Monday, November 06, 2006

Does globalisation encourage international terrorism?

There are many images which may come to mind when an individual is asked, or poses that question. Since the 11th of September 2001, these images may include those of the World Trade Center, Bin Laden or even Muslims in general and the Middle East in particular. However, it is also true that the nature of these images is dependent on the person being asked. An Iraqi struggling to survive in Baghdad or a woman who has just had her family wiped out in a NATO bombing in Afghanistan would give us a very different image, one which would include Stars and Stripes, the Star of David, perhaps even a Union Jack. There is much on the news about a War on Terror and Islam, but I feel not many of us have had the intellectual stamina or honesty to drill down deep enough and extract a true understanding. That is why before I begin answering this question, I think it's important for us to have a clear understanding of the terms, in order that we may then obtain a lucid picture which helps us answer this question.

Firstly, what is terrorism? We've all heard that famous (and utterly cliche) term, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" made famous by the former US President Ronald Reagan. I wish to avoid using it simply because it leaves too much ambiguity and leaves the person using it lost in a sea of relativism. This may be a useful starting point for a philosopher, but I have neither the time nor inclination to delve those depths. I had a look at the Oxford University Dictionary and found the following:

terror n. 1 Extreme fear. 2 a cause of terror. 3 the use of terror to intimidate people:weapons of terror.

terrorist n. a person who uses violence and intimidation in an attempt to achieve political aims.

  • DERIVATIVES terrorism n.

Of interest for me was the third definition, the use of terror to intimidate people. Ostensibly the person performing terrorism is given the label "terrorist". Now in most cases I would assume a person would use terror (that is extreme fear), for some reason and not as a result of some pathological joke. This means that there is a certain end, or goal which the "terrorist" wishes to extract or exact on the "terrorised". From this we can reason quite logically that a terrorist is somebody who uses terror (that is instilling extreme fear) in people in order to extract some objective or form of behaviour from a group of people (the terrorised). Now the next term I wish to look at is much more contentious and debatable. This term is "globalisation", a term which is generally referred to as an interconnectedness and interdependence which has been taking place. Exactly how long for and to what extent is debatable. Jan Aart Scholte provides one of many definitions of the term as follows, "processes whereby many social relations become relatively delinked from territorial geography, so that human lives are increasingly played out in the world as a single place". Scholte means that different types of interactions between individuals are no longer tied down by country, region or even continent. These interactions now take place across the world. Effectively the world is becoming a smaller place. Globalisation is made up of the interactions of a multitude of actors in a “global” system which includes Non-governmental organisations, Multinational corporations and the international state system. Arguably, it is this international state system, based on the supremacy of the state as the basic unit of which it is comprised, that retains importance in much discourse on international relations, and perhaps even in the empirical world.

For the purpose of answering the question though, I plan to approach it from a slightly different angle. This is that the impact of globalisation (by no means a new process), does increase the risk of international terrorism, but not as most would expect it. As I had highlighted earlier in the introduction, perceptions of globalisation and terrorism are subject to much interpretation unless a conscious effort is made to clarify the meaning of these terms and placing them within both a historical context, and an understanding of actors motives. It is this understanding that we hope to glean, which will allow us to grasp the significance of this question.

In trying to find the clearest definition of Terrorism, I have only emulated as a starting point what many other scholars, most notably Noam Chomsky, have successfully done. Chomsky, following on from his definition of terrorism and based on various sources, believed that it was an act which most states were also capable of perpetrating. Furthermore, this was an act which supposedly liberal democracies were themselves involved in. This is in contrast to scholars such as Haynes, Scruton and Howard who either ignore or minimise the terrorism performed by what they believe are democratic countries. Chomsky was able to demonstrate that examples of this “state sponsored terrorism” were numerous and most importantly, much more lethal and devastating to civilian populations. These could be seen in the US bombing of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in their ruthless war against Communist insurgents, or most recently in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. I have absolutely no intention of using this article to describe the terrorism of fringe groups such as Al Qaeda and how capable they would be of adapting through globalisation to increase there reach. Such matters are inevitable and I feel distract us from the true terrorism which takes place and is institutionalised within our global system. A terrorism that can only increase in intensity the more globalised and interconnected we become.

I feel one of the biggest mistakes that many Western scholars (and those who have internalised Western arguments) make when trying to answer a question such as this, is to take the global international system as a given. Allow me to explain. Mainly, my argument is that the Westphalian based system is a construct that is largely a product of Western colonialism and imperialism. There was a time when almost all the peoples of the world were under the direct or indirect rule of Western Europeans or North Americans. During this time, existing and indigenous forms of political organisation and structure were swept away and replaced. When these people eventually gained independence, the withdrawing Europeans had essentially moulded these nations into their own image, a state. These states however, were partitioned largely to the interests of the greater powers with no basis of legitimacy or consideration of ethnic, religious and political realities on the ground. Eventually these divisions solidified and, propped up from above by an international regime (albeit one dominated by the former colonial powers) that granted "official" recognition, became largely permanent. Inherent in such a system is a legitimacy granted to "officially" recognised governments which of course can take various forms from authoritarian to liberal democracy. The perceived legitimacy of one group of actors over another in what is essentially a contrived and non-foundational structure will inherently imply negative and positive connotations to the terrorism wielded by different actors. For example, the American and British sanctions and bombing campaigns on Iraq, culminating in it's invasion and occupation in 2003 were aimed at imposing hardship on the people. In the first instance to depose Saddam Hussein, and in the second instance to demoralise them and weaken resistance, in effect to terrorise them for a political and military end suitable for the United States and Britain. At the risk of sounding callous, the causalities for such atrocities were arguably much higher than those of September 11, perpetrated by Al Qaeda, but both acts were acts of terrorism, perpetrated by terrorists, and for very calculated and rational motives.

To conclude, and based on our understanding of the term so far, terrorism itself we see is nothing more than a tool used by interested parties, either through the apparatus of a state, or in small groups of individuals to achieve ends. It is not a new concept, but one which has been used with varying effect throughout history. Globalisation itself does not account for terrorism, nor is it inevitable, but the processes it accelerates and improves such as technology and the spread of certain forms of political and philosophical organisation can make it more likely that terrorism would occur, particularly from Western states (who are the main beneficiaries), and on a more intense scale. Furthermore, they have no reservation in using terrorism to further their own goals and hegemony. Terrorism from minor fringe groups such as Al Qaeda, as sensational and publicised as they may be, form only part of the story. The improvements in technology and increasing financial accumulation of states facilitated by globalisation will exponentially increase their power and ability to terrorise even further in order to maintain or improve their position relative to one another.

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