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Resilience after terrorism: open society best remedy including pluralism and equality

During the symposium ‘Resilience after Terrorism’ on May 26 2016, scientists, experience experts and students debated on a better understanding of the dynamics of terror and resilience after terrorism. Tilburg University combined expertise from the Schools of Humanities and Law, on topics like victimhood, international relations, reconstruction.

The symposium opened with an interview with Syrian refugee Simon from Latakia, who has been living in Holland since ten months. He explained why he was obliged to leave his wife and child behind. He described the deteriorating circumstances of living in Syria and his terrifying trip from Turkey to Greece. “My priority now is to get my wife and child here as soon as possible.”

Serious but not existential threat

Keynote speaker Professor of European Studies Paul Scheffer elaborated on the history of terrorism in Europe: “Left wing terrorism in the sixties and seventies by RAF and IRA for instance, were never an existential threat to our society. The same is true for terrorism in our time. But there are 2 differences: the potential for recruitment of terrorists is much higher now in the big cities. Furthermore: there is a great interdependence of national and international politics concerning problems the Middle East since the Arab spring.”

Scheffer also pointed out the fact that the West has a responsibility in radicalization: “We should be more aware what our wars in the Middle East have caused. As well as our actions against freedom of speech against Muslims (headscarves in schools in France). We have a great challenge to fight aginst prejudice in our own societies.’

Scheffer concluded that the core of resilience is ‘to remain committed to our ideas of an open society, that is pluralism and equality."

 House of Islam

Associate Professor of Arabic Studies Jan Jaap de Ruiter also pleaded for openness, especially in the field of Islam. He cited Muslim scholars proposing a new peaceful House of Islam, the umma. In his view it should be a virtual umma, a society built on democracy, which is a place for believers as well as non-believers and other beliefs. “Democracy has always been incorporated in Islam, it is not contradictory. The old Islam will be exhausted and a new one can be formed as an alternative: refugees who have come to our countries and experience our freedom and democracy can start to develop a new type of Islam.”

Counter narrative

Other scientists pointed out that our dealings in the region are at the root of the present crises: Associate Professor of European and International Public Law Nanda Oudejans recalled how Jewish philosopher Walther Benjamin took his own life during the Second World War at the border of France and Spain because he was about to be deported to Germany. “Are we willing to view our own violence  against refugees as well as the violation of our own laws by militarization of our borders?”

Professor of Victimology Antony Pemberton outlaid a solution to fight the ideology of terrorism: “Terrorism wants to convey a message, wider than the people involved. Counter narratives focus on faults and a-moral elements of terrorists, but the problem is that their stories are narratives which are connected to collective identity, based on collective traumas. They show lack of sense of belonging and identity. It is important to show what is good about us, rather than the wrong or bad elements in the narratives of others."

The so-called Tilburg Thoughts were presented by Raould Beeldsnijder and included contributions of Professor of International Relations Mirjam van Reisen and em. Professor of Leisure Studies Theo Beckers, and students Jan Völkel, Leanne Soff, Katarina Mihaljević, and Conor Parry. The debate which continued in the evening was organized by the student debating association Cicero.