Scholars debate how to fight terrorism

Terrorist groups mobilize supporters and legitimize and justify their acts of violence through the use of ideology. In the case of terrorism, ideology is transformed into a system of ideas that promotes the use of violence to bring about their desired societal change. In The Ideological War on Terror: Worldwide Strategies for Counter-Terrorism (Routledge, $145/$47.75, 285 pages), edited by Anne Aldis and Graeme P. Herd, scholars use case studies to formulate a strategy they call “counter ideological support for terrorism” (CIST).

With funding provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, the volume brings together experts from research institutes around the world to examine how governments are attempting to counter the use of ideology by radical Islamic groups such as al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Indonesian Jama al Islamiyya, and their counterparts in Central Asia, South Africa and South America.

Of particular interest are eight policy recommendations: (1) Accentuate the ideological alternatives to extremist ideologies; (2) understand the cultural aspects of how political extremists use ideology to justify their actions; (3) take actions to undercut the integrity of the extremist message; (4) fix problem areas that extremists exploit in expressing their grievances and polarizing populations against governments; (5) properly “package” the government’s counter-messages; (6) place countering ideology activities at the heart of the overall counterterrorism strategy; (7) base counter-ideology campaigns on appropriate intelligence and information components; and, finally, make such campaigns part of a broad international cooperation.

Despite the volume’s academic tone (it’s not easy reading), its analysis and recommendations will greatly benefit those involved in countering terrorists’ exploitation of ideology to justify their resort to criminal violence.

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Protecting a country’s population from terrorist incidents forms the basis for creating homeland security. America’s experience in homeland security is relatively new and was propelled by the horrific attacks of September 11, for which the government’s response was not sufficiently coordinated. One of the benefits of reading Leonard A. Cole’s Terror: How Israel Has Coped and What America Can Learn (Indiana University Press, $24.95, 264 pages) is learning about Israel’s approach to homeland security and the lessons that can help America better protect its citizens. For Israel, terrorist incidents are a weekly occurrence, even though most are thwarted. But due to the effectiveness of the government’s response, stress and anxiety are, as Mr. Cole writes, “overshadowed by determined resilience.”

Mr. Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University and author of a highly regarded book on the 2001 anthrax letters, is a frequent visitor to Israel as part of his job with a New Jersey Jewish community organization. This has afforded him contact and friendship with Israeli emergency management experts, which forms the basis for the insights contained in this book (for the sake of full disclosure, I have known Mr. Cole for several years).

Of special relevance is Mr. Cole’s discussion of “terror medicine” and disaster management, a distinctly Israeli innovation that integrates the medical management of a terrorist incident with knowledge about the spectrum of injuries that are unique to terror victims.

It’s an important discipline because different protocols and techniques are required to respond to terrorist events as opposed to other types of trauma incidents, such as road accidents or natural disasters. Due to the distinct features of a terrorist incident, such as the intentionality behind an attack, and the threat to emergency responders and health care providers at the incident site, “terror medicine” and disaster management require a new approach to preparedness — including managing the crisis and understanding the types of injuries that have to be dealt with and the psychological effects suffered by the victims and bystanders.

This well written, extensively researched and comprehensive book also examines other topics, such as the impact of terrorist incidents on the survivors and their families and differences between the Israeli and American approaches to mandating preparedness for and the management of a disaster incident. There is also coverage of exchange programs between Israeli and American emergency response counterparts, including an initiative to establish an International Center for Terror Medicine (ICTM), so that “terror medicine” can also inform U.S. efforts in this area.

Mr. Cole’s book is essential reading for all those involved in homeland security preparedness.

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What is the true nature of Syria, one of the Middle East’s most critically important yet problematic countries? Does the Syrian government represent a threat to regional stability, or can it become a partner for peace negotiations with Israel? In The Truth About Syria (Palgrave Mcmillan, $24.95, 304 pages), Barry Rubin attempts to answer these important questions by revealing the true nature of the Syrian regime.

Mr. Rubin, a Middle East expert, is an American who has settled in Israel, where he serves as editor of an Internet-based Middle East journal and writes a column for the Jerusalem Post newspaper. One only wishes that Mr. Rubin’s vantage point in Israel would have given his book unique insight and documentation into Syria’s real nature, but, alas, the book is based primarily on secondary sources such as newspaper articles, so there is nothing new.

The book covers familiar ground, such as Syria’s continuous attempts over the years to dominate neighboring Lebanon (including assassinating anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders), facilitating the shipment of military materiel through its territory to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, providing safe haven in Damascus to leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups and tolerating the movement of the Sunni insurgents across the Syrian border into Iraq. Moreover, much has been written about the unsuccessful attempts to reach peace between Israel and Syria, and about the domination of Syrian society and economy by the minority Alawi sect and its Sunni allies through their control of the country’s single party and the security and military services.

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