Sep 26 2012

GWOT blog comes to an end but not the War on Terror

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The Global War on Terror (GWOT) has raised a host of dilemmas and challenges for development agencies and civil society actors. Funded by the ESRC under the Non-Governmental Public Action Programme (NGPA) Professor Howell and Dr Lind carried out research on the effects of the GWOT on development institutions and civil society actors. Their research covered Afghanistan, Kenya, India, USA and UK. Their findings can be found in `Counter-terrorism, Aid and Civil Society: Before and After the War on Terror’ (Palgrave, 2009) and `Civil Society Under Strain. Counter-terrorism policy, civil society and aid post-9/11’ (Kumarian Press, 2010).

Following on from this Professor Howell raised additional funds through the LSE HEIF4 to promote debate and advance thinking on these issues. This involved three round tables held in the Lebanon, involving researchers, policy-makers, civil society groups and donors. Thanks to the LSE HEIF4 funding it was also possible to set up a blog on the War on Terror. This blog was aimed at the general public, academics, experts and think tanks. The blog has been an interactive way of both disseminating research findings and also inviting commentary on the War on Terror and its effects. Over the last two years it has benefited from the contributions of a diversity of writers based in different parts of the world and covering related topics on the impacts of the War on Terror in Kenya, Syria, UK, USA and elsewhere. As part of this effort, Adam Brown has played a sterling role in ensuring the high editorial quality of the blog.

Funding for these activities has now ended. With the death of Osama Bin Laden it might seem that the War on Terror was now over. However, President Obama cautioned strongly against such a hasty assumption. Military and development funding continue to be invested in securing the USA and allied governments against the perceived terrorist threats. Sadly, the institutional infrastructure of laws, regulations and extra-judicial practices remain in place, with often negative implications for civil society and aid. It was the intention of this blog to invite critical attention to the corrosive effects of this infrastructure. Though the blog now draws to an end, we hope that we have encouraged blog readers and contributors to retain a critical perspective on the War on Terror, whose effects have led to the regrettable `normalization of the exceptional’.

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Sep 26 2012

Assessing the threat from terrorism two years on

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From 2010 to present, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) blog has captured a brief two years worth of editorial analysis on the subject of terrorism. Even in this short time, it is clear for anyone who has followed this blog or the mainstream media, that terrorism, domestic and international variants, has not gone away.

Domestic acts of terror in developed countries, such as the horrific shooting and bombing in Norway and the continual public shootings in the United States, have demonstrated that right wing extremists can be as serious a threat to civility and peace as any religiously motivated terrorist organization. This suggests that we have moved beyond the original paradigm of a War on Terror comprised of the jihadist terrorist to a new type of terrorist. However, this has not entirely proved to be the reality. Civil war in Syria and unrest across the Middle East, not to mention failed bomb attempts in the United States and elsewhere have suggested that traditional notions of terrorism understood after 9/11 still exist. But the War on Terror has shifted.

There has been a growing dissent, in articles written by our contributors and within the mainstream that have attested to the failings of the War on Terror. It has been quite frequently  commented that civil liberties and human rights have suffered disproportionately under questionable counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices. But, as Professor Howell points out in her closing article for the GWOT blog project, these laws, policies and practices have not necessarily disappeared and to the contrary, have become to an extent ‘normalized’.

Assessing the threat from terrorism since 2010, it appears that little has changed. Bin Laden’s death is perhaps analogous to the current state of the ‘War on Terror’; the slow and methodical hunt and assassination of threats to the state but through increasingly questionable, yet increasingly normalized legal methods.

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Jun 4 2012

Threat to terrorism: reassessing terrorism as a moral category

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Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence

In this article Meor Alif challenges the commonly held viewpoint that all terrorist acts, particularly those that are violent, are inherently morally vacuous with no place in a modern democracy. By reassessing the morality behind terrorist acts from a consequentialist perspective, a more nuanced role of terrorism in the political sphere emerges.

While this piece is not meant to be an absolute criticism of western democratic practices or the renunciation of it, the backbone that will hold this article together is a stern conviction that terrorism, specifically terrorism as a tactic has a place in politics despite the increasingly homogenised consensus that democracy should be incompatible with violence.

At this point, it would bode well with the tone that this piece seeks to set by noting from the outset, that this is not a call to arms encouraging the pernicious and irresponsible use of violence to forward every minute political cause (I acknowledge that the scale in which to determine the seriousness of a cause is in itself a whole different debate altogether and often done arbitrarily). However, the message that should come across at the very end of this article is one that recognises the utility and the moral soundness of employing violence, if and when, certain circumstances call for it, circumstances that some commonly describes as having your ‘back against the wall’.

Discounting and delegitimizing terrorism on the account that it is always categorically unacceptable is a false premise that should not be allowed to be further entrenched in our minds for it only breeds tyranny. Violence is utilitarian in nature and it can be very useful to a group in power or a group seeking it. But surely, when we talk about terrorism, there is very little moral high ground to defend an act so heinous and so often indiscriminately places the innocent lives of hundreds if not thousands at risk? – This piece intends to be objective and look through the injuries and account for the gains in evaluating the final conclusion.

Hence, this piece will proceed with two broad portions. The first portion will attempt to define terrorism and illustrate its relationship to the use of violence. This discussion will lead up to conclude that violence is not an irrational impulse, and the use of which, has always been and should continue to be acknowledged as a legitimate method of the use of securing an end. Secondly, this piece will then evaluate the element of targeting in terrorist acts and evaluate if the notion of innocence is enough to absolutely reject terrorism as an unacceptable means to further political considerations.

The final thing to remember is that Al Qaeda and every other Islamist terrorist organization out there in the present day is not the only type of terrorist organization that exists. We speak of them only because they are recent and groups like Al Qaeda with Islamic undertones have long been preceded in history by other types of terrorist organizations from all over the world with a quagmire of motives behind them, some nationalistic, others separatists and so on, but all essentially rather fundamentally similar in behaviour with regards to employing violence.

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Apr 29 2012

Analyzing the ‘war on terror’ and its impact on Americans

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Jennifer Noud, undergraduate at Florida State university, examines how the war on terror has evolved and impacted on Americans since 9/11.

Previous modern wars have traditionally been broadcast through radio and then television. The current ‘war on terror’ is drastically distinctive because of both the advent of the internet and the way the war is being reported. In the article, “The Real Terror War Is On the Internet” a U. S. National Intelligence Estimate says that radicalization is occurring rapidly and anonymously because of the internet; this makes surprise attacks more likely, especially attacks by unknown groups that use the internet.  Furthering it’s argument the article states that “we judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support”.

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Apr 7 2012

Beware the Al Qaeda phantom in Syria

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Abdul Hakim Belhaj an example by some of Syrian ties to Al Qaeda

As Hafez al Assad stares down at the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria from that special place in heaven for Syrian dictators, surely the thought that a Libyan styled intervention happening in Syria would have crossed his mind. As much as it would make him turn in his grave, there is very little moral credit these days to staunchly deny that an imminent or at the very least a likely intervention is just around the corner.

All the quintessential elements are present and accounted for – there is a dictator with an alleged history of sponsoring terrorism who with each move he makes does no favours for himself in the eyes of the international community, there is a resilient population that knows not the meaning of being subdued, a Syrian National Council that should slowly gain momentum as things unravel in Syria and soon in the Free Syrian Army we might have a Northern Alliance. At the time of this writing, a humanitarian intervention makes sense, but what makes a moment opportune? Or more importantly is there something unseen here that ought to be?

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Mar 4 2012

Car Bomb: from Belfast to Baghdad

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Belfast on 21st July 1972 will always be remembered as a black day for those covering the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland, for it is the day that the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) set a precedent which even today is the curse of all urban conflict: The deadly car bomb.

Twenty-two car bombs in the space of eight minutes, nearly 400 kilograms of explosives used, between 30 and 70 minute warnings given, and nine people die with 130 civilians injured.

Kill a leader. Defy a government. Blow up the peace.

The use of remote car bombs are still a phenomenon which conflicts around the world have failed to overcome, and with good reason. All that it requires is roads, and traffic. Wherever we need to go, whatever place we need to stop, be it a place of work or a busy airport or train station; there is always that street or road we can’t escape.

And twenty-first century conflict has been synonymous with car bombs; they are the pedestrian’s worst nightmare, the terrorist’s best weapon. They can bring civilian life to a near halt, they can cause unprecedented economic damage, and they can take a whole city hostage.

In urban conflict they are free from limitations: no trenches no bases; just roads and streets.

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Feb 26 2012

GWOT bi-weekly round-up February 26

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Paul Miller questions Obama’s policy towards Afghanistan.


Harry’s Place looks at Qatar’s decision to host a conference of anti-semites.

Saudi Arabia

The Arabist looks at protests in Saudi Arabia.


J.E.Dyer looks at Obama’s “active” support for those struggling against Assad. Spencer Ackerman looks at concerns about Syria’s WMD’s.
Anne-Marie Slaughter
calls for more direct intervention.
Lawrence Haas
praises journalists who operate in war-zones, like Marie Colvin.
looks at Saudi proposals for arming anti-Assad fighters.
Michael Weiss
argues that any negotiation with Assad and his regime would be futile.
Emile Nakhleh
believes Western intervention is a matter of time.

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Feb 16 2012

The road not taken: how Frost is teaching us to understand the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight against Al Qaeda

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In this article Meor Alif examines the future of an Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that both expectations and preconceived notions of the Brotherhood should be adjusted in light of their historical legacy in Egypt and the reality of the situation on the ground.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both”

For decades the international community pretended to lose sleep over the fate that had befallen Egypt. It was not too long ago when instability, oppression, deprivation and the lack of respect for human rights were all words that we didn’t even think twice to use when describing the domestic conditions that the country was under. Despite our supposed best efforts to facilitate change, Egypt remained a quicksand for hope and with its hopelessness, thousands upon thousands of fellow human beings were left to rot under a government that they simply had no say in. And as though that was not bad enough – the real irony of the bigger picture was that Mubarak and his league of truly extraordinary gentlemen claimed to be coherent with democracy, and worst of all, our tacit acceptance and cooperation with his regime made a mockery out of the universal principles which we claim to stand for. Rather than change it – we lived with it. And we tried to make a profit out of it – after all what were we to do? It was just how it was and we were just making the best out of it.

Well, when enough is enough, three weeks is all it takes.

The events that unfolded between 25th January and 11th February 2011 were magnificent. The word uprising has never described something so meaningful in the 21st century until it was used to describe the protests that occurred in Egypt. The near impossible was achieved through several series of mass protests in Egypt, and now, almost a year after that fateful February day when Hosni Mubarak was escorted to the dustbin of history, the world and the entire Egyptian nation is still reeling from the shockwaves that Tahrir created.

However, the bigger question remains, what will the future look like? Can we support the change that is happening in Egypt? Can we, against every fibre of our conviction that is unwilling to support ‘evil Islamists’, rally behind the Muslim Brotherhood?

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