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Interview with Prof. Yonah Alexander, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies


Security has been tightened in key cities around the world as law enforcement agencies continue their watch for terrorist attacks. Joining VOA's David Borgida to discuss these events is Professor Yonah Alexander, from the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, Professor Yonah Alexander, Director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies here in Washington. Professor Alexander, thanks for being our guest today.

Terrorism in its broadest sense is becoming the kind of problem that we all are going to have to live with for years and years ahead, do you think?

PROF. ALEXANDER
Unfortunately, the outlook is really grim, and we are not just talking about weeks or months or years but decades. In fact, one can argue that we are looking perhaps at 100 years of terrorism. Why? Because, first, there are some regional conflicts that defy easy solution, such as the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And then there are some new challenges developing all the time.

For example, the challenge of Chechen terrorism against Russia is relatively new. So, we can expect that terrorism would continue as long as you have groups of states that have grievances against others. And terrorism certainly is the great equalizer and therefore we have to expect the worst in the future.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, is this a deduction that you think Western policymakers have reached at this stage or not?

PROF. ALEXANDER
Well, it's not a question just of the West. Even if the United States had not existed you would have terrorism in Saudi Arabia. For example, historically you have to look back to 1979, when hundreds of terrorists took over the Grand Mosque of Mecca and they held hostages for about two weeks. There were no U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. So, again, you have some local grievances in other countries, and it's not just the question of the West. In fact, target number one is the Muslim, the Muslim countries, Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and so on, countries like Indonesia.

And then there are challenges elsewhere. I mentioned that Russia is a target. Even China is a target of terrorism. So, the entire world actually is facing that kind of challenge.

MR. BORGIDA
You mentioned Saudi Arabia. And even though we have talked about Saudi Arabia quite a bit on this program, I have to ask you, if that country finds itself both the target and at the same time accused by critics of not doing enough to contain terrorism, how do you think Saudi Arabia is going to pull itself out of this awfully difficult situation it finds itself in?

PROF. ALEXANDER
Obviously, it's very delicate. Clearly there are those within the Saudi regime that close one eye and they tolerate this. But after the recent attacks it seems to me that the practical considerations are going to be very critical here. If Saudi Arabia wants to survive as a distinct, independent, sovereign state, then obviously they have to mobilize all their capabilities in order to make sure that terrorists don't challenge the stability of the country. And therefore, I think the Saudis will cooperate more fully than ever before.

MR. BORGIDA
And here in the United States, of course, the terror alert has been elevated from "elevated" to "high." There is considerably more security at landmarks and so on. Is this the kind of up and down psychological feeling that Americans are going to be experiencing from now on, do you think?

PROF. ALEXANDER
Right. Unfortunately, this is a permanent fixture of international life, and we have to get used to it, to live with terrorism. It's cyclical. It will go up and down. But clearly we shouldn't be intimidated. We shouldn't panic. We should go about our life as if it is "normal." But at the same time I'm sure that you can minimize the risks both on the conventional and the unconventional level. So, we have to provide whatever support we can to law enforcement, and every segment of our society can and should play a role in the battle against terrorism.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, the continuing presence of al-Qaida obviously fits into your concern about the future of terrorism. It does appear that while some members of al-Qaida have been detained and captured and so on, that many, many others remain to take their place.

PROF. ALEXANDER
Absolutely. Because we have to understand that the battle against terrorism is not just law enforcement and the military. It's really the battle of ideas, over the minds of people. And people have to understand that you can capture someone, you can kill someone, but you cannot kill an idea. And therefore, in the long term, it is really an educational effort.

For example, how can we diffuse some of the negative theological elements from political conflict? We have to mobilize the clergy, we have to mobilize the educators, to make sure that you don't have education and hatred campaigns not only against the United States but against other countries, even Muslim and Arab countries. So, I think in the long term it is also a major educational effort and public diplomacy effort as well.

MR. BORGIDA
Professor Yonah Alexander with a commentary on the general and specific world of terrorism and sobering if not discouraging view of the future of terrorism. Thank you so much.

PROF. ALEXANDER
But we shouldn't surrender.

MR. BORGIDA
We will not surrender. I'm sure we won't. Professor Alexander, with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, thanks for being with us.

PROF. ALEXANDER
Thank you for the opportunity.

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