War on Terror: Epic Fail or Epic Lie?
20:00 19.11.2014(updated 19:53 19.11.2014)
A decade-long global war on terror has only made terrorism more widespread and deadly. How could that happen? Radio Sputnik is looking into the problem together with risk analyst Steve Killelea, and security expert Dr. Clark Jones.
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According to the second edition of the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) deadly terrorist attacks hit 60 countries with the number of people killed in terrorist attacks increased by 61% on a YOY basis. The number of terrorist attacks has grown by 44%.
The GTI, first launched by the Institute for Economics and Peace in 2012, scores 162 countries ranking them by the impact of terrorist activities.
Says Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace:
The goal of the study is to rank the level of the international terrorism – what country is the most affected and also which organizations are the most responsible for the terrorist activity around the world.
What do you imply by the terrorist activity?
Steve Killelea: We’ve used the definition which has simply put it as an act of violence against the personal property by a non-state actor for a political or a religious outcome.
And as far as I understand, you are registering a sharp rise in the terrorist activity in 2013.
Steve Killelea: What we’ve noticed between 2012 and 2013 is that not only the intensity of terrorism increased, but so also its breadth. Between 2012 and 2013 the deaths from terrorism went up 61%, to 18 000. But more alarmingly – the number of countries which suffered more than 50 deaths from terrorism rose from 15 to 24 countries.
Which is really alarming! And given that we have been fighting terrorism for more than 10 years already, how do we explain it?
Steve Killelea: I think it is a worrying trend. What was actually occurring, if we look back to 2007, that is when the highest number of deaths from terrorism was recorded, which was about 10 000. And actually terrorism has been on the decrease till 2011. But the Syrian war is what has caused the increase. So, we’ve had the ISIL, which has been quite successful in Syria, enough to spilling out into Iraq. So, if we just look at the last 12 months, we had 164% increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq, which is about 6 600 deaths in the country.
So, given a rather persistent nature of this social phenomenon, do we need to understand that if we used to talk about combating terrorism, now we only have to cope with this as part of the new international reality?
Steve Killelea: I think it is certainly a worrying and growing trend. When we look at 2014, it is unlikely that terrorism is going to be any less. But these things do get revised and, hopefully, with the right approaches and concepts terrorism will be declining again. If we look at the terrorism, it is four organizations which are responsible for 66% of the deaths. It is ISIL, Boko Haram, Taliban and al-Qaeda. Similarly, if we look at the number of countries which account for 82% of the deaths, that is only 5 countries. So, that is Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Since you are analyzing those trends, what would be your advice for the governments who are interested in fighting this threat?
Steve Killelea: I think there are two different approaches which we need to look at, which are somewhat different from what we’ve been doing in the past. If we look statistically, one of the things which are associated with terrorism, they come down to what is known as state-sponsored terrorism. And that takes prejudicial killings and tortures, gross group grievances and general lawlessness within a country. The things which don’t correlate are the things like poverty, capital income, life expectancy or education.
So, by focusing on creating a better sense of the rule of law, which is accepted by the population, that is one way. But also, underlying it, and if you look at the four groups which are responsible for 66% of the deaths, they all are ascribed to some form of Wahhabism. Therefore, there is a need to create and commend more moderate forms of Sunni theologies. This cannot be done from the outside of the Muslim nations. So, the more progressive and moderate Muslims nations like the UAE or Qatar, for example, are the ones which have to take the lead on this.
I’ve noticed that nowadays the notion of terrorism is being used rather loosely. Politicians use it to denote any kind of forceful or violent activity, or an activity they dislike. But what is terrorism?
Says Dr. Clarke Jones, expert in security policy, Visiting Fellow with the Australian National University, Canberra:
That’s right! I think that the definition of terrorism is expanded infinitely. And I think you are right, in the sense that the politicians use it freely, particularly in their national security policies. And at the moment Australia is particularly concerned about not only the IS foreign fighters, those 60 or 70 from Australia that have travelled overseas, but also the support base that they’ve got here in Australia. So, my concern is that innocent people may be swept up in the judicial system in Australia. That is a fairly similar situation in the US and also in the UK.
But if you get back to the question of what actually terrorism is, it is such a broad expansive definition. You’ve got people who want to create an independent state and, therefore, want to use violence for a political gain. So, really, we are talking about violent extremist offenders.
But, unfortunately, a lot of the legislation these days takes in the support base as well, such as those that want to fund the groups that may be anti-state. In the case of the new Australian counterterrorism law, those that advocate terrorism and even those that express the support, in this case, for the IS or for al-Qaeda, they become terrorists too. And I’m wondering whether the definition of terrorism, which now takes in freedom fighters, separatists, terrorists, getting very confusing.
The report points to an increase of 61% in the number of lives lost to terrorism, in something like a year’s time. It is quite awful.
Dr. Clarke Jones: It is, and of course we went through what you could call a lull – a period where terrorism was appearing to become less and less, it was pretending to disappear. But when you had the allied interference or allied efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think that’s stirred the honey pot or stirred the base that could stir the hive, in the sense that I think the Western intervention can sometimes create terrorism rather than get rid of it. And I think we are seeing, particularly from Syria and Iraq we are seeing an increase in terrorism, but we are also seeing it in Nigeria and other regions around the world.
From an Australian perspective, we were concerned about Jemaah Islamiah which was an Indonesia-based terrorist group, and we were also concerned about terrorist groups in the Philippines. But we are seeing less activity by those groups, but obviously the main focus of the world attention at the moment is on the IS in Syria and Iraq.
Who would breed those terrorist groups? Where do they get their financing and who actually profits from their activity?
Dr. Clarke Jones: If we want to talk about the two sort of main groups that have been of concern to the US or to Australia, to the UK, it’s been al-Qaeda up until, probably, some would say 12 months or even 2 years ago. And then we’ve seen the rapid expansion of the IS or ISIL.
Now, in relation to the ISIL’s ability, more so than any group we’ve seen in the past, they use the social media and the Internet to drum up the support in all the places around the world, from young kids, as young as 16 and 17, through to it has managed to tap into the criminal networks, into prisons, into all the areas of vulnerable society and they are able to generate new recruits like never before.
Now, along with the generation of new recruits we’ve also seen generation of the international funds – all those people that are sympathetic to this notion of the IS. So, they are getting funds that way. But they also have funding through an organized crime. There is funding through oil in Syria and Iraq. There is funding through kidnapping, to a certain extent. So, they are a very rich group and have been able to generate lots of support like nothing else we’ve seen before.
But why would the young find their ideas so appealing?
Dr. Clarke Jones: That’s a difficult question to ask, because the causes of radicalization or what would cause someone to want to commit violence in support of the IS go deep. There are many issues and no one pathway is the same for someone to become a terrorist in this case. So, we’ve seen kids that come from dysfunctional families, they are the first generation in Australia, if their parents migrated to Australia, for example, but this is typical in other countries as well. You’ve got kids that want to improve their own social standing. They feel good if they say they support terrorism.
It will make them wind up their relationship in their social group. But it could be also a feeling of marginalization or victimization. And the IS finally gives them a path or a new identity in the life to follow.
There are some of the general reasons about radicalization. Some just want to go and fight, but there are also others that want to go across on humanitarian grounds, or they are not aggrieved by the countries where they are living, but they still feel they want to go and support their Muslim brothers overseas. So, there are many-many reasons.
Partly romantic, partly to compensate for some kind of inferiority complex, right?
Dr. Clarke Jones: Yes, it can be, definitely. Or, as we’ve seen in a few cases, a mental illness. There were a couple of IS fighters here in Australia, before they left they were involved in organized crime, they were stand-over men, but they had the conditions like schizophrenia and other anti-social personality disorders and they’ve time in prison. And of course, if left unmedicated, there are all sorts of strives. And we’ve seen them come up in videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarity. So, there are many reasons for joining terrorism.
You’ve mentioned al-Qaeda. So, the global war on terrorism, which was launched back in 2001, was focused on al-Qaeda and has paradoxically contributed to the spread of chaos, first, in the ME and now beyond. So, does chaos also contribute to the rise in terrorist activity?
Dr. Clarke Jones: I suggest that some of Western interventions against some of these groups have made the problem worse. And I don’t think that a military solution…when you are dealing with the non-state threats where you’ve got the civilian involvement, where there is not a clear enemy, the use of military force targeting, in this case, Muslim populations around the world, it can sometimes make people more angry and make the situation worse. So, I wonder how much… I can’t put a figure on it, but I wonder how much we contribute to the problem.
And if I can relate back to Australia, the current Government, in all its efforts to try and reduce the threat of terrorism, I think it’s made it worse through some of its policies that appear to be on the far right. I think if the Government was more inclusive of minority groups in Australia or of various ethnic communities, I think the problem in Australia would be less. But if we get back to the global index, we are number 95 on the list of countries, which sort of suggests that Australia is not under a great threat. And yet we put a lot of money into counterterrorism in Australia, and I’m just wondering whether we contribute to the problem.
But how does terrorism evolve? Do terrorists make use of technological advances to reach out further from their bases?
Dr. Clarke Jones: If we want to look at the IS, the main conflict is very much directed in Syria and Iraq and the chances of that conflict spreading outside of those areas are very limited, I think, considering the US-led allied efforts in those two countries. But also we’ve got to remember that a lot of the forces of the IS, and I don’t know the number exactly, but there are many foreign fighters who one day, many of those might return. And if you think of those that have experienced the war in Afghanistan, that returned to the region after that war, they also attempted to carry out terrorist attacks.
I think with the IS we will see that type of threat increasing in the next twelve months or so. In terms of the future, with the globalization it is easier to travel and the use of the Internet and social media for communication is becoming more sophisticated. And it will be used, again, for this recruitment effort, to send the supplies, resources, money to allow those groups to continue. And the messages can spread far wider.
In relation to weaponry though, I mean, really, we’ve seen the different types of terrorist attacks or the cluster terrorist attacks very considerably. We had an incident that was disrupted in Australia a number of months back, where a 22-year old was going to behead someone in the middle of Sydney city here in Australia. It is a terrible plan, a terrible plot, but he was going to be using a sword.
So, we can see anything — from stabbings, running people over (we’ve seen that in the UK and we’ve seen stabbings of police officers in Australia), to shootings and people using a rifle in Canada, in Ottawa. And in the past activities we’ve seen explosions, suicide bombings.
So, the expansion of what we call terrorism has really diversified and, therefore, it is becoming an a lot harder target to fight. The IS now has changed the tactics, they are no longer the visible targets for aerial bombings. They now blend more closely with the civilian population, which again makes an aerial bombing very difficult, because you get the killing of innocent civilians, innocent Muslims. And again, when they then televise the killing of innocent people, they just generate the support for the cause. So, the governments are in a very difficult position to tackle this threat.