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Mrs. Tawakkol Karman’s Lecture entitled "The Reality of Terrorism, the Effective and Fair Confrontation" at University of Oxford

 It is a great honor to be here again at Oxford University and meet prominent figures who are playing their roles in exploring issues that concern humanity such as terrorism, security and peace. 

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to greet my courageous colleague; fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousufzai. I thank you for attending this presentation. You are a wonderful model of honest people who struggle against terrorism and extremism, where you’ve decided to face intolerance regardless of risks, and you won.

This is the second time this year I am in England. I am excited to speak to you all because I truly believe students can make change around the world. I want to communicate to each one of you the truth about what is happening in the region, and the terrorism we suffer from.

Dear friends, 

Almost everyone on earth condemns terrorism, including President Trump, who daily preaches of our need to “defeat terror” in his tweets. I too believe we need to combat terrorism and eliminate this ugly face of violence. But the reasons why he wants to defeat terror are very different to mine. If we truly think about his comments and what they mean, we discover that each person or group has their own terror that they are fighting.     

I believe we need to, courageously and accurately, identify what terrorism is in our world today. The problem is that we underestimate terrorism and deal with it in a narrow framework, hence many definitions of terrorism have appeared, ranging from the funny to the downright terrifying.

I can provide you with dozens of examples of terror charges applied in ironic and horrifying ways. I can even give names of sportsmen, journalists, politicians, human rights activists, and social media activists, who have been charged as terrorists and detained, simply because they refused to support a president or a king.    

I wonder, do take Assad’s tyrannical regime’s fight against terrorism seriously? How can we believe in a fight against terrorism waged by those who exert all forms of violence against their own citizens, fearing no accountability or punishment?

I’m not here to develop a comprehensive definition, and although important, I’m more concerned with encouraging you and all those concerned about our world to develop clear and specific criteria to deter anyone from abusing terrorism in a way that jeopardizes justice, conscience and reason.        

So well, what is terrorism?

Is it inflicting harm on people and terrorize them in order to achieve political, religious, social or cultural gains? Is it the intentional killing of rivals? Or carrying out of explosions and assassinations? Is it threatening individuals and communities, or imposing certain faith by means of force and violence?

The UK defines terrorism as “the use, threated use of excessive violence against any other individual or property in order to advance a political, religious or ideological orientation” while on the other hand, the United States defines terrorism as “the unlawful use, threatened use, of force or violence to intimidate or coerce governments and communities.”

The Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism, adopted by the foreign ministers in 1999, defines terrorism as “any act of violence or threat thereof notwithstanding its motives or intentions perpetrated to carry out an individual or collective criminal plan with the aim of terrorizing people or threatening to harm them or imperiling their lives, honor, freedoms, security or rights or exposing the environment or any facility or public or private property to hazards or occupying or seizing them, or endangering a national resource, or international facilities, or threatening the stability, territorial integrity, political unity or sovereignty of independent States”.

Rest assured, there are hundreds of different definitions to the crime of terrorism.

In fact, terrorism is all that and even more.

Yet the problem lies with states and governments who manipulate terrorism according to their own agenda and interests, causing immense devastation that nobody should tolerate.  

After September 2001, the world, led by the UK and the US, spoke of the need to address the root causes of terrorism, not only the security and military aspects. But alas, national security and military strength now is all we think about when we think about terrorism.

Our actions followed; extrajudicial killing operations, the two destructive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the demobilization of army in Iraq, the subsequent collapse of states. Finally, sectarian rule and power vacuums, resulting in the emergence of the ISIS/Daesh.

Dear friends,

That is a story you know well. 

But the story not often told, and one you need to hear, is how out of all this also emerged our Arab Spring – an unfinished revolution dear to my heart.

During the second half of the twentieth century, our leaders after independence promised their peoples with development, democracy and stability.
Fifty years later we have no democracy, nor development.

We learned that development cannot achieved with tyranny.

Defeating dictatorships and spreading democracy were reasons present in all discourses that explored why we, as a global community, needed to combat terrorism following the September 2001 incidents.      

But after 17 years of the war on terror, we have everything but democracy.

Despotic regimes have monopolized power, force, money and trade, controlled actions and reactions, leaving our societies fragmenting under false stability. By claiming to fight extremist and terrorist groups, authoritarian regimes exploited your “war on terror” for their own benefit. The dictators have used people’s misunderstanding of religion as a weapon against demands for democracy and human rights.

Apparently, the war on terror was just an excuse for killing people in their homes and the destabilization of an entire continent.  Most ironically, these dictators asserted that without their violence, the only alternative would be terrorism. 
But the real alternative they could not foresee was our Arab Spring.

Fed up with the regimes of tyranny, failure, nepotism and corruption, the youth erupted into peaceful revolution. This expression turned into a great dream of freedom, democracy, rule of low and a decent life, and into courage, moral commitment and a willingness to sacrifice.

Millions of people protested peacefully across the Arab Spring countries. Facing oppression and bullets, we held roses in our bare hands. Regardless of the state’s violence, there was no counter-violence.

We gathered at squares demanding change and freedom for a whole year. The streets became our home. Nonviolence was our strategy. 

We chanted سلميه سلميه peaceful, peaceful. 

The youth of the Arab spring succeeded in the first step of the peaceful revolution and brought down the head of corrupt, tyrannical, and mismanaged governments in Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Then they started moving confidently towards the establishment of a state of justice, democracy, and law.

But unfortunately, an ugly counterrevolution confronts them, a counter revolution led by the collapsed regimes and backed by their regional and international allies. 

It is a counterrevolution with many faces: military coups, sectarian militia, occupations, terrorist groups, and war.

Today, for wanting peace, we are asked to make a false choice between dictatorship or terrorism!

This choice is presented by the dictatorships and the international powers that back them under the ruse of “War on Terror”.

Under the banner of “War on Terror” they seek to revive or recreate the collapsed dictatorships through fueling their own forms of state terror.

In Syria, we all know very well that when their evolution erupted in 2011, the Al-Assad regime called sectarian militias; Hezbollah in Lebanon, Annugaba, Asaeb Al-Haq in Iraq, Iran with its revolutionary guard and Putin’s Russia to fight the survival battle with him, bombing cities, fight and negotiate on behalf of the regime.

All this to fight terrorism.

Cities such as Mosul, Riqa, and Aleppo are crushed, tens of thousands are killed hundreds of thousands are displaced in a sectarian reengineering of the Arab demography – all under the pretext of the “war on terror”, 

Imagine! What a world is this, where Syrian children and civilians are killed by explosive barrels and chemical weapons - all this again under the pretext of the “war on terror”!

We cannot speak of fighting terrorism in 2018 without addressing this type of state terror.

Indeed, do we plan to fight terrorism with the same media propaganda of dictators like Abdelfattah Al-Sisi in Egypt ?  

Sisi’s coup detained 60 thousand in prisons including an elected president after the fairest and free elections in the country’s history. Since then, the world witnessed Sisi’s farcical elections, where he imprisoned all potential competitors. He claims that what he is doing is a “war on terror”.    

It will be difficult to combat terrorism at the international level, without clear distinction between the genuine fight against terrorism and its manipulation for political and military purposes.

For too long, the aim of fighting terrorism has been used to justify despotic regimes and superpowers who attack their adversaries, popular revolutions and their communities whenever they sense a risk that threatens their control.  

But in doing so, they’ve created all the conducive conditions for extremist organizations that threaten our communities to flourish.

This is not the past. This is happening right now, as we speak, in my country of Yemen.

In Yemen, the manipulation of terrorism is even more flagrant and vulgar. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading a war in Yemen, and are bombing everything; not only rebels but schools, hospitals, weddings and more. 

Read the UNSC Panel of Experts report to see how they are tampering the fate and future of Yemen.

They blockade my country under the pretext that they are liberating it from Iran-backed Houthis militia.

Three years of war, terrorizing civilians, nonpayment of salaries, outbreaks, famine, and poverty, the legitimate government could not return to Aden and the president is still detained in Riyadh.

Meanwhile, the UAE seizes islands and ports, and supports extremist militia against the legitimate government.

The UAE is active in building secret prisons, torturing detainees and abusing Yemenis as they shamelessly lie about their involvement in my country’s suffering.  

Iran is backing the racist Houthis militia, and UAE is backing an extremist militia. 

The world must know this fact, I’m telling you what is actually happening, and I demand the immediate cessation of this insanity in my country, and in the Middle East, our peoples deserve decent life and freedom.

How can we speak of a means of combating terrorism without addressing their manipulation of the term?

Dear friends, 

We were a peaceful revolutionary spring but before we could develop, their interim despotisms were autumn leaves that fell in the form of bombs and explosive barrels on our cities. Now we are a violent winter, in which transnational terrorist groups serve as despots, and regional and international intelligence agencies occupy the power vacuum they created.

But never let them tell you that our fight is over. We are still in the revolution. It has only been 7 years. 

We are facing the same things the West faced when they fought their revolutions. Every great revolution was faced by an ugly counterrevolution – but who won in the end, it is the people.

They imagine, that they have succeeded in stopping the wheel of history, they think that the scene of destruction will prevail for a long time.

But they are unaware of the power of truth and the steadfastness of the people who decided that when they started, that they will inevitably win in the end.

This is what the history of all revolutions tells us. In France, In America – the French erupted first in 1789 only to be met with Napoleon and a Second Empire – why do they judge us as if we have failed?

Our Arab Spring has paused only for breath. Unless these regimes reconcile with their people by carrying out political reforms that ensure a state of citizenship, human dignity, freedom, the rule of law, democracy and well-being, our Arab spring will resume.


Dear friends,

Let’s have a quick look at the world and the emerging terrorism since the Arab Spring. The world has contributed to bringing terror and sectarian militia to the forefront of politics in collapsed states. 

In every religion there are extremists, but only with Islam do they make extremists the only focus. They didn’t listen to the moderate groups that asked for reforms in the understanding of religion . 

They’ve labelled Islamic parties and movements as terrorist movements to penalize them for participating in the Arab Spring and the democratic process.

They criminalized organizations that adopted peaceful political activity under the rule of law and who abandoned violence, while on the other hand they supported terrorist organizations, like Gabhat Al-Nusrah, Islamic Army, ISIS who peaceful popular revolutions with blood.        

They wanted to curtail the chants for freedom of Arabs shown during the peaceful protest and nullify our calls of for change and for human values. 

The superpowers in the democratic West and Russia wanted to portray Arabs as illustrated by the colonial powers, in their image and not as it is in reality.

In reality, our image was featured in the Arab Spring in 2011, where thousands of aspiring faces hoped for progress, freedom, dignity, justice and rule of law.

Dear friends, 

Our countries are being destroyed by the struggle of the superpowers through their regional proxies of sectarian and extremist militias, and the regimes that lost its power and balance before peoples’ revolutions. Without acknowledging this fact, the war on terror will be incomplete and misleading.

International indifference to our issues, revolutions, aspirations and problems with the despotisms, poverty, unemployment, and lack of democracy creates a sustainable environment for terrorism.

One day the wagers of this global war will admit that the security and military measures employed in combating terrorism are wrong. One day they will admit how such an approach used terrorism as a tool to reintroduce tyrannies, injustice and suppression of peoples.

One day they will admit that their they benefit from religious extremism and terrorism by excusing wars that serve their interests and enable them to take control of the wealth of our people.

In the seventies, international interests supported Wahhabism, the worst part of Islamic culture, jurisprudence and religious heritage, including extremism and isolation. They provided all means of support to maximize such culture and transform it from a tiny isolated culture into one that terrorizes Arab, Muslims and world communities. 

Those who once fostered terrorism and published its literature in millions of booklets, received and funded extremist groups and dispatched them to preach at mosques and fight in different parts of the world; it was they who were accepted into open arms by your leaders and businessmen.

Extremism and religious intolerance are among the direct causes of terrorism, because their adherents do not only target people of different backgrounds, they target their people of their own religion. A fanatic Muslim is ready to attack other Muslims, and fanatic Christian is willing to attack other Christians and so on. Fanatics of all religions are willing to attack peoples of the same creed, more than others of different ones. So too, fanatics assist each other, regardless of their religion, nationality, or political affiliation.

Extremist culture could have been defeated by education, development and modernization of communities with democratization transformation, and openness towards other cultures.

Unfortunately, none of this has happened.

Openness remained limited to consumption culture and shopping malls visited by people with a medieval mentality.

I speak about the medieval kingdom, whom you know well. The kingdom of Osama Bin Laden, and his Manhattan explosions squad. The kingdom that uses 6.4 billion dollars of your British-made weapons on my country.

Their crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said in his last interview, that they supported the extremists and the Wahhabism as a result of demands from the West – that the West asked them to use this radical ideology to combat the Soviets on one hand, and Iran on the other. 

He wishes to change. 

But what kinds of change do we see?

This change wages war against moderate Islamists who joined their peoples in the popular revolutions in the Arab Spring of 2011. 

It prohibits moderate Islamic parties that believe in a political process that doesn’t monopolize representation of religion, or label peoples as either believers and nonbelievers. 

It openly supports non-state terrorists in my country, including Abbul Abbas. All the world knows, including the US, knows Abdul Abbas is a terrorist but they support him against the legitimate authority.

It combats the transformation chances created by the peaceful revolutions. 

It is a counterrevolution led by the crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and his UAE allies.

Dear friends,

When I think of “terrorism”, I reflect on the global “war on terror” is how such word is interrelated to ongoing conflicts and wars in Arab countries.

We, Arabs and Muslims, are suffering twice from terror; we suffer from non-state terror itself, and suffer from the manipulation of terror by the superpowers and tyrannies. In my country of Yemen, the Houthis terrorize the population whilst the Saudis and their allies enact state terror with your bombs.

I see no point in this worldwide talk about combating terrorism, unless we stop confusing wars against Arab peoples with a legitimate fight against terrorism. 

Listen, what we need to see is a genuine war against terrorism, and this will not be attained if the world continues to use the title to justify other objectives that in fact promote terrorism, not fight it.

Combating terrorism requires ending the international order’s abuse of this war. No longer should they reproduce their control or defend enormous unethical and immoral interests.


As it stands now, the war on terror is stained with the blood of many innocents. The blood of the courageous, the blood of people who died in the hope of building a better future.

We must say it loud and clear as an international community that believes in democracy: tyrannical wars don’t combat terrorism, rather, they allow it to flourish.  

We must lift the cover of state terror and modern era assassins. We must call Assad both a dictator and a terrorist.

Terrorism cannot be fought by killing peoples. Rather it can only be fought by reviving them and supporting their emancipation from dictatorship’s chains, in whose darkness death, extremism and hatred reside.

If the world is serious about waging war on terror, it needs do so through supporting the moderate religious reforms we called for during the Arab Spring; freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law. It needs to support the education of our girls and boys, the cessation of poverty, and the acceleration of development. 

Most importantly, the world needs to stop funding despotic wars and enabling the killing of my people.

Despots not only uses extremism for their own benefit, but pretend to fight extremism as a way of receiving international support. 

Terrorism is as an equally detested and ugly issue as despotism. What continues to happen to Rohingya Muslims, to Syrians, to Iraqis, to Afghans, to Pakistanis and to the people of my country is nothing but an outcome of their marriage.

Why does the world put us before bad and worse choice; between despotism and terrorism?!  

Can we fight both terrorism and tyranny?!

We can, and we must. Peace does not only mean to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice. We will not allow terrorism to be the escape boat for despotism.

Each war against terrorism is a war against dictatorship.
Each struggle against dictatorship is a struggle against terrorism.

Terrorism and despotism are on one side, and you and I, on the side of humanity, freedom and peace, are on the other.

Dear friends,

Our peoples will win. Our will to live in freedom, dignity and pride is greater than those who seek to oppress us.