tag archive: terrorism

Post-Boston: A More Effective Battle of Ideas (Part II)

Boston MarathonReprinted from The Globalist,  April 24, 2013

 Instead of getting sucked into heat-of-the-moment reactions to Boston, let’s base our responses on a more stable paradigm of contemporary global terrorism. To fight a battle of ideas successfully, one must first show what one is going up against. Amy Zalman makes the case that there are three distinct trends in terrorism — Hybrid, Multi-motivational and Narrative Terrorism.

This paradigm is evolving, but several trends are coming into view and are likely to deepen in the future:

  •    Hybrid terrorism:

In traditional categorization of terrorists, there are “lone wolves” who are unconnected to any organized group and those who are members of organizations.

Today, a hybrid type appears to be evolving: someone who works without full organizational support or direction, but who is not working in total isolation from others. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, News and Journalism, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: Keep Calm and Think Clearly (Part 1)

Boston Marathon

Reprinted from The Globalist, April 23, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings provide an opportunity for the United States to consider how to combat extremist ideas more effectively than it did a decade ago. But this is not the time to let fear and uncertainty drive us into misguided and — as importantly — ineffective forms of countering violent extremism.

Warning: Prominent policy makers are already making demands to disinter the discredited concepts of the Global War on Terror. Options presented range from designating the bombers enemy combatants to calling for sweeping surveillance of majority Muslim communities.

The motivations that led Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev to set off lethal bombs at the Boston Marathon last week may not yet be clear. But the characteristics of that event already tell us a substantial amount about the direction of 21st century terrorism — and how we might combat it with increasing effectiveness. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Definition of Strategic Narrative: an Evolving Concept in International Affairs

In an earlier post, I outlined ways in which the term strategic narrative is used in current practice,  in public relations—as an element of marketing—and in the academic field of international relations.  This post returns to the evolution of the term as an applied concept in foreign affairs.

According to International Relations professor Alister Miskimmon (who I asked by email), the first published use of the term “strategic narrative”  was by Lawrence Freedman, a professor of War Studies at King’s College, London.  In 2006, Freedman wrote a paper called The Transformation of Strategic Affairs.   Many of the insights in Freedman’s work stem from the Western experience of war in the post-9/11 years, and the discovery—the hard way, through experience—that the era of large scale land warfare may be decisively over. In its place, the future promises smaller wars, waged by insurgents as well as governments, in which human factors such as behavior, culture and communication play meaningful roles.

In this context, Freedman identifies “strategic narratives” as a kind of secret weapon of networked combatants fighting irregular wars.  In Freedman’s view, a story that connects people emotionally to an identity and a mission “helps dispersed groups to cohere and guides its strategy.  Individuals know the sort of action expected of them and the message to be conveyed.”

Thus, in Freedman’s definition, narrative is a function of strategy in the most traditional sense related to the science of war.  In that vein, he argues that: Continue reading

Posted in: International Politics, Middle East, Narrative Research, National Security, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Global Drops out of “War on Terror” in post-bin Laden Narrative

When President Obama addressed the nation and the world last night to report Osama bin Laden’ death, I was surprised by the absence of a global element in his message.  Obama is known for his multilateral, global approach to foreign affairs, and it the lens through which he seems most comfortable framing American actions in the world.  The war waged by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was relentlessly globalized, as the name “global war on terror” suggested.  And it has been a consistent thread in U.S. messaging to remind those in the Middle East and Central Asia, and elsewhere, that bin Laden’s brand of global jihad killed more Muslims than any other group.

Obama’s message last night made a strange reversal.  The larger narrative framing the search for and killing of bin Laden was emphatically Americanized.

The effect of this framing, if there is any, remains to be seen.   In the global swirl of fast moving media, not to mention events, the President’s words may soon fall away as memorable in the global context.  Or they may be picked up—Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis as may wonder how much of the brunt of an effort reconceptualized as primarily American they must be called to bear.

We can be sure however, that the reminder that Obama was at the helm during this moment of American bravery is intended as a formative statements in the story of his presidency, which is now being written in advance of the 2012 presidential elections.

Posted in: Middle East, National Security, Political Analysis, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , ,

Body Scanners Expand the State’s Boundaries

bodd scanner

The recent flap over the TSA security measures –both manual pat-downs and  backscatter x-ray and millimeter wave scanners—has been painted as presenting a conflict between personal privacy and national security.

We might more accurately call it a conflict over boundaries, personal and national.  Who has the right to cross what borders?  What is the proper boundary between my body and the state?

This trope, which is also present in other conflicts, like that over abortion, is particularly apt in a battle against terrorism. Boundaries, after all, are precisely what terrorists violate.  Violent actors’ capacity to terrorize originates in their readiness to transgress both physical and moral boundaries.  The more flagrant the violation, the more terrified we become. Terrorists do not obey the agreed on boundaries of sovereign states, nor those that we—the global community—have sanctioned to regulate war:  we draw boundaries between just causes for war and unreasonable ones and, crucially, between combatants and civilians.  The line between combatant and civilian in war is sacrosanct to most of us; on one side, we go toward injury, on the other, we are to be protected from it.

Perhaps it is the nature of this particular conflict that has led to a peculiar focus by the United States on bodies and boundaries, an intersection that is often shadowed by the erotic, whether for good or ill.

There is the ongoing confusion over whether others are combatants are civilians.  We do not know where to draw the line.  If you were an Afghan, or even a non-Afghan, in the orbit of Al Qaeda in 2001, did that make you a terrorist? Continue reading

Posted in: National Security, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , ,