10 Pages

Introduction: the ends of counter- terrorism


Chapter summary In Chapter 1, Bob de Graaff critically engages with the efforts to find an effective global counter-terrorism strategy. His overall argument is that such a strategy has thus far proved to be problematic and is probably impossible and may even be counterproductive. Al Qaeda, de Graaff argues, remains a strong and vital presence. Part of its strength derives from its combination of global and local elements; its ability to fight both the ‘near enemy’ and the ‘far enemy’. Global, or Western, attempts to pursue a global counter-terrorism strategy, de Graaff argues, have been blighted by a range of problems. A more appropriate response, he suggests, would be one which was sensitive to local contexts and grievances. The outlines of something like this (an approach of ‘leading from behind’ through a ‘tailor-made micro approach’) can be identified in Obama’s more recent counter-terrorism strategy but this too is not without problems. The West may struggle, de Graaff suggests, to find victory in the global counter-terrorism fight, but by avoiding the mistakes of a totalising, but ultimately ‘un-strategic’, campaign, it may be able to deny victory to Al Qaeda and its associates. In Chapter 2, Charlotte Heath-Kelly engages a question of fundamental importance in relation to counter-terrorism, yet one too infrequently asked: what, precisely, does counter-terrorism (seek to) do? Taking inspiration from continental political theorists including Lacan and Žižek, Heath-Kelly pulls our attention to the ritualistic and symbolic aspects of political life, arguing that counter-terrorism is concerned with the continued performance of political authority. For her, terrorism constitutes a problem to the state’s political authority not because of the threat it poses to human life, which is far lower than other types of harm. Rather, because terrorism represents an attempt to disrupt the existing order by articulating a vision of a radically different politics. This is why, she argues, counter-terrorism policies now supplement moments of extraordinary force with more pervasive, pre-emptive strategies that are designed to target, suppress and remake those individuals who are deemed a risk to the status quo. To illustrate, Heath-Kelly connects the Italian dissociation process of the 1980s with contemporary counter-radicalisation programmes at work in the UK and elsewhere. These, as she argues, target those ‘at risk of being risky’, prohibiting the circulation of dangerous ideas as much as actual, corporeal, violence. Chapter 3, by Kathryn Marie Fisher, pulls our attention to the ways in which counter-terrorism powers are legitimated within political discourse and the identity claims enacted therein. Focusing on the United Kingdom’s efforts to counter different forms of terrorism from the 1960s onwards, the chapter concentrates in particular on the importance of assertions about time and space in the (re)production of the British self and terrorist other over this period. Drawing, in part, on postcolonial theory, Fisher reveals how the use of ‘international’ as a prefix for terrorism has been central to differentiating contemporary forms of terrorism from prior – and ongoing – threats which could equally have been described thus. This prefix, she argues, has helped construct ‘Islamic’ types of terrorism as both more foreign and more threatening to the British self than ‘Irish’ terrorisms.