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Essay: A critical review of Contemporary Terrorism and the War on Terror (Colin Wight)

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  • Published: 15 October 2019*
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  • Tags: Terrorism essays

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A critical review of Contemporary Terrorism and the War on Terror”, chapter 8 of Colin Wight, Rethinking Terrorism: Terrorism, Violence and the State, (London, Macmillan Palgrave, 2015) pp. 193-220.

Colin Wight begins by defining terrorism, in particular the he focuses on Islamic terrorism and specifically Al Qaeda’s history and modus operandi  The author states defining terrorism to be the main challenge of academia in the study of counter terrorism. He also illustrates the challenges modern government states have in dealing with Islamic terrorism, from a foreign policy and ethical standpoint.  The authors key argument is that western governments actions to combat Islamic terrorism have led us to play into their hands, stripping the very values we pertain to uphold. I enjoyed the text and found it both informative and well researched. Albeit the author does digress on tangents in an attempt to try and describe the huge amounts of background information that is needed to understand his views.  I would recommend this text for academics interested in the subject of modern terrorism as it provides a wide breadth of information.

The first point the author makes is terrorism is not a new concept in the context of history, as disenfranchised persons seek to influence the political spectrum.  Also the conduct of terrorism has changed as religion is now the primary catalyst of the threat, though not all modern terrorism is religiously motivated.  Wight states that modern terrorism is commonly defined as Islamic terrorism.  He also states that Al Qaeda uses the Qur’an to call for men to enter Jihad without context being provided to the proletariat by the imams.  The Qur’an is subject to many different interpretations, Islamic Terrorism is seen as a distorted view of the Qur’an.

Dehumanisation and demonisation of civilian populations outside of the Islamic extremist groups has led them to accept ever greater target casualties.  They would have no hesitation in the use of WMD’s and the use of such weapons would seem rational to these terrorists induced by religious fervour.  Al Qaeda has strategic level plans to replace international state systems with their own set of Islamic principles and Sharia law.  This means nations not supporting their efforts or who are neutral, are seen as the enemy thus no country outside of these organisations is safe from attack.

Wight goes on to describe how Al Qaeda is organised; the history of the Islamic faith and the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The last subject he touches on is the failure of the United States to deal with the spread of extremism leading up to 9/11. The goal of Islamic terrorists is to provoke states within the global system into unnecessary and costly conflicts. The public opinion demanded to know why intelligence services didn’t pick up the perpetrators before 9/11 happened.  This need for additional surveillance has led to security being prioritised over freedom. Habeas corpus has been limited with extended periods of imprisonment.  Extraordinary rendition has been practiced by the U.S in order to be able to torture suspects in illegal prisons such as Quantanimo Bay.  Islamaphobia has gained a hold and threatens to undermine the values of tolerance and multiculturalism that liberal societies profess to uphold.

I would like to further explore several points briefly brought out in the chapter. One such point is, ‘A war on poverty and others that improve the human condition is an achievable goal (Wight 2015, 207).’  I agree with the author that these ‘wars’ have achievable end states and as such should have been placed with much higher importance in this chapter for understanding how nation states are to combat terrorism.  The Guardian’s Kennedy Odede states, ‘It is a certainty that nurturing a sense of belonging in young people through economic opportunity and the cultivation of community is essential for curbing the spread of terrorism.’  This idea of poverty being an underlying factor in terrorism is further amplified by Pillar One of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which seeks to ‘address the conditions conductive to the spread of terrorism in line with millennium development goals to eradicate poverty and promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development, and global prosperity for all.’  It is my personal assessment that if children can develop in an environment with the opportunity to be productive and have a positive purpose for their life, they would be less likely to find a sense of belonging in a community as violent and oppressive as an Islamic extremist group.

Another argument the author makes is that Al Qaeda had a plan from the onset of their organisation to pull the United States into an unnecessary conflict, which would put undue pressure on the international financial system and destroy the values the aggravated states hold in search of security (Wight, 2006b).  I would argue this was not their original motivation and the extremists have morphed their plans based on U.S counter attacks.  As this gives the terrorists far too much credit. Mary Habeck writes that, ‘The Bush and Obama administrations concluded that carrying out terrorist attacks on the U.S. and our allies is the key objective for ‘core’ al Qaeda, while the affiliates are focused on local agendas.’  She then goes on to describe and agree with the authors view that, “Al Qaeda’s political goal is an ultra-conservative interpretation of sharia-based governance spanning the Muslim world.”  I argue the groups objectives have grown with the organisation.  Video of Osama Bin Laden speaking on the subject of 9/11 states the attack was carried out because ‘Al Qaeda hates freedom… he wanted to undermine the United States security and that the American tyrant should be punished… So that it tastes what we taste and will be deterred from killing our children and women.’ (Baier, McCaleb and Persky 2016) This is not to say that the war on terrorism is not draining the U.S financially as there is ever more mounting evidence to this fact. (Gartenstein-Ross 2011) (Klein 2011)

In closing this was a good text that I enjoyed reading.  The points I have raised are minor, as he defends his views well and places counter views alongside existing text. The reference to the Qur’an being interpreted differently and showing both viewpoints is a strong example of this. Again I would recommend this text to fellow academics.

Baier, Bret, Ian McCaleb, and Anna Persky. 2016. “Bin Laden Claims Responsibility For 9/11 | Fox News”. Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/story/2004/10/30/bin-laden-claims-responsibility-for-11.html.

Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed. 2011. “Bin Laden’s ‘War Of A Thousand Cuts’ Will Live On”. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/bin-ladens-war-of-a-thousand-cuts-will-live-on/238228/.

Habeck, Mary. 2016. “What Does Al Qaeda Want?”. Foreign Policy. http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/06/what-does-al-qaeda-want/.

Klein, Ezra. 2011. “Bin Laden’S War Against The U.S. Economy”. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/bin-ladens-war-against-the-us-economy/2011/04/27/AFDOPjfF_blog.html.

Odede, Kennedy. 2015. “If You Really Want To Fight Terrorism, Start By Fighting Child Poverty”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/aug/21/terror-groups-africa-recruit-children-from-kibera-mathare-slum-poverty.

“UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy | Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force”. 2016. Un.Org. https://www.un.org/counterterrorism/ctitf/en/un-global-counter-terrorism-strategy.

Wight. Colin. 2015. Rethinking Terrorism: Terrorism, Violence and the State. Macmillan, London

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