Knoope: Respect for basic rights should prevail over terrorism fear

Peter Knoope. [ICCT]

The borderless Schengen area is a great accomplishment that should be protected and defended, says Peter Knoope. Giving in to terrorism by undermining basic rights is simply not an option, he argues. 

Peter Knoope is associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. A Dutch diplomat, Knoope was the head of the mission to Afghanistan and the Humanitarian Aid section at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Knoope spoke to EURACTIV’s Ecaterina Casinge. 

EU measures to combat terrorism have been put in place since the Madrid and London bombings. Have these proved efficient enough, or do we need stronger rules to avoid future attacks?

Judging from the number of victims since the Madrid and London attacks, inside the EU, the measures have been comparatively effective. In countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Kenya, this is definitely different.

Nevertheless, the recent attacks show us that the measures have not been able to cover all threats, and to prevent all casualties. That is a sad fact.

So strictly speaking, the answer is “no”. That is not to say we need more and stricter rules. We know that the majority of terrorist incidents are prevented by vigilant members in society.

Connectivity between communities and law enforcement representatives is needed and key to the solution. The vast majority of the public are strongly opposed to political violence. Mobilising these people and getting their effective support is crucial. If anything, we need to prevent alienation from the police, and other authorities. 

Can we prevent people becoming radicalised? 

Family members, teachers, etc. can signal early signs of radicalisation to the relevant people, professionals who know how to work on the issue and bring individuals back to regular societal behaviour.

Since part of the radicalisation process is enhanced by the “brokers of violence”, identifying and getting these out of the equation is important. The communities often know who they are.

Intimidation is part of their tools, so proper measures to reduce the impact of intimidation and fear in society is important. 

EU institutions are debating a Passenger Name Record (PNR) legislation at the EU level. However, many are warning against potential abuses and a violation of privacy. Do you think an EU PNR law could be an efficient anti-terrorism measure? 

Only as long as guarantees for protection of basic rules of privacy and the like are respected. We should never give in to terrorism, in the sense that they make us break away from our basic values. Because that would imply they win.

I agree with those who advocate more attention for the defence of core values in our response to terrorism, instead of reducing the standards and the characteristics of our society, the ones that we try to defend. 

How could we bring on board countries like Turkey to cooperate in the fight against terrorism? 

Since 2011, the EU  has been a member of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum. An initiative taken by US and Turkey. One of the more successful international partnerships. Investing in this forum is a proper way of doing just that. 

A number of policymakers have called for a complete overhaul of the Schengen rules to track the movements of jihadists. Do you find this necessary? 

Schengen is a great accomplishment of the EU that we should protect and defend as much as we can. If improvements of controls at the external borders are needed, they should be put in place.

The US has never considered installing border controls between (its) states as a counter-terrorism measure. I can’t see why Europe should give in to terrorism and throw some of the major advantages of the Union in the dustbin. 

Following the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, the number of soldiers have doubled in the streets, and in front of different institutions. Does this really increase the level of protection, or is it aimed at reassuring the population? 

Vigilance helps. The measures must be based on, and be a reflection of, the analysis of the real threat. Police, intelligence and other services should be able to judge the situation. Random protective measures are risky, since they may increase fear. Fear is the tool of terrorists. It is best to limit measures to those that are required on the basis of the professional analysis I mentioned. 

You’ve built a career on counter-terrorism. What made you choose this direction?

It is important to find proper answers to realistic threats. How we do that is decisive for the future of our societal value system. I’m convinced that coming to the defence of core values and not giving in is important. Hence my focus on the nexus between human rights, and terrorism.

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