Friday, 24 May 2013

Why the murder in Woolwich was not a terrorist act

one has to be very careful when bandying around the term 'terrorism'. In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama was careful not to immediately dub the act one of terrorism. For so associated in the Western mind is Islam with terrorism (pace Bush & Blair), that to announce any act as one of terrorism conjures up in the general public an image of a radical Muslim and that can lead to reprisals on innocent Muslim members of the population. The Oklahoma bombing was not Islamic. And a Spanish government lost an election when they were so ingrained with the perception of Basque Separatist terrorism, that they accused them of the Madrid train bombings rather than wait for the evidence that it had in fact been homegrown Al Qaeda sympathisers.

The definition and purpose of terrorism is to cause terror in the general population. It is a method of conducting an asymmetric war, by applying pressure on a population to change a government policy. It's asymmetric, because the terrorists know they can match the state's military force, so they seek other means to wage war by. Because of the disparity in force available to a state and to the terrorists, it's exceedingly rare that the terrorists can defeat their enemy. If there is an upswing of popular support for the terrorists, then it may veer into an uprising or revolution, (such as developed in Algeria in the 1960s), but at best the terrorists can get some concessions from the State around the negotiating table. The histories of the State of Israel and more recently Northern Ireland show this.

So some terrorists have political objectives, while others are more motivated by sheer criminality, be it money or the love of mayhem equating to death cults. There is a difference between ideology that is a mere patina gloss over criminal behaviour and that terrorist activity which emerges solely out of the ideology and the ideology informs the precise nature of every terrorist act, such as the nature of the targets. Some terrorist groups will only attack police and army. Some, such as the Angry brigade in the UK, would not target people, but only property. (of course the nature of the beast when dealing with explosives is that some people still die however unintentional).

Events in Woolwich yesterday did not constitute a terrorist act. Yes ideology and political objectives were spouted, but the act was a) too small scale and isolated an attack to constitute an attack on the state b) the perpetrators overtly did not target the civilian population, thus they did not seek to cause them terror and even engaged in conversation/discussions with the citizens there.

You could argue that they wanted to terrorise the State, maybe make government think it was the start of a larger, more sustained campaign and indeed Cameron rushed back from a diplomatic trip abroad and gathered the emergency panel of COBRA. But while flying 5 airplanes into the White House & Pentagon (as intended) as well as the Twin Towers can be rated as a direct attack on the State, the brutal slaying of one soldier is a token and symbolic act and no more. It is so pathological a modus operandi, even to the point of waiting for the police thereby ensuring no sustained campaign beyond this one act by the perpetrators would be possible, that it could not be part of anything strategic or tactical. It was to send a message and the message was the attack on a soldier (Crusader), the attempt at ritual beheading and ensuring that social media spread news of their deed. One murder changes the array of forces not one jot. But the recruiting drive of spreading the evidence of it, as with footage of suicide bombers or IEDs (improvised explosive device) ensures others will aspire to similar acts.

This has been the horrific genius of the Al Qaeda legacy. It provided a way of operating, a loose ideology that meant any local person with their own set of grievances could easily adapt the loose credo to justify their actions, while providing the practical means of making bombs or other hostile acts. There is no defined political ideology or agenda, it is whatever the local perpetrators decide upon. There is no endgame. It is more akin to death cults, killing for the love of killing and to kindle a low-level but ongoing war against an unspecified target. But these are essentially criminal acts, a perceived way of 'getting even' for whatever list of grievances and injustices, a lashing out and a striking back, but little more. It feeds itself and damages its own community who get smeared by the image of radical Islam, which in turn provokes the reprisals that can harden attitudes on both sides.

You've heard the term have a go hero, well this is sort of the inverse of that. Have a go anti-heroes, people full of personal fury, given the outlet for murder by a seemingly justifying ideology that is absolutely only a gloss on a criminal mindset.

Woolwich was a pathological act, dressed up in the symbols of an ideology. Don't be fooled that it was anything else.

1 comment:

Katherine Hajer said...

Thank you for this. I've been wondering how on earth attacking one person, albeit for the reasons you listed, became terrorism.