A joker once suggested holding a conference with the purpose of abolishing all conferences. That witticism notwithstanding, I took up my invitation to attend the conference hosted organized by the International Press Institute and the Center for International Legal Studies entitled, "The War on Words: Terrorism, Media and the Law." At this gathering of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists at the Vienna Diplomatic Academy, one could learn a lot.
Manfred Nowak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who delivered one of the opening statements, directed his whole speech against the policy of the USA. I had the definite feeling that Nowak was advancing a political agenda which had little to do with combating terrorism.
Hamid Mir, Executive Editor, Geo TV, Islamabad, showed us a short sequence of a BBC film of Pakistani soldiers brutally beating inhabitants of the Swat valley. At the session "The Watchdog Role of the Media in the Fight against Terrorism," Yossi Melman of Haaretz gave a fair report on how the Israeli media is fulfilling this role. Today the Shabak (Israeli Interior Security) employs 40 lawyers and Israeli security has never used waterboarding. Melman asked the audience, "What would you do, if one day before a big terror action like 9/11, a suspected man is caught?"
Probably the best Session was "Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theater: Incitement, Freedom of Expression and Religious Tolerance". Moderator Joseph Steinfield, a leading Boston lawyer, showed us the new book published by Yale University Press about the famous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper, The Cartoons That Shook The World. In the country that is home to the First Amendment, the book was published without the Cartoons. Steinfield asked the panel if the Danish cartoons were an example of "shouting fire in a crowded theater." The lawyer of the Danish Muslims who protested against the cartoons, Michael Christiani Havemann, and N.S. Mueen, Chair, Public Affairs Committee, Muslim Council of Britain said yes. Then the Moderator asked the more than 100 participants and not one agreed.
A cynical European journalist said to me, probably the best thing would be to change the law and forbid any criticism of Muslims, of Islamists and never use the term "terrorism."
Indeed, there was a long discussion about the definition of terrorism and the suggestion came - not surprisingly from Ibrahim Helal, Deputy Managing Director, News and Programming, Al Jazeera English - not to use this word. Unfortunately, terrorism will not disappear if we stop using the word. But already, we can anticipate obedience to the wishes of Islamists.