The War on Terror
'Post 9-11, the western world's view of terrorism has changed immensely'
Sally Nolan | 7 November 2015

Terrorism. Post 9-11 there can be no other word more politically and emotionally charged in the world today. The constantly increasing labeling of religion-based criminal behaviour or threats as ‘terrorism’ has made the word become detached from its traditional meaning.

Erroll Southers defines terrorism in his article on the Charleston shooting of Mother Emmanuel - where the culprit confirmed the shooting to be an intentional act of terrorism. Southers suggests the core elements of terrorism are tripartite: the essence of the activity is the use or threatened use of violence, the target of such activities are innocent civilians, and the objective is political.

As a result of the 9-11 attacks it is arguable that we have entered into a new kind of war, with terrorism being the enemy. Notably, this war against an ideology is characterised through Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. On the 20th September 2001, after the deaths of 2952 American citizens, George W Bush stated, ‘Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda […] it will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.’ The war on terror is the ongoing campaign by the US and some allies to counter international terrorism.

America’s harsh response led many civilians to take it upon themselves to reciprocate ‘justice’ - this lead to a number of hate crimes against South Asian, Sikh, Muslim, and Arab Americans including the fatal shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Even now, as the Washington Post reported (2014), anti-muslim hate crimes are five times more common since 9-11.

This ‘islamophobia’ has led to many people using ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorists’ as a go-to word when something bad happens - creating an anti-muslim atmosphere in certain areas of America and Britain. Take, for example, the various headlines of the Daily Mail including, ‘Where’s The Next Bomb?’ and ‘Why Can’t We Kick This Man Out Of Britain?’

Some may argue that the war on terror is ‘more of the same’ - it is a battle against an ideology, like Communism during the Cold War. Similarly, nationalism has been a strong threat to various governments in the past, with the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland threatening the British government for more than 35 years, and the issues of nationalism in Spain, where the Basque nationalist terrorists posed a serious threat to the Spanish government. Moreover, various states were confronted with many small terror groups within their society – such as Germany and Italy during the 1970s and 80s, they were challenged by many extreme left groups such as the Red Brigades, or the Baader-Meinhof. In addition, Southers defined, one of the core elements of terrorism is the targeting of innocent civilians. Though this is by no means an admirable strategy, it is one that has been used many a time, for example in World War II, with the carpet-bombing attacks that were faced by large cities such as London, Dresden and Tokyo. Furthermore, America’s treatment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which over 300,000 civilians were killed, is another attrition strategy conforming to terrorist ideas. It remains a requirement that modern nation-states confront terrorist organisations. It is clear to see in warfare today that many of the old tactics are still in place, such as airstrikes, lending weight to the argument that the War on Terror does in fact make use of old tactics.

Conversely, it is clear that the US military intervention to deal with controversial matters is not simply post-9-11, but has existed for decades, pivotally throughout and since the Cold War. The US has intervened so much it has almost become a habit – including involvement in areas such as the Dominican Republic (1965), Somalia (1992-1993) and Bosnia in 1995. America is a country with interests to protect all over the world and it has proceeded to do so with the help of various US-dominated organisations, including NATO for the intervention in the Balkans on three occasions. This suggests that the War on Terror is more of the same kind of war within different circumstances.

Furthermore, The US has an important role as the world's unique identity of military and economic superpower. As a result it has often projected its power in a variety of widespread destinations, such as Korea in 1950-53 and Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia in 1964-73. In most of these conflicts the US has aimed to restore a democratic regime through conventional military campaigns, which has become (more so since the Cold War) a necessity in order to maintain their superpower status. Thus, the response to 9-11 is, albeit slightly more extreme, consistent with the role of the US in world politics in the past. They have maintained their title through their capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 through a mixed use of hard power and soft power. The US hard-hitting approach, combined with their intelligence services, displays their capability as a superpower (though of course subject to their handling of propaganda, with such films as Zero-Dark-Thirty being made to celebrate their achievement).

Therefore, it is clear that, post 9-11, the western world’s view of terrorism has changed immensely and it is still widely debated as to whether the War on Terror is a new kind of war.


Image used under Creative Comons license

James Routledge 2016