Counter-terrorism and terrorism: same difference?

hollitwitter-e1320662890255The issue of ‘terrorism’ has once again dominated almost everything we watch, read and heard these past two weeks. The Woolwich murders are being labelled as an act of terrorism.

Is this really fair when a week previous to this gruesome event, a grandfather was stabbed on the street on his way back from evening prayers at his local mosque because of his religion and it was labelled as ‘a hate crime’?

The world we have live in since the 9/11 attacks AKA ‘the age of terror’ is apparently a dramatically different place, a milder version of Orwell’s 1984 with increased security and decreased civil rights and constant war. However, has ‘War on Terror’, been successful in counteracting terrorism? I would argue that it has not been a success and has in fact had the opposite effect by increasing global terrorism by inflaming an anti-American and British sentiment across the Middle East and beyond.

There are vast variations between definitions of the term ‘terrorism’. According to John Pilger the United States government have infringed their own definition of terrorism more than any other state or organisation and the UK government isn’t far behind.

Terrorism is a term with no agreed definition among governments and academic analysts. But if such actions are carried out on behalf of a widely approved cause then the term ‘terrorism’ is usually avoided and something more friendly is substituted. As Noam Chomsky states ‘one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.’ According to Tamir Bar-On and Howard Goldstein in the absence of a worldwide consensus definition of terrorism, the term terrorism has today become a political tool used for propaganda purposes by either state or non-state actors such as with the new breed of ‘Eco-terrorists’ i.e. Radical Environmental Groups. Without this clarity, the concept of a ‘war on terror’ is obscure and unclear. Edward Herman focuses on this point claiming that the core basis of a ‘war’ on ‘terror’ itself is a political problem as the definition of ‘terror’ is selectively and loosely applied and the label ‘terrorism’ is an abstract concept with no objective universal definition.

The War in Afghanistan was the first stage of the US and UK-led ‘War on Terror’. Osama Bin Laden was held responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda at the time of the attack was considered by most experts to be a small non-state operation, loosely sprawled across the globe and with, at most, a few thousand operatives. It is clear that such a small and diffuse operation called for an anti-crime and intelligence response, not a war. According to Aiden Hehir’s research in 2007, al-Qaeda groups are now found in 24 states across the globe including the USA and the UK. This reveals that since the ‘War on Terror’ began, this terrorist organisation has spread and grown. ‘The war on Afghanistan, judged purely as an anti-terrorist exercise, has been the worst failure of all.’ (Mahajan). This war has increased political problems; Afghanistan is less stable than it was before the war and al-Qaeda are arguably stronger, despite the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. Afghan citizens are getting caught in the crossfire which is giving the US and UK bad press, and there is an increase in the intensity of US and UK soldiers killed with no foreseeable end to this conflict. The economic and social state of Afghanistan is deteriorating with not enough funds invested in ‘nation-building’ and reconstruction.

The Iraq Invasion of 2003 was also an important component to the ‘war on terror’ with much opposition. Instead of combating terrorism the war in Iraq has inflamed anti-Americanism across the Middle East, it’s increased the number of people who are willing to die to kill Americans, it created greater sympathy for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. In regard to dealing with rogue states it has driven the Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah closer together. Syria and Iran are likely to continue supporting Hezbollah, and moreover Iran will probably continue to pursue nuclear weapons, they would be foolish not to given the way the US has been behaving and talking about Iran itself.

According to Mearshiemer and Walt:
“We didn’t make the war in Iraq any better, Iraq as you well know is dominated by Shi’a, and those Shi’a in Iraq including the ruling elites are deeply committed or at least have a powerful allegiance to those Shi’a who compromise Hezbollah. So if anything we have angered our allies in Iraq and that’s definitely not going to make a bad situation better.”

The United Kingdom and United States’ policies have failed in their efforts to combat terrorism through war and have increased the likelihood of repeat attacks. The term ‘war on terror’ in itself is a problem as it is an unclear and even abstract concept. Both invasions have been heavily and widely criticised from all angles but the consensus is that these separate wars aimed at counteracting terrorism and increasing international security have caused many complex political problems for themselves and for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hollie Weatherstone is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

3 Comments on Counter-terrorism and terrorism: same difference?

  1. karen birch // June 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm // Reply

    Agreed Hollie.
    A war IS terror – for all involved; perpetrators and defenders, and which of those is which will depend upon your viewpoint. So we are left with the concept of facing terror with more terror. Worse still, having sold arms to pretty much every regime in the world, we wage war against people we have armed in the past. The deterioration in Syria and the fighting in Libya last year are good examples of governments which are now seen as rogue states fighting against their own populations using arms supplied to them by western powers. In the case of Syria we are now debating whether to supply the non-government forces with arms.
    And yes, a war against a state cannot ever hope to defeat a group that is spread thinly across countries, our own included.
    I haven’t a solution but am certain that continuing to do what we have always done isn’t it.

  2. The borderline retort to ‘divine’ discourse and ‘sacred’ mythological vulgarities is ridiculous. Think of ‘the crusade’ or on-going Blairite comments. I like that you quote Mearshiemer and Walt who with many realists explained how bonkers the war on emotion was even for right wingers!

    My former Prof. has written a piece ( …) which tackles this theme to an asks us to consider the purpose of the speech act of ‘terror’. Personally, I just think it is a cheap and easy political sell!

  3. Hollie nice return to objective informed dialogue.

    The point you make on MSM and inparticular the BBC “interpretation of terroism and extemism is very valid today after all the political propaganda and lack of balanced reporting is now a staple diet in UK MSM.

    The “war” its actually more invasion and occupation in both Afghanistan and Iraq ( Iraq is still occupied by US forces under the guise of 30,000 + “personell based within the new US embassy in Baghdad ( its capable of holding and maintaining 70,000 if necessary) The situation will be similar in Afghanistan when the ISAF forces leave.

    The current banner waving occuring with the issue in Syria and “chemical weapons” is the prelim for aggressive “support” for regime change in the country. As long as 18 months ago, US Aigencies were issuing and awarding contracts ( to mostly US companies) for the rebuilding of Syria. I hope the companies were not reliant on the business.

    Terror is a terible thing but more terrifying is the invasion of your sovereign country and the occupation of your land after the total infrastructure has been laid to waste. Combine this with daily abuse and torture along with occupantion forces legal murder and then you may understand the reaction of some peoples and the nurturing force at work within recognised terrorist cells. The recent whitewash of hearing regarding british occupying forces in Iraq is another nail in the free world coffin. No appropriate reporting in the MSM and no enquiry despite reams of evidence supporting the abuse railed against the population of Iraq.

    There is a simple answer. Defend yourself on your own sovereign soil, it works for many if not the majority of countries. Do not arm anyone that is or is likely to be aggressive. leave countries to resolve their own problems and if action has to be taken then try economic and financial sanctions first. They do work and unsavoury regimes will soon toe the line. Only and only as a last resort take invasive action within the borders of another country.

    The damage done and being done to the reputation of US and british forces worldwide will take generations of healing to repair. Just as the memories of the family and friends of the murdered and abused will take to repair. the sooner they start the better for all.

    thanks for your insight Hollie.

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