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25 Jul, 2011

As A Blond bin Laden Strikes, A “Global Awakening” Awaits

Even if indirectly, the travel & tourism industry bears some burden of responsibility for what is being described as a grotesque act of right-wing “Christian jihadi terrorism” in Norway. Ever since 9/11, anti-Islamic sentiments have been growing across the world, but not a single leader of this supposed industry of peace, friendship and cultural understanding has ever spoken out vigorously against it. Although there have been numerous warnings, and warning signs, of its devastating consequences, travel & tourism leaders have shied away from condemning it in the same strong language they have directed at terrorism. A search through the websites of numerous high-profile international travel and transport industry organisations and associations yielded zero results for the word “Islamophobia”.

This head-in-the-sand attitude has been both morally irresponsible and financially damaging. Both directly and indirectly, travel & tourism has been arguably the business sector worst affected by acts of violence and terrorism. In addition to the devastating loss of life, destinations have been hit with massive cancellations and travel advisories. In response, however, Muslims have been tarred with the same brush. Muslim (and those mistaken for Muslim) travellers have been subjected to heightened security hassles and blatant racial profiling. Passengers have been removed from aircraft on the basis of unwarranted suspicion. The shift in travel preferences by Muslim travellers seeking places where they will be treated with more respect and less suspicion has been one of the most significant trends of the last 10 years.

Muslim communities have faced other forms of heat, such as burqa bans and campaigns against mosque-building in Europe, demands to “integrate” into Western societies, scrutiny of Islamic charities, the regular drip of think-tank studies purporting to know what is best for the Muslim world, the constant demands to condemn and confront Islamic terrorists, etc.

Through rabid terminology like “Islamic terrorism,” “Islamofascists,” Islamists, jihadis, etc., many right-wing bigots in the media, politicians and academics in the West and elsewhere have waged virulently anti-Islamic campaigns unchecked. The word “terrorism” has always been associated with acts where Muslims have been involved – Bali, Islamabad, Karachi, Mumbai, Madrid, New York, etc. This, inspite of the fact, that terrorism has been a worldwide phenomena for years, perpetuated by Tamils, Basques, Maoists, Naxalites, Israelis, Colombians and many other non-Muslims.

In India, a Maoist/Naxalite separatist movement has been indulging in acts of terrorism for years but is described in the official and private media as “insurgents,” “militants” or “separatists”, rarely as “terrorists.” Even in the Oslo attack, numerous Western media reports initially referred to the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, as a “gunman,” “assailant” and “attacker”. Some still seem reluctant to refer to him as a “terrorist” and are trying to find reasons why this act of terrorism should not be considered as such.

Since 22 July 2011, however, the conjoined twins “Islamic terrorism” have been separated. For sure, it is not only “Islamic terrorists” who murder innocent civilians and blow up buildings. The West has seen its own home-grown, blond-and-blue eyed bin Laden. Attempts to spin this inhuman act of violence in any other way will only encourage the next one and add to the widespread public perception in the Islamic world about Western hypocrisy and double-standards.

If Jews were facing such bias, there would have been a global outcry. But when directed at Muslims, the sound of silence by travel & transport industry leaders has echoed loudly. The key question for them is: What next? The answer is simple: Accountability must, and will, become a two-way street.

The travel industry needs to indulge in some deep soul-searching about the consequences of not countering and combatting Islamophobia.  No longer willing to have its intelligence and its institutions insulted, the Islamic world, all 1.2 billion strong (including this editor), now has a right to demand that global security and intelligence agencies pursue Christian and Jewish fundamentalist fanatics with the same zeal and fervour as they pursue “Islamic terrorists.” It has a right to demand that these dangerous lunatics face the same stringent visa checks and profiling at international borders. It has a right to seek check-and-balance mechanisms and total transparency in the event of poor treatment of Muslim visa applicants.

Indeed, developing countries as a whole need to rethink their entire visa-free facility that gives these right-wing fanatics unfettered entry-and-exit access. Islamic countries particularly face a huge security threat from Israeli intelligence agents holding dual passports which they use to walk in freely without visas, work, gather data and influence policies to further the anti-Islam agenda.

The Islamic world has a right to demand an end to the negative definitions associated with the word “Islam” and all its derivatives thereof. In their public comments, Norwegian leaders urged the world to see the Utoya/Oslo attacks as being just that, and not a reflection of the Norwegian people or their democratic, multi-cultural, peaceful and tolerant nature. The Islamic world was long pleading for the same consideration. To no avail.

From published reports, it appears that the blond bin Laden wanted to trigger a revolution. That would have not only been a great victory for the Arab bin Laden but also proved true Samuel Huntington’s infamous “Clash of Civilisations” theory. Diplomatic and academic circles have scoffed at this theory, but there now can be no doubt about its under-currents. In October 2007, the UN World Tourism Organisation convened its first Conference on Tourism, Religions and Dialogue of Cultures in Cordoba, Spain. At that event, this editor warned, arguably for the first time, about the impact of what I referred to as “the other global warming (read my full speech by clicking here).” No-one paid any attention.

Today, the industry has no choice but to pay attention and elevate this “other global warming” to the top-ranked position on the travel & tourism agenda. In the last 10 years, the industry has prioritised safety & security (stemming from terrorism), global warming (of the climate-change variety) and financial/economic crises as the unholy trinity of impacting factors. A fourth factor, geopolitics, can no longer be ignored. Nor can any of its manifestations, such as relations between the West and the Islamic worlds, the rise of Asia, the impact of U.S. foreign policy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the occupation of Palestine and the Arab awakening, all of which are inter-related. In the rare moments this subject has emerged, it has been a one-way street, with the Arab/Islamic worlds being regarded as the only side in need of “fixing”. It’s the end of that chapter.

In order to prevent history from repeating itself, Europeans need to revisit their own bloodied history, especially the chapters involving Hitler and Mussolini. In turn, Americans need to probe their own home-grown terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber; the suicide pilot who flew a plane into an Austin, Texas, tax-office building in Feb 2010 (which was NOT described as an act of terrorism); the man who shot U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Jan 2011 (which was NOT described as an act of terrorism); and all those who open fire on people in workplaces, malls and colleges (which are NEVER described as acts of terrorism). They need to probe their own culture of violence, the proliferation of guns in their society, the overwhelming influence of the military-industrial complex on their foreign policy and the swashbuckling portrayal of comic-book superheroes in Hollywood good-vs-evil blockbusters.

Norway can emerge from its mourning to lead this reform and rethink effort. It is, after all, home to the prestigious Nobel Prizes, especially the Peace Prize. It must give new meaning to the clarion-call, “Never Again”. It must push for a new world order based primarily on geopolitical peace and better international understanding. It will find no shortage of global allies, especially in rising-star India, a country that is also facing a huge internal struggle between modernism, secular traditions and liberal values on one hand, and bigotry and fanaticism on the other.

If the Arabs are awakening, a Western awakening and ultimately a Global Awakening must follow. Actioning this agenda will demand not just vision, but wisdom. This rare quality should not be too difficult to harness if the travel & tourism industry remains focused on a very clear goal: The pressing and urgent need to avoid the next death triggered by any and all forms of ethnic, social, cultural or religious bigotry. Beyond just a demonstration of shared values, it will be a fitting and memorable tribute to the many innocent victims of all forms of fundamentalist fanatic violence in Norway and worldwide. They deserve nothing less.

  • Jennifer Hugto

    What a stupid, and I mean stupid, article. So you think the work of one man is the same as the work of a global terrorust group? So, should every blond male be rounded up and forced to apologise for Anders behaviour. And what exactly do any of the Jews, as you have brought into this article, have to do with anything? Then I looked at who wrote the article – I think all of your very personal issues have been put into black and white. I am pretty sure there is no Norwegian Jihad. Please do not write any more articles. If anything, you are inciting hatred in your own pathetic way. Go away forever. adjø

  • excellent well thought out article and lots of food for thought on both sides of the spectrum. This is an opportunity for both Muslims and Christians to join together and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations rather than pick and choose between religions and ideologues.
    Well done as usual Imtiaz and hope you get positive responses.


  • In five months is Christmas, and again a part of the Message will read like “… on earth peace to men of good-will.” Without good-will, no peace. Peacemakers are wanted to practice tolerance, religions are ‘on duty’ first, since religion — ‘re-contemplation’ — is the prime source of culture. Culture creates identity — be it regional, national, corporate. Tolerance and mutual dignity are the precondition of human co-existence and social integration. Integration does not mean ‘assimilation’. Otherwise the French philosophy of “Vive la différence” would be bad talk only. The will to ‘be different’ may create distinction, excellence, recognition. Indifference is not only the lousy version of ‘tolerance’, it is the very opposite of love — for it creates hatred. This is what we keep witnessing in all forms of terrorism. — Travel & Tourism calls itself the “peace industry”. As such, it should clearly and forcefully show up, be recognized, speak out and act both in politics and business. Energizing all people “of good-will” — wouldn’t it be worthwhile? September 27 will be the next official opportunity — on the “International Day of Tourism”. Time enough for preparation.

  • Saifuddin Ismailji

    The article is all about giving peace a chance – that can only come when people of the world get united and know the right from wrong and do away with double standards.
    When people like Jennifer Hugto (July 25, 2011 at 6:10 PM) get to spell the word terrorist right and re read the article with a rational, impartial mind set; only then would come an understanding why and what’s happening in our world – the evil agendas; the process of brainwashing and exploiting of minds of global population by way of a systemic campaign through negative media. Tourism Industry is the final frontier to foster brotherhood of man and to bring together in love, not only muslims and christians but people from all religions of the world that teaches us the lessons to be a good human being.

  • Supardi Asmorobangun

    How weird certain world communities when it is perceived from one perspective. Islamic Arab/Asian often seen as a group of terrorists by western countries, yet so does Jewish people often are categorized as trouble makers everywhere, at least Palestinians, Islamic Arabs, Henry Ford and Hitler would agree. I believe travel and tourism is the answer to this un-balanced judgment. By actually visiting the country or community, we normally have a better picture of how miss-leading is media and words-of-neighbor stories. Let’s promote tourism, encourage people to learn by their own eyes. I love to encourage the blonde Bin Laden and any of his colleagues ever read his 1,500-page manifesto to travel more, especially to the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever religion or less religious world.

  • Tamzin

    What we really need to do is to stop blaming whole nations, whole religions for the crimes committed by criminals even if they are part of Jihadi groups.

    In Pakistan, more Muslims die at the hands of terrorists than anyone else. In Norway, more Christians died at the hands of this Christian terrorist. That is what terrorism does. However, you have people like Bernard Henri-Levy and Daniel Pipes who call all of Pakistan “the devil’s country” even while people there mourn their dead, just like the Norwegians are mourning theirs.

    Religion and extreme right-wing ideologies or extreme left-wing ones are a deadly combination. Even alone these are dangerous in the hands of the naive and gullible. And here we come to the heart of the matter! Newspapers like Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun have been exploiting this gullibility and have enhanced the possibilities that such people would take matters in their own hands and finally kill a whole lot of people.

    In Norway, everyone is in a state of disbelief and shock. As I sit here, I feel close to my neighbors and in a country of almost five million, we are all neighbors. Everyone either knew someone or knew someone who knew someone who was effected. Even I had the friend of my son’s from twenty years ago who was on that island and he was a survivor – shaken but Ok.

  • Tamzin

    Jennifer, I understand why you would not want to call this terrorism, as he (Breivik) acted alone so far, though he says there were other cells he connected with.

    However, the result of this man’s action are the same as the result of a group’s action or a state’s action.

    As I sit here in Norway, people are in shock. The children on that island were terrorized. When a Palestinian suicide bomber blows himself up and kills Israeli children, it is an act of terrorism, because he wants to make a political statement. IN the same way, Breivik wanted to make a political statement. He killed mostly youngster who were doing nothing but enjoying themselves.

    So, though he is not part of some global Jihad, he (as all Norwegians are saying) is as much an extremist as any of them because he has harmed innocent civilians.