Getting to Grips with Global Terrorism

Author: Professor Michael Clarke

Period: January 2007 - March 2007

Getting to Grips with Global Terrorism

Professor Michael Clarke

Terrorism is as old as conflict itself. To terrorise innocent people has always been a way of putting pressure on their leaders to change policy. And to attack soldiers, policemen, government institutions, with bombs and assassinations is a way of striking at an enemy and claiming the moral authority of the soldier while doing it: "our bombings are the only effective tactics we have against our enemy," says the terrorist, claiming to be in a ‘war’ with government – whether government recognises it or not. There is no surprise in this. The real surprise is how easily it is forgotten by leaders under pressure.

So, much western policy since 11 September 2001 has mistaken a technique of conflict for a type of conflict; confusing an age-old tactic of many wars with a new species of twenty first century war. Washington declares flatly that ‘the enemy’ are now the terrorists, whether they operate in Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, or inside America. Britain, while it has never been comfortable with the rhetoric of a ‘global war on terror’, nevertheless defines terrorism as a major ‘threat’ to its safety and interests. Western relations with Pakistan become highly sensitive, the 2001 terror attacks on the Indian Parliament or the 2003 and 2006 bombings in Mumbai take on a new significance, and Putin’s Russia gladly accepts that Chechen terrorism is all one with the global enemy. When terrorism shapes the US security agenda, it also shapes, for that very reason, the agenda for much of the rest of the world.

It is easy to assume that the jihadis pose some sort of global threat. But is the Al Qaeda movement – its network of networks, its pyramids of hard-bitten professionals and dangerous amateurs – really something that poses a global challenge? Has it elevated terror from being merely a technique, into a defining identity among those who would engineer a world revolution to enforce their vision of salafist Islam and the rule of a new sharia Islamic order from Morocco to Indonesia? In its rhetoric, at least, it has. The jihadis war on western values, on Jews, Hindus, apostates in the Middle East, on shi’ite peoples in the Islamic world, on modernity, gays and women’s rights, don’t leave many of us out. If wishes were horses, jihadi spokesmen would ride a very long way. There is a genuinely global dimension, too, in the way terrorists of all persuasions now learn from each other. The most effective techniques are well-publicised across the global web. No image can be effectively suppressed, no declarations squeezed out of the system. The propaganda of the deed itself is ever-present; and no terrorist deed is a failure if it attains immortality in cyberspace.

Not least, there is a global dimension in the glamour and fashion that attaches to terrorism in the present era. It attracts recruits from all backgrounds and circumstances. Its conspiracies are exciting and it ‘franchises’ itself so that groups spring up claiming an allegiance that the professionals can accept or reject as they please. Suicide bombers are revered before and after their deaths, bound into the act with celebrity status, threats of shame and promises of paradise. With its use of all the technologies available in a globalised world, terrorism is both an ultra-modem, and a very traditional conspiracy.

All of this, however, is more gloss on the activity of terrorism than cause of it in the first place. AI Qaeda may have global rhetoric but its initiatives are driven by localised factors. This is generally understood in western society and for the last five years there have been constant calls to ‘deal with the root causes of terrorism’ within and between our societies. But this is chasing rainbows. Not only is it a practical impossibility–its not as if any of us could agree on what would have to change to satisfy the terrorist–but those who are attracted by the glamour and pornography of terrorism will continue to be terrorists as a lifestyle choice as much as a political one. Their activities have to be addressed in preventative measures: through public protection, intelligence penetration, disaster management. It requires good police work allied to good intelligence, and preferably between good international allies. But our real targets for the long term are not these individuals themselves but the wider public that might give jihadi terrorists the support that sustains them beyond the cycles of fashion and glamour.

Most western societies have lost much valuable time over the last five years. We have been fixated on what the terrorists do rather than on what they stand for. In a multi-cultural society as Britain now is, there has been a great reluctance to challenge the narratives that terrorists create and feed off. The elaborate conspiracy theories of systemic oppression of Muslim peoples, of global control by a cabal of Jews, of religious humiliation at every turn – all the stuff of cliched suicide videos – have gone largely unchallenged by the British government and by the majority of the population. It is not that there is any agreement with this view of the world, but rather that the majority opinion doesn’t really know where to start. It is easier to dismiss the wickedness of the individuals rather than challenge the legitimacy of their ideas.

This is the sense in which the jihadi movement is a significant global challenge. This is where America’s global war on terror, and the war that involves the rest of us, should concentrate its energies. In Britain, at least, there is a growing realisation among the political classes that we have now got to establish a robust dialogue among all our majority and minority communities. The callow narrative of the terrorists must no longer be allowed to run unchallenged. The British government is on the verge of establishing a ‘Joint Information Unit’ to try to influence this more robust perspective. In truth, governments can encourage such an approach but there is not much they can do to make it happen. Society itself must drive the desire to confront its truths and prevent its minorities falling into fear and self-pity. The media is crucial, the international atmosphere the backdrop of the whole enterprise.

Five years ago it would have been easier for governments to have a constructive influence on this difficult process. But in the West we analysed jihadi terror wrongly. The US rushed to war, the Europeans rushed to more draconian criminal legislation. We all ignored the effects on the ideas behind the jihadi movement and it made some spectacular propaganda gains as a result. Now America’s war on terror is in deep trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Europeans have felt the effects of ‘home grown terrorism’. There is a more sober appreciation of what we are up against. It is both less and more serious than we thought. Less serious in that jihadi terror can be contained, if never completely prevented; more serious in that it is still riding the crest of a propaganda wave that is genuinely global and to which we have only just begun seriously to turn our attention.


Professor Michael Clarke is head of department of Defence Studies at King’s College, London.


USI-ICWA UN Webinar Challenges of Mission Leadership in UN Peace Operations

USI is conducting a series of webinars on the UN themes in collaboration with ICWA Since 2021, for the cross-fertilization of ideas and generating policy recommendations for reforms and restructuring …

War Disabled Personnel of Indian Armed Forces: Challenges, Concerns and Aspirations

Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen sacrifice their lives & limbs for many reasons, like national, regimental and unit pride; high level of motivation; courage; call of duty; and above all the understanding that …

Major Navdeep Singh: USI War Wounded Foundation Event

Talk by Maj Navdeep Singh, Author and Legal Luminary Need for Formulating a ‘War Disabled Persons Special Disability (WDPSD’s) Act’ for War Disabled Personnel and its Important Components.

38th USI National Security Lecture

The 38th USI National Security Lecture was delivered by Lt Gen Raj Shukla, PVSM, YSM, SM, ADC on Wednesday, 13 April 2022 at 1100 h (IST) at the United Service Institution of India. 37th National Se…

'Is The New Cold War a Myth or Reality'?

A talk on 'Is The New Cold War a Myth or Reality'? by Mr Atul Singh, Founder, CEO & Editor-in-Chief Fair Observer, USA scheduled at the USI, New Delhi on Wednesday, 23 Feb 2022 from 1100 to 1300 H (I…

UN Peace Operations: Women, Peace and Security

Along with the decline in inter-state conflicts and a sharp increase in intra-state conflicts in the last two decades, there is a consequent increase in the casualties to innocent civilians. Taking no…

National Security Policy of Pakistan (NSPP) 2022-2026

USI is conducting a panel discussion on the ‘National Security Policy of Pakistan (NSPP) 2022-2026’ on 07 Feb 2022 from 1100 h to 1300 h.

FRONTLINE COMMANDER: The Military Biography of the Late Lt Gen Jaswant Singh, PVSM, AVSM


37th National Security Lecture: The Chinese Challenge - Its Many Dimensions and India's Options

Shri Maroof Raza, a well know commentator on strategic security and military issues will deliver the lecture on 24 Nov 2021 at 1100 hrs at the USI. The focus of the talk will be the geo-strategic as w…

Indian Military Operations Mukti Bahini & the BSF Salient Factors in the Liberation of Bangladesh

Shri VK Gaur and Lt Col BB Singh with Dr Sanjeev Chopra (based on VK Gaur’s book Yoon Janma Bangladesh) Chair: LS Bajpai

Naval Operations Beyond Naval Blockade Valley of Words 2021

Sandeep Unnithan in conversation with Admiral Anup Singh - Valley of Words 2021.

Air Operations Experience of First Heliborne Operation Valley of Words 2021 1080p

Sqn Ldr Rana Chinna in conversation with Sqn Ldr Pushp Vaid, VrC

Air Operations Air War in the West Valley of Words 2021 1080p

AVM Manmohan Bahadur in conversation with Jagan Mohan (Unheralded operations by Vampires, 'Texan' Harvard, Canberras and An-12)

Stories of Valour Narration of stories of valour by Maroof Raza Valley of Words 2021

Narration of stories of valour by Maroof Raza. Maroof Raza talks of forthcoming book The Contested Lands (India-China border dispute) - Valley of Words 2021

Managing Future Conflicts Role of World and Regional Fora Valley of Words 2021

Ambassador Asoke Mukerji and Maj Gen Dhruv Katoch Moderator: Lt Gen JS Lidder original video can be accessed from:…

Perceptions India’s Compulsions and Outlook on East Pakistan Objectives and Strategy

Shri Iqbal Malhotra in conversation with Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma and Maj Gen Ian Cardozo - Valley of Words 2021

Perceptions Western Pakistan’s Designs on East Pakistan Campaign, Objectives and Strategy

Lt Gen PJS Pannu in conversation with Christine Fair and Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Contribution of Indian Cinema in Infusing Patriotism Valley of Words 2021

Lt Gen PJS Pannu and Maroof Raza in conversation with Shri JP Dutta (producer, director, filmmaker) and Nomination of Bollywood film Border on 1971 War. Original video can be accessed from: https://w…

Diplomacy and Statecraft Perceptions Information and Media Operations Valley of Words 2021

Lt Gen PJS Pannu in conversation with Sir Mark Tully, Subroto Chattopadhyay and Vishnu Shankar (Editor, TV9 Network) Original video can be accessed from :…

USI- FO Live: Evolving Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific Region

The United Service Institution of India (USI) and Fair Observer present a panel discussion on the evolving geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. Lately, the AUKUS Deal has added another twist to th…

𝐒𝐓𝐑𝐈𝐕𝐄 𝐖𝐞𝐛𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐫 on Buyout Sino Pak Collusivity Implications For India Maj

STRIVE a Lucknow based National and Defence Security Studies Centre organised a Webinar in collaboration with Military Literature Festival, Lucknow on a highly sensitive and contemporary issue the “B…

Can India and Pakistan Take Steps Towards Rapprochement

In this episode Major General BK Sharma (Director - United Service Institution of India) and Lt. General Asad Durrani (Former Director General ISI, Pakistan talks with Analyst Arvind Saharan on Indi…

𝗨𝗡 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗲𝗸𝗲𝗲𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗢𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀: 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗖𝗶𝘃𝗶𝗹𝗶𝗮𝗻𝘀

Over the past few decades, inter-state conflicts waned but there has been an increase in Intra-state conflicts. In any conflict, the innocent civilians are the ones who suffer the most. But the suffer…

Valedictory Address by CDS General Bipin Rawat PVSM UYSM AVSM YSM SM VSM ADC

Valedictory Address by CDS General Bipin Rawat PVSM UYSM AVSM YSM SM VSM ADC The original video of the event can be accessed on the VoW youtube channel:…

Managing Future Conflicts Deterrence and Conflict Prevention: Valley of Words 2021

Major General Dhruv C Katoch, SM, VSM (Retd) in conversation Lieutenant General JS Lidder, UYSM, AVSM (Retd), Ambassador Asoke Mukerji, Shri Arvind Gupta and Lt Gen Prakash Menon PVSM, AVSM, VSM [Retd…


close slider

    All classes of membership except temporary membership and membership of Service Officers applying for Correspondence Courses being conducted by the USI, will be subject to approval by the Executive Committee. The following are ordinarily eligible to become members of the Institution, with full voting rights:-

    Read More