Our Changing Understanding of Terrorism

As a sage of my acquaintance (who has been in the game a lot longer than I have) noted at a recent conference on counter terrorism (I paraphrase):

“We used to think terrorism was about numbers: numbers killed, numbers injured, even numbers just inconvenienced in their daily lives. 9/11 put paid to that: there won’t be another terrorist attack that kills over 3000 people, not until a terror group gets its hands on a weapon of mass destruction or gets hideously lucky.

“We began to think that acts of terror were about exploiting the symbiotic relationship between terrorist groups and the news media in an increasingly interconnected and instantaneous information landscape as a force multiplier to offset the overwhelming advantages that governments, militaries and other big institutions have in a conventional confrontation. The line between terrorists and the media was often blurry in our eyes.

“But we are beginning to view acts of terror differently again. Terrorism should perhaps be seen as not being not about numbers or about headlines. Terrorism is about the response it draws out from institutions and from the individually terrorised members of the population. The symbiotic relationship to terrorists with which we used to tar the news media now exists equally between terrorist groups, institutions and populations as well.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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