appeal of terrorism.

Countering terrorism’s appeal is a major priority of Canada’s own counter-terrorism strategy, which was released earlier this year.

The Canadian counter-terrorism strategy has four elements:

  • preventing individuals from engaging in terrorism;
  • detecting the activities of individuals and organizations who may pose terrorist threats;
  • denying terrorists the means and opportunity to carry out their activities; and
  • responding proportionately, rapidly and in an organized manner to terrorist activities, and mitigating their effects.

The “prevention” element of our strategy is very much relevant to the challenge of countering the appeal of terrorism.

Canada is taking three approaches to prevention.

First, the government is working in partnership with groups and individuals to bolster communities’ resilience to violent extremism and radicalization.

Canada’s diversity is a source of strength, not weakness, in the fight against terrorism, and community outreach and engagement are vital to success in that struggle.

Through outreach and engagement, we hope to stop the process of radicalization leading to violence.

Such engagement will include:

  • advancing our understanding of how and why violent extremist ideologies resonate with particular individuals;
  • understanding what tools can help communities deal with these issues;
  • harnessing existing programming and partnerships to help contribute to prevention objectives; and
  • developing reliable indicators to measure outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of our programs.

Second, we must provide an alternative narrative to counter the false messages being used to promote violent, extremist ideology.

The propaganda and outreach strategies of some terrorist organizations are highly sophisticated. These groups use the Internet and other media to communicate and to coordinate their violent extremism.

There is only one way to counter the seduction of lies: by presenting the truth.

And so we will counter the siren song of extremism by telling the truth about Canadian society: that Canada is open, diverse and inclusive; that Canada is founded on principles of freedom and respect for human rights.

The truth is great and shall prevail, even against terrorist propaganda.

Third, Canada will continue working in collaboration with our international partners.

We continue to coordinate our efforts with like-minded countries to stabilize fragile states and limit the conditions that allow violent extremism to breed and spread globally.

Canada has committed to leading work within the Global Counterterrorism Forum on measuring the effectiveness of programming to counter violent extremism.

We will be working with our international counterparts to advance this issue through innovative research and dialogue. We hope that the members of the international community will draw on findings from our initiative to enhance their own existing frameworks to assist them in measuring the effectiveness and impact of their terrorism prevention measures.

In that vein, later this year Canada will host a symposium on measuring the effectiveness of public engagement, and we look forward to further contributing to this important field.

Too often and for too long, terrorism and its threat of violence have darkened the skies. Until they are vanquished, their darkness will cover the world again.

There is hope, however.

We find hope in this gathering today.

We find hope in the efforts of member states.

We find hope in the guidance of the great Mohandas Gandhi, Father of the Indian nation.

As Gandhi said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.

“There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.”

However small, let today’s dialogue be a light that will fire counter-terrorism activity around the globe.

It takes only one spark to light a blaze that will push aside darkness and illuminate the world.

Thank you.