The following is my response to an essay question posed to me by my professor in a Study of Terrorism course I am currently in the middle of. I decided to share it with you as I felt it not only answers the question well but also articulates my growing concerns as I continue to study and report on this “War on Terror” we are in the midst of as a nation and international community.
I felt it was a good beginning to my desire and plan for BTYT to have an increased focus on terrorism and to investigate, analyze and report on the people and politics involved.
How Has September 11 Come To Symbolize A New Era of Terrorism?
The September 11 attack became a symbol of a new era of terrorism in a number of ways.
First it clearly proved the accuracy of a predicted trend toward asymmetrical warfare tactics used by terrorists (Martin 2014). This essentially turned the dynamic between terrorists and government from that of criminal and law enforcement agency to opponents in a war. This was indeed seen as a war as shown by the birth of the term “war on terrorism”.
However unlike a war between two sovereign nations this was a war between a tangible
entity, the government and an intangible phenomena, terrorism. Which raises new questions about what are the rules of engagement and how is victory determined (Martin 2014)?
Another clear indicator that a new era had indeed been entered, was the change of tone in how terrorism and our responses to it shifted from that of preserving a citizens safety to preserving a nations security and in some ways its sovereignty. This is clearly indicated by the establishment of the Patriot Act.
These above changes alone has been enough to cause understandable worry and debate
among citizens and government. While protecting the safety and rights of a citizen can at times require just as much aggression as we may see today from those in government and law enforcement, such aggression was tempered by the underlying intention to protect the rights of all citizens with her victim or perpetrator.
However when that underlying intention is replaced by a need to protect the government’s security and sovereignty, that aggression is no longer tempered but in many ways fueled. This in turn leads to the personal rights of the citizens being protected to fade into the background leading to many complaints (many justified) of rights being trampled and raising the question of how far is too far when acting in defense of your government.
If this alone wasn’t enough to inspire worry, anger and fear, then how much more are those emotions magnified and aggression further encouraged by the third and possibly most disturbing change indicating we are indeed in a new era of terrorism.
Terrorism has been the source of concern by government and its citizens for centuries.
However there has always been a certain solace taken by what was believed to be a core axiom in our understanding of terrorism (Hoffman 2002). Brian Jenkins articulated this axiom best when he observed that “terrorists want a lot of people watching and listening and not a lot of people dead” (Jenkins 1975). This conventional wisdom however was wiped clean by Osama bin Laden on September 11 (Hoffman 2002) . It now became clear to many that terrorists want a lot of people watching and listening AND a lot of people dead.
These above-mentioned shifts changed everything. Not just for America but for the
international community at large.
America has served as both a symbol of strength and conscience for many nations. Their example has been and continues to be emulated or debated. Regardless of which, America continues to influence and shape many nations and their interactions within themselves and with one another.
However these two virtues of strength and conscience are now clearly at war with each other and further complicating the above-mentioned underlying questions of what rules to guide our actions in this new kind of war and what does victory look like?
If by some miracle terrorism is eradicated from the earth but the cost was a nation that demanded we forever give up many of the rights we fought and died for and enjoy today; then who has won?
If we have raised bar of strength in both deed towards people and example to the world yet lowered the bar of conscience, then what has been won?
How different will the world be when our message of democracy and freedom is among the casualties suffered in this “war on terror”?
How terrifying, rather, how tragic would it be if future generations look back at this point in history and clearly see a nation who fought and bled and even died out of refusal to surrender even a shred of their rights and freedom to national sharia only to have instead surrendered all or most of both to national security?
This “war on terror” is very real, and very complicated. The stakes have never been higher because this “war on terror” is now being fought on two fronts; the terror within our borders and the terror within our hearts….. And the world is watching.
Hoffman, Bruce. “Rethinking Terrorism and Counterterrorism Since 9/11.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 25.5 (2002): 303-16. Print.
Jenkins, Brian Michael. International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict. Los Angeles, CA: Crescent Publications, 1975. Print.
Martin, Gus. Essentials of Terrorism: Concepts and Controversies. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2014. Print.