The aim of this paper is to present a close scrutiny of political attitudes that help in facilitating counter-terrorism measures. The task will be to determine which specific threat factors are more likely to influence counter-terrorism strategies by the government. In order to answer this question, the aim of this paper is to make an attempt in penetrating the mindset of key decision-makers to determine which anti-social activities are more likely to acquire the label of terrorism.
Therefore, it will be proven that counter-terrorism is nothing but a temporal response by the State in reflection of existing threat perceptions by the public, which are often based on deep-rooted fears that have little to do with reality. Governments, as in other areas of life, use counter-terrorism as a plank to appease their electorate. Managing the threat perception of the public is tied to domestic and international policies in counter-terrorism.
There are many ways domestic terrorism may be defined. Many political and law students consider terrorism to forever remain an unresolved and debatable issue (Pillar, 2003, p.12). Some believe that following the events of 9/11, the term has been so overused that it has almost become a catch-all pejorative to describe any matter which is of concern to the State and affects the security and the well-being of its citizens (Pillar, 2003, p.12). In other words, terrorism may imply some sort of disliked action associated with a political agenda.
In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the definition becomes even trickier. There goes a popular adage that one country’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Indeed, if one has to consider the various conflicts going on around the world, this definition holds true for the political establishment in any country. Terrorists, as per International law, are described as individuals, loose groups, political factions, etc, which execute acts of terrorism on the basis of some political cause (Hunsicker, 2006, p.130).
Now, we shall attempt to define counter-terrorism using the same logic as before. In the political realm, counter-terrorism is a collection of individuals representing federal or national governments who are assigned the task of engaging in a battle against terrorism (Hunsicker, 2006, p.131). They may include intelligence agents, private investigators, military personnel, or law enforcement officers working at a local level (Hunsicker, 2006, p.131).
In the United States, counter-terrorism has a very recent beginning, where previously, similar problems such as these were largely unknown or known by different names. For example, in the early part of the 20th century, anarchists operating under the Black Hand group targeted newly arrived immigrants in New York City (Hunsicker, 2006, p.131). In the recent past, the problem of domestic terrorism got a huge fillip due to the bombing incidents of the World Trade Center in 1995 by Ramzi Yousef, and the consequent 9/11 attacks.
It can be seen that in all of the aforementioned cases, if omitting the number of victims as a factor, the main distinguishing difference can be seen in the amount of media coverage those events received. Accordingly, such coverage determined the impact of the events on the society and the public opinion, an aspect which is stated to shape governmental policies more than policies are shaping public opinion (Page & Shapiro, 1983). The latter can be especially evident through different perceptions on the causes of a particular act.
Taking the previously mentioned example of the Black Hand group operating in the early part of the 1920th century, it can be stated that the only difference in deeming such act as an organized crime, rather than terrorism as in the case of World Trade Center, was in the media exposure that shaped the public opinion. Such public opinion subsequently influenced decision-makers, where in the first case, “the bombing served to affirm the virtues of the United States –its freedom, its toleration, its energy, its wide distribution of property” (Sorkin & Zukin, 2002, p. 51). In the second case, on the other hand, a wider media exposure that shaped the public opinion on the causes of the attacks, the motifs of the attackers, and their nationalities, caused a surge of patriotism. This patriotism was utilized by the decision makers, in this case Attorney General John Ashcroft, who built “support for his campaign against immigrants suspected of untoward terrorist connections” (Sorkin & Zukin, 2002, p. 52). Thus, such incidents were the first time in recorded history when the perceived threat of domestic terrorism captured the imagination of ordinary Americans in such a big way (Hunsicker, 2006, p.231).
What was once assumed to be a problem prevalent in other countries suddenly became the story which would go on to inspire movies, books, news articles and other forms of audio-visual media (Pillar, 2003, p.151). Ever since news incidents about terrorism hit the airwaves, every minor incident became the precursor of higher levels of threats that would be followed later. The government’s task in such a situation was to manage the fear perceptions of the public with a just and swift political statement where counter-terrorism would figure prominently to give reassurance to their state of panic. Indeed, ever since terrorism issues have become the staple diet of news channels, there has been greater public frenzy over terrorism issues that are not even remotely important to the discerning viewer.
Certainly, counter-terrorism responses can be shaped through political and safety conditions unique to specific countries. In Israel, for instance, the definition of terrorism has specific overtones which are unique to that country’s situation. In recent few cases, Israeli judges pronounced a “terrorist attack as any political act that promoted the achievements of political aims as part of the uprising in the West Bank to help realize the PLO’s objectives” (Burker, 2006, p.21). The emergence of such a definition followed several news incidents of suicide bombing attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups who oppose Israeli defense forces when there was a heightened state of alarm among the Israeli population regarding the terrorism situation, and its real impact.
In above scenario, there was an urgent need to evolve a firm and stringent counter-terrorism policy which would be upheld by all the major political parties of Israel because the public was seeing terrorism unfold on a daily basis (Burker, 2006, p.22). Since, Israel is a relatively small country with a small population, the number of terrorist attacks was considered significant in both numbers and intensity. Consequently, counter-terrorism measures had to include brute force suppression of terrorist groups, bombing of Hezbollah/Hamas training camps and a greater consensus had to be formed in the national polity to arrest suicide bombers before they could do maximum damage. Israeli media is largely unsympathetic to the genuine grievances of the Palestinian population. This indicates a high degree of synchronization between the government machinery and ordinary citizens, thus, drawing limits on the psychological impact of terrorism which has much more far-reaching impact than other forms of political discussions. It simply proves that counter-terrorism activity is directly influenced by the state of the mind of the public.
In the United States, ever since the 9/11 events, the public perception on the “War on Terrorism” has been largely shaped by media discourses on major news channels, the Internet, blogs, and newspapers. A consensus on the attacks on Afghanistan was developed following revelations that the senior leadership of the Al Qaeda terrorist outfit was the main driving force behind the attacks. Any future counter-terrorism policy had to accommodate an annihilation strategy for similar requirements. Thus, new legislation in the form of the Patriot Act came into being.
Some of the things which got increasing focus under the Patriot act include increasing surveillance on suspected terrorists through wiretaps and other clandestine activities, measures to curb money-laundering on American soil, increasing border security and better intelligence resources to arrest any chances of future terrorist attacks (Burker, 2006, p.46). In addition, an increasing need was felt to keep a tab on passengers travelling through international airports. The controversial issue of racial profiling of Arab and South Asian Americans arose in such a scenario but little was done to prevent such excesses. All of the latter can be assumed to serve other purposes, in addition to those related to counter-terrorism, whether they are related to political campaigns, passage of certain legislations, or other national problems such as illegal immigration.
The Bush government was allowed to sweep under the carpet some news events which could have easily generated conflict with human rights organizations and Amnesty International. Since managing public perception required a massive PR effort, the Department of Homeland Defense was set up to garner support in relation to the showcased war on terror. In counter-terrorism circles, having a firm political will backing intelligence efforts proves a moral boost.
Once the required undertaking on controlling terrorism became the norm in political circles, all political parties became equally competent in promoting the established rules of procedure regarding counter-terrorism. Weeding out terrorist activity through any means became the normal procedure.
In Conclusion: In this paper, our aim was to present a close scrutiny of political attitudes that help in facilitating counter-terrorism measures. The task was to determine which specific threat factors are more likely to influence counter-terrorism strategies by the government. In order to answer this question, the aim of this paper was to make an attempt in penetrating the mindset of key decision-makers to determine which anti-social activities are more likely to acquire the label of terrorism.
As it has been shown in this paper, through the examples of terrorism situations in Israel and the United States, it can be seen that counter-terrorism is nothing but a temporal response by the State which reflects existing threat perceptions by the public shaping its opinion, which are often based on deep-rooted fears that have little to do with reality. All governments that manage the PR effort in counter-terrorism only seek to observe and manage the fear perception of the public.
Burker, R. (2006). Counter-terrorism for Emergency Responders. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Hunsicker, A. (2006). Understanding International Counter-terrorism. Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers.com.
Page, B. I., & Shapiro, R. Y. (1983). Effects of Public Opinion on Policy. The American Political Science Review, 77(1), 175-190.
Pillar, P.R. (2003). Terrorism and US Foreign Policy. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
Sorkin, M., & Zukin, S. (2002). After the World Trade Center : rethinking New York City. New York: Routledge.