Terrorism in International Society: An Eclectic Perspective

Date01 April 2016
Published date01 April 2016
Subject MatterReview Essay
AIA 3.1.indb Review Essay
Terrorism in International
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
Society: An Eclectic
3(1) 90–101
2016 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015626053
Samuel Makinda1
Colin Wight. 2015. Rethinking Terrorism: Terrorism, Violence and the State.
London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 256 pp. ISBN: 978-0-230-57377-2.
Charles R. Lister. 2015. The Islamic State: A Brief Introduction
. Washington, DC,
USA: The Brookings Institution. 110 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8157-2667-8.
Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams. 2015. Inside Australia’s
Anti-terrorism Laws and Trials
. Sydney, Australia: University of New South
Wales Press. 238 pp. ISBN: 9781742231310.

As I was about to conclude this review essay, agents of the Islamic State of Iraq and
al Sham (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State, carried out co-ordinated attacks in
Paris on 13 November 2015, in which more than 130 people died. The French
President Francois Hollande characterized the attacks as a start of the war with the
terrorists. About 14 years earlier, following Al Qaeda’s attacks on the US on
11 September 2001 (hereafter 9/11), the then US President George W. Bush
responded by launching the ‘global war on terror’, which has not ended. Before
attacking Paris, ISIS had used a suicide bomb in Beirut on 12 November 2015,
killing 43 and wounding 239 people. In late October 2015, the same group bombed a
Russian airliner flying from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh to Moscow, killing 224 people.
These ISIS activities, within a matter of a few days, in addition to other attacks in
Turkey, Syria and Iraq, have illustrated that the group remains the most dangerous
non-state military actor the world has seen in a long time. They have also raised
important questions as to whether governments around the world fully understand
what is going on in the area of terrorism. Are global institutions equipped to deal
with these dangers?
1 Professor of International Relations and Security Studies, Murdoch University, Australia.
Corresponding author:
Samuel Makinda, School of Management and Governance, Murdoch University, WA 6150, Austarlia.
E-mail: s.makinda@murdoch.edu.au

Makinda 91
The three books under review present very useful material on the relationships
between security, terrorism and counterterrorism. They also provide great insights
on the relationships between the modern state, violence and governance. And
most importantly, they raise questions about relations between terrorism, counter-
terrorism and human rights.
This essay adopts an eclectic theoretical approach, which enables me to enrich
my analysis by utilizing insights from three paradigms: realism, liberalism and
constructivism (Makinda, 2000; Sil & Katzenstein, 2010). The essay goes beyond
the three books reviewed here and revolves around three hypotheses. The first is
that terrorism and recent counterterrorism measures have had negative effects on
security. The second is that while terrorism and counterterrorism may pose a threat
to institutions, the former are themselves products of institutions. Accordingly,
I posit that terrorism and the ‘war on terror’ should be regarded as two sides of the
same coin. The third is that since security, terrorism and counterterrorism are
embedded in institutions, the ‘war on terror’ is essentially a struggle between
competing manifestations of institutional effects. To substantiate these hypotheses,
the essay analyzes institutions, redefines security and its link to institutions, explains
terrorism and relates it to institutions, and examines the connections between coun-
terterrorism and institutions. I start with a summary of the three books.
The Texts
Colin Wight’s book, Rethinking Terrorism, provides an excellent analysis of the rela-
tionship between the modern state and violence. It is theoretically inclined and makes
three important points. The first is that the modern state and violence ‘are inextri-
cably linked’ (p. 4). The state was established through violence and has continued to
inflict violence in order to maintain its dominance as the main international actor
(pp. 17–41). Wight argues: ‘The modern state was born out of violence and … is
defined in terms of it being the sole source of the legitimate use of violence in society’
(p. 4). From this perspective, the state and terrorists share one attribute, namely, the
proclivity to use violence. However, while the state’s use of violence to pursue its
goals is considered legitimate, the use of violence by terrorists is illegitimate.
Another major point in Rethinking Terrorism is that terrorism is a form of
political communication. Extremist groups or individuals and their opponents use
terrorism to communicate their messages. Wight says: ‘When groups, or individ-
uals, seek to use terrorism as a tactic the aim is to convey a political message’
(p. 2). He further explains: ‘To accuse someone of terrorism serves to label not
only that specific act as beyond the pale, but also constitutes an attempt to delegit-
imize the cause that led to it’ (p. 2).
Wight’s third major point is that the concept of state terrorism does not add
anything to our understanding of violence perpetrated by states (pp. 123–147).
He argues: ‘Nothing is gained, and much lost, by talking of state terrorism’ (p. 15).
Beyond these three points, Wight analyzes various kinds of protest against the
state, discusses the structures of organizations that resort to terrorism, and examines
the challenges posed by Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 3(1)
Charles Lister’s The Islamic State provides a window into the emergence,
organization and brutality of ISIS in the past decade. The book shows that while
ISIS became prominent in the West only in June 2014 when it declared the caliphate
after capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, its roots go back to the period
before the US invasion of Iraq. Lister traces the evolution of ISIS from its
formation in Afghanistan in 1999 following the release of its Jordanian founder
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from prison, its transplantation into Iraq, and its earlier
identities as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Islamic State in Iraq
and the Levant. By occupying large areas of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has gone further
than most terrorist groups in recent history. However, the manner it has gone
about establishing a state and a government over a particular territory is not
unique in history.
The Islamic State demonstrates how ISIS success has been enhanced by at
least three factors. The first is the use of several forms of warfare. With heavy
and sophisticated weapons captured from the fleeing Iraqi troops, it has the
capacity to withstand an attack from its opponents. It has also trained many
supporters who have resorted to suicide bombing and its mobility has been
enhanced by machine-gun mounted pick-ups and motorcycles. The book claims
that the continued success of ISIS will partly depend on the group ‘operating as
an organization of well-trained, ideologically motivated and ruthless fighters’
(p. 27). The second factor has been its sophisticated use of social media. While
some analysts claim...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT