Le’ Notes #30: The hard and soft of counter-terrorism efforts

This post briefly discusses the two major approaches to addressing terrorism, the “hard” and “soft” approaches.

“We could do this the easy way or the hard way,” said the CIA officer, preparing the standard operating kit for waterboarding.

If you’re a fan of the 24 TV-series or Zero Dark Thirty and the many other terrorism-related movies out there, you’d pretty much have a glimpse of how the United States handles terrorism: showing the terrorists who’s boss. The Bush administration was notorious for launching the War on Terror, a move which did kill Osama Bin Laden, but gave us ISIS with a vengeance and a century’s worth of problems in the Middle East.

Despite some of the successes of the War on Terror, it has often been criticised as being “counter-terrorist” rather than “counter-terrorism”. The former suggests a focused obsession on killing terrorists as opposed to addressing the larger, structural issues that gave rise to the “illness” in the first place. Thus, in the recent years, we’ve seen a “softer” approach to counter-terrorism. As opposed to invading Iraq and ordering drone strikes, the soft approach attempts to address terrorism as an issue that stems from extremist ideology. What needs to be attacked is the ideology, rather than the terrorists themselves.

Both approaches have their own merits and shortcomings, and that’s what I attempt to briefly discuss.

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Le’ Notes #29: Networks and social groups in radicalisation

This post discusses the role of networks and social groups in the radicalisation process.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a screening of Noor Huda Ismail’s latest documentary, Jihad Selfie. He documented the life of 17-year old Aceh boy, Akbar, who got a scholarship to study in Turkey and was inspired to join ISIS, highlighting the role of the internet and social media in expediting the recruitment process. It did open my eyes to the infinite potential of social networks as a pathway towards radicalisation.

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Le’ Notes #25: Challenges in studying terrorism

This post discusses the conceptual, methodological, and moral issues in studying terrorism.

Despite being a popular area of study, the study of terrorism itself has encountered many conceptual, methodological, and even moral issues. For starters, there are as many as 100 definitions of terrorism which differ from scholar to scholar or even institution to institution. It’s one of those problems that everybody knows what it is, but can’t agree on the exact details. The same goes for the terrorism “spin-offs”, such as radicalisation, violent extremism, non-violent extremism, etc. Aside from conceptual problems, the field also faces a number of methodological problems. There are many frameworks abound, but we still can’t pinpoint a near-exact formula of what leads to terrorism and what doesn’t. The same goes for the “spin-offs”. Furthermore, there is also a moral problem regarding the entire field. By studying terrorism and trying to explain it, are we not also morally implicated in condoning the acts?

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Le’ Notes #22: A toolkit for approaching counterterrorism studies

This post is mostly a summary — with additional commentary — of Rohan Gunaratna’s talk in his first session of the Terrorism, Intelligence, and Homeland Security module at RSIS.

The first thing that we need to distinguish is that there is the threat of terrorism and the response to terrorism. Like any good strategist, we need to know what exactly the threat is before issuing a response. It’s the same like answering a question. If we don’t know what the question is or what it wants from us, we can never arrive at an answer. This was exemplified correctly and hilariously in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when the pan-dimensional beings created Deep Thought to calculate the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life and the universe. But it turns out that the beings gave Deep Thought the wrong question, which resulted in the answer “42”.

So, we need to know what we’re facing and the responses that we have in our toolkit.

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