Politics of Terrorism

Combating Terrorism: Strategies and Approaches by William C. Banks, Renee De Nevers & Mitchel B. Wallerstein;CQ Press 2008; 356 Pages. 

Culture of Terrorism by Noam Chomsky; Black Rose Books 1988; 265 Pages. 


Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, its forms are changing. Use of violence and force against the unarmed civilians to fulfil certain political, economical and social goals is as old as the development of primitive human societies. However, the form of terrorism has changed a lot with the changing scenario of technological developments in terms of communication, transportation and the weapons used. The dominant view in the world regarding terrorism is that the organisations which are using violence against civilians and the state to fulfil certain political, economic and social goals are the terrorist organisations. The critical view is, there is no doubt that use of violence and force against any civilians, communities and state is ‘terrorist act’ but if any state use the violence and force against any civilians, communities or against any other state to fulfil its own ambitions, this act should also be considered as the terrorist act and that state should be declared as the terrorist state. I have picked two books to study these both views. One book is ‘Combating Terrorism; Strategies and Approaches’ by William C. Banks, Renee De Nevers and Mitchel B. Wallerstein and another book is ‘Culture of Terrorism’ by Noam Chomsky.

In ‘Combating Terrorism; Strategies and Approaches’ the authors have extensively covered the causes, changing forms and strategies of terrorism, the methods exercised by United States to prevent the terrorist attacks against it, the role of international cooperation to fight against the terrorism, the role played by mass media in mobilization of terrorist activities and the role mainstream media can play to combat terrorism. The book also covers the public affairs of the governments and the role of government in the public awareness creation. The pros and cons of military responses to terrorism are also dealt upon by the authors.

The main argument of the book is, ‘to fight against terrorism the states must at first analyse the root causes of terrorism and appropriate policies should be devised addressing those causes’. Similarly the book also argues that, with the enhancement in capabilities of the terrorists groups both in terms of their scope and destruction they can cause, US along with the international community should make various serious changes in strategies to combat terrorism. Sticking to only one option or one approach will not be fruitful rather multidimensional approach must be adapted to get the significant success in so called ‘global war on terror’.

The book begins by looking at the various definitions of terrorism and takes some common themes, the origin of terrorism and its changing forms. Terrorism is ‘The violent and premeditated activities carried out by sub national groups or clandestine agents, motivated by a political, religious, or ideological objective intended to have psychological and social impacts beyond the immediate violence targeted toward unarmed, non-combatant persons or those otherwise unable to defend themselves’. Terrorism in the ancient days was seen as the activity of ‘politically inspired murder’. The organised terrorist groups were there in the early recorded history of human being. The extremist Jewish group, ‘The Sicari’ and the Muslim group known as ‘Order of the Assassins’ were some examples. Traditionally terrorist groups used to target the state in some way or the other. These organisations were clearly organised with strict hierarchy. However, the new form of terrorism is distinguished by the tendency to target unarmed civilians to achieve a condition of psychological and social trauma. The new groups are less organised in small cells functioning in different countries generally independent in carrying out the terrorist activities. The ‘new form of terrorism’ is also dangerous because of their increasing capability to attack with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) including the nuclear, biological, chemical and even the radiological weapons with transnational network. They have also learned to target the important political, economical and religious targets to get the prompt attention and reaction from government authorities and general public. They also learned to use media to their advantage. They use media to broadcast their activities drawing the attention of the general public so that they can pressurize their governments to get the demands fulfilled. Apart from this, various terrorist attacks in United States and Europe revealed the fact that, terrorism is not limited to the poor, uneducated and radical minds rather the individuals with sound economic and educational background and the citizens of developed nations also indulge themselves in terrorist acts.

Keeping in mind the changing form and strategies of the terrorist groups the book suggests mainly two ways to combat terrorism successfully. In the long run the governments must recognise the root causes of terrorism like economic disparity, social and political exclusion and work with those communities in order to uplift their living standards. The promotion of social and economic integration, secularization of the public life, establishment of truth and reconciliation commission, Cultural and educational exchanges, Investment in infrastructure and economic development should be seriously worked out by the governments in order to lessen the grievances of the deprived communities.

On the other hand the book suggests certain alteration in the strategies and policies to fight against terrorism in the current situation. It is well known fact that the traditional form of deterrence is not applicable to combat terrorism since they are the non-state actors and may not always possess the rational behaviour. The authors give high priority to the close coordination between all the agencies including intelligentsia, military, police, immigration and custom department and even among the state governments in order to have effective communication of information related to the terrorists to prevent the possible attack. The idea of interdiction and investigation of the suspicious terrorist even before the attack is also mentioned in the book which can be achieved through the use of surveillance in public area and screening in the transit however, the use of such technology is expensive and the information received thus is highly classified and generally the intelligence success are not revealed.

The book also reveals the strategies used by United States to fight against terrorism. The formation of Department of Homeland Security in 2002 including various law enforcement agencies in order to increase coordination among themselves, with the private sector and even with the civilians, the USA PATRIOT act, Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act etc are the new moves responding the increasing capabilities of the terrorists groups. It is also evident that there are various inactive but prospective ‘Sleeper Cells’ of terrorists which must be controlled before they become active. The terrorist’s networks get a huge amount of material support from various organisations, individuals and states. The US law of material support has declared any kind of material support to the terrorist group as illegal however it is not enough to control the material support.

The media should play positive role to bring the real picture of the terrorists and their activities.

Since the terrorist organisation are transnational, the international cooperation is very much necessary to fight with it. Diplomacy is the strong tool to achieve the international cooperation to fight against terrorism. Various treaties and agreement are signed since 1970s to suppress terrorism and for the rendition of terrorist from one country to another however the international cooperation is very much important to prevent the WMD get in the hands of terrorists. The diplomatic option seems to be profitable than the military option but its role as the last resort cannot be abandoned. The September 11 attack was responded by attack over Afghanistan and Iraq in order to demolish al Qaeda from existence. However, in such attacks a large number of civilians were killed by US force resulting in the outrage against United States itself.

The book also talks about the role of media in countering terrorism. Media is important to create awareness about terrorism and also to disseminate the policies of government. Terrorists always want the media attention in order to traumatize the environment and pressurize the government through public. The media should play positive role to bring the real picture of the terrorists and their activities. Internet has been proved as boon to terrorists groups to build networks, to hire new people and present their views to the world. In this situation the internet security must be ensured by a government which obviously is not a easy task.

This book is an easy reading with lot of case studies in each chapter making it interesting and easy to understand which is useful for the students, researchers and policy makers. The understanding of root causes of terrorism and eliminating those causes to combat terrorism seems more convincing. However, the book focuses more on criminal justice system whereas the efficient restorative justice system is almost untouched. It also talks about state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria but totally silent about the same acts of United States.

The US ruling elites prefers ‘fifth freedom’ (freedom to rob, exploit and dominate) over four freedoms (freedom of speech, worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear).

‘Culture of Terrorism’ provides the critical approach of looking at the act and actors involved in terrorism. Chomsky argues that US ruling elites at several occasions in history used the violence and force against civilians in different countries either through the authoritarian regimes or the proxy groups against the government and its citizens tagging them as terrorists, if they feel that their interest is not represented by the particular government or the civilians of that country. According to him US has never preferred the diplomatic solutions of the problem over the use of force. This use of force is validated by the dominant intellectuals and media houses presenting the positive face of US presidents and policy makers as the move against the evil enemies of whole mankind. The larger public at home is kept unaware of these activities to avoid their protests and hence larger public has no any say in the policies adopted by the state. The US ruling elites prefers ‘fifth freedom’ (freedom to rob, exploit and dominate) over four freedoms (freedom of speech, worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear). He criticizes the policies of Reagan Administration as the transfer of resources from poor to wealthy through fiscal measures, increase in the state sector of economy and growth of state power cutting up the welfare budgets and spending on the military capacity building and an activist foreign policy dominating the internal affairs of the countries, subversion and international terrorism.

The author gives the example of 1986 Nicarguan crisis and the scenario of Latin America to prove his arguments. CIA provided assistance to the authoritarian regime of El Salvador in slaughtering civilians demanding the democratic rights and attacked Sandanista government with proxy groups called ‘Contras’ to reverse its social reforms and diversion of property for the welfare of poor peoples. US rejection of the peace plan formulated by major Latin American governments and response with cutting the aids given to those countries and ordering the Contras force to attack the soft targets like health centres, medical workers, schools, cooperative farms causing maximum casualties shows the naked picture of its deep devotion on use of violence.

The book also comes up with the figures of hundreds of thousands civilians killed by US attacks in various countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Libya and by US backed Israeli attacks over Lebanon. The violent action of FBI against the members of Socialist workers Party and the formant violence in the ghettos shows the autocratic nature of US ruling class. The public movements against the Vietnam War in United States were considered as disciplinary problems by them and they need to be brought into passivity to achieve the ‘Stable form of democracy’. Due to these public movements and awareness the majority of public were opposing the support given to the contra force in Nicaragua. However, to prevent much public opposition US didn’t send the military directly however created proxy groups to fulfil their interests. These all acts and the preference of use of force over diplomacy and peace and killing of thousands of civilians for own interests falls under United State’s own definition of terrorism. Chomsky argues that US is the terrorist state and it always believes in the use of force and violence i.e. in the culture of terrorism.

This book is the powerful critical analysis of terrorism itself. It presents entirely different picture of terrorism challenging the dominant thesis. However, while criticising the US policies and actions, the positive roles played by US in expanding democracy and its role as a leading force against terrorism cannot be kept at bay. This approach combined with the dominant view can only be able to present the dynamics and actual facet of terrorism. Since, terrorism is important subject of the security studies in the present world, the fact based analysis of this subject certainly contribute to the security studies. This is powerful contribution to security studies since it provides the picture of new form of terrorism which is generally under veil.
These two books present the actual picture of terrorism and politics behind the fight against terrorism. The arguments presented in both books are based on facts and seem to be quite convincing. The act of terrorism cannot be understood in isolation rather its root causes need to be analysed and it must be seen through both the lenses of dominant thesis and critical approach so that whole dynamics and politics of terrorism can be understood.

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