The study will analyse and examine the threat perceptions of terrorism in relation to the world politics, culture and security. The empirical study on the subject matter is used to help understand the focal issue of security. The result(s) of the study would suggest alternative measures in security policy-making exercise.
The studies of International Relations are challenged by several key concepts when dealing with security. For decades, security issues were discussed by political analysts to formulate the framework of what security is, security for whom, how security can be achieved and other issues surrounding the concept (Williams 2008).
The tensions caused by the ‘War on Terror’ by the U.S had brought the issue of terrorism to the forefront of western security thinking. The September 11 attacks on the U.S’s symbols of power; the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon had panicked the U.S. The threats to its hegemony security policy had lead to the termination of the two regimes, Iraq and Afghanistan, based on the assumptions that both were supportive of terrorism activities. These, and the many subsequent acts of terrorism in Africa, Europe, Russia and Middle East have alerted political analysts to the need to examine the emergence of the threat perceptions of terrorism.
Putting the issues in perspective, the major objective of terrorist violence is to instil anxiety in a target population; this anxiety places pressure on political elites to negotiate and make concessions with the terrorists in order to mollify the frightened citizens (Friedland and Merrari 1985).
Long argues that terrorists often use the unreasonable fear and the resulting political disaffection it has generated among the public to intimidate governments into making political concessions in line with its political goals (Long 1992,5). Wardlaw, in a specific definition, refers the act of terrorism to the use or the threat of use, of violence by an individual or a group, whether acting for or in opposition to established authority. Such action is designed to create extreme anxiety and/or fear-inducing effects to a target group larger than the immediate victims. The purpose is to coerce that group into acceding to the political demands of the perpetrators (Wardlaw 1982, 16).
The U.S government defines terrorism as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience (U.S Department of State 2001, 13).
A question arose as to why the threat perceptions of terrorism emerged. Rogers argues that most colonial powers used terror tactics to maintain control of colonies, especially during the early phases of colonization. It is also in response to the demands for independence in the early post-war years.
State terrorism too did exist, taking the examples of Stalin’s Soviet Union in the 1930s and Mao Zedong’s China in the 1950s. The two states used a form of terrorism to defend their colonies (Rogers 2008, 174). Israel’s Irgun and Hagana (Zionist’s terrorist groups) also used the terror tactics in the historical massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948 to pursue the occupation in the Palestinian land (Saleh 2000, 104).
According to Rogers, terrorism was also used by sub-state actors to fight against the colonisation. Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in Northern Ireland was regarded as a terrorist organisation seeking to achieve united Ireland by a sustained campaign of violence (Rogers 2008, 174).
Sub-state terrorism can take place in different societies with various motivations and underlying drivers. Ahrari in “Why the Long War can and cannot be compared to the Cold War” argues that Al-Qaeda’s ‘global jihad’ waged against the U.S is a war of ideas, defining their fight with the U.S as a fight to defend “Islam” (Ahrari 2007, 283).
Some discontented and frustrated individuals or groups, due to their inability and limitations, had chosen the use of violence to bring changes aspired. This can also be a root cause of terrorism.
Democracy, with its limitations on the security forces, also provides opportunities for terrorism. Limited political participation and repressive government forces can also breed popular discontent for violence (Lutz 2010, 350). Financial gains can also be a cause of terrorism, besides others involving political, ethnic, ideology and religious causes.
Mursheed believes terrorism is one external factor that causes insecurity to the citizens in the Western world. Terrorism depicting Muslims was put under spotlight by many commentators and analysts.
In Europe, the threat perceptions of terrorism is compounded by the growth of the so called radical political Islam, which had emerged for two reasons. Firstly, due to the systematic disadvantage faced by Muslim groups including the economic discrimination in terms of jobs, higher unemployment rates, lower incomes, lower educational status and greater poverty. This is made worse by the documented negative perceptions amongst the majority (white European) population - the assumed threats to the European way of life and the dangers of violence posed by Muslim immigrants in their midst. Secondly, the solidarity of political Islam with the global Muslim causes, including the conflicts in Muslim majority areas outside Europe (Murshed 2011, 181).
There is a great deal of ‘hatred’ felt by a section of Muslims towards the Western civilisation. This is understandably so due to the effects of the global jihad declared by Osama bin Laden’s war against the U.S . Osama’s jihad was triggered by the U.S’s policies towards the Muslim countries, its support of un’Islamic’ regimes in the world of Islam and its unquestioning support of Israel, which had all caused enormous misery and innumerable deaths to Muslims. The attacks on the U.S as his response had consequently given negative perceptions about the Muslims by the non-Muslims, the majority of whom are in the Western countries (Murshed 2011, 182). Negative perceptions lead to discriminations, thus the hatred.
The Neo-Orientalism discourses on new barbarism and the imaginary ‘Arab Mind’ backwardness argue that the root cause of violence and terrorism is the product of backward cultures. Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations thesis critically led the argument why it was that Muslims were involved in far more inter group violence than people of other civilisation (Tuastad 2003, 593). The Islamic world was often depicted as opposed to all that was modern and irremediably autocratic in state relations, and Islamic militants is the product of ‘Islam’s failed encounter with modernity’ (Mgbeoji 2006, 858). These cultural stereotypes had strongly influenced the threat perceptions of terrorism among the citizens. This is further reinforced by the lack of psychological readiness and cultural qualities amongst the Arabs and Islamic world.
Yes, threat perceptions of terrorism are affected by cultural stereotypes as the orientalist discourses and media bias had successfully depicted the ugly side of the Muslims as promoters of terrorism and violence.
It is for intellectual discourses to uncover the truth about the fundamentals of Islam and the Muslim world. It is a known fact that all religions are against any form of violence and terrorism. One should understand that the Islamic scripture is open to interpretations , that Islam acknowledges and celebrates racial diversity, accepts the earlier religions as an article of faith, proponents towards inclusiveness and respects the non-Muslims either under its governance or otherwise. The practices of the prophet Muhammad, the earlier companions and later Muslim empires in Islamic history had always been vividly critical of the Muslims and non-Muslims relations. The fundamental Islamic theology which symbolises peace, justice and universality was being masked by acts of terror and rebels which are not in line with the Islamic laws. The responses of Al-Qaeda and other groups do not truly represent Islam.
The psychological distance and narratives of ‘we’ versus ‘others’ are hindrances to efforts to mitigate the threat perceptions. If the cry is reinforced by negative perceptions and assumptions, it simply creates a stereotype that leads to the strengthening of prejudices and a hardening of positions over a protracted period. It is not helpful in removing misunderstandings and finding the middle (grey) ground in complicated situations (Hall 2007, 73). The security and anti-terrorism policing approaches need to tackle both the intellectual and psychological burdens.
The threat perceptions of terrorism are tools to increase prejudice against the threatening out-groups and strengthen cause of ethnocentrism, intolerance and desire for retaliation (Grant and Brown 1995) in order to achieve political, economic and/or religious goals.
It is clear that terrorism will remain a major security threat for years to come. Security debates on the perceptions of threat inflicted by any dissident’s terrorist groups are ongoing and yet to combat terrorism is not an easy effort. There are too many targets. Terrorists have the advantage to choose targets that are not defended (Lutz 2010, 357).
Looking at terrorism from the perspectives of war, crime or disease is useful for analysis and pinpointing problems that occurred. Security measures dealing with terrorist threats are likely to require flexibility, and government security forces will have to change techniques as circumstances change.
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