Orthodox Terrorism Theory

Some points from ‘The Impact of Orthodox Terrorism Discourses on the Construction of the Liberal Peace: Internalisation, Resistance and Hybridisation’ (2007) by Oliver P. Richmond and Jason Franks fascinated me. In a diagram from their Working Paper, it conceptualises “conflict” and “peace” on a continuum, as most people would have imagined. But the continuum moves from an Orthodox Terrorism Theory (where Afghanistan was cited as an example), to a Moderate Terrorism Theory/ Conflict Theory (where the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Nepal fall under), to the Conflict/ Liberal Peace Theory (where Northern Ireland epitomises). Click on image below to view in full screen.

Admittedly, I have been rather hesitant in reading from Peace/Conflict/Terrorism Studies partly because it’s a completely new discipline to me, but partly, and ashamedly, I have very little knowledge of world/political/historical affairs. It was probably due to my hatred for History when I was in Secondary 2, after which I dropped the subject and focused on Geography. But personal baggage aside, Richmond and Franks’ article got me interested, somewhat — probably made more relevant to me now because I will be pursuing a peacebuilding project with an NGO in Afghanistan shortly.

According to the authors, there are 3 pillars within this theory.

(i) Functional

The Functional pillar of orthodox terrorism theory relates to the belief that terrorism is intended to “provoke a response [by the state] to further the [terrorist] cause by strategic manipulation.” [Source in footnote 28 but not listed here] This is a central concept and suggests that the aim of the act of terrorism is to force a reaction, hopefully an over-reaction by the established power centre, governing authority or state against the instigators, their supporters and even the population in general. (p.9)

The intention of the terrorists (according to orthodox terrorism theory) is to undermine the security of the population by demonstrating that the state is unable to provide adequate protection and therefore force the population to turn to alternative sources such as the instigators of the terrorist violence to provide security and alternative governance. (ibid.)

(ii) Symbolic

Orthodox terrorism theory uses this concept of symbolism
to explain an act of terrorist violence as being highly symbolic and an attempt to terrorise, intimidate and strike fear into the those against whom the violence is directed, (even if they are not the actual physical recipients of the violence). (p.9)
An example of the suggested symbolic use of violence by
terrorists, which helps illustrate this argument, is provided Sun Tzu who suggests that in war the aim is to “kill one and frighten ten thousand.” (ibid.) [Footnote 33, not listed here]

(iii) Tactical

This can be understood in two ways, first as a limited means to achieve short-term gain, such as the exchange of hijack hostages for prisoners or a bank robbery to fund arms procurement. The second is as a tactical part of a long-term strategic initiative; this has its roots in the theories of revolution and guerrilla warfare [Footnote 38, not listed here]  by proponents such as Mao Tse-Tung [Footnote 39, not listed here] and Carlos Marighela.[Footnote 40, not listed here] They suggested that acts of terrorism should be part of the wider struggle for revolution or an initial stage preceding popular revolt. (p.10)

Here, I believe, is how the Taliban operate. But the critical questions at the end of the day would be: “What kind of peace are we envisioning for Afghanistan? Whose peace?”

In an earlier paper, “Understanding the Liberal Peace” (2005), Richmond warns:

All four strands of thinking about peace, from the victor’s to the civil peace, effectively nominate omniscient third parties which are then placed in a position to transfer external notions of peace into conflict societies and environments. The liberal peace depends upon intervention, and a balance of consent and coercion. All of this is measured against the liberal peace. Of course, the victor’s peace, the constitutional, institutional, and civil notions of peace, have been strongly influenced by pacificism [Footnote 21 not included here] in that they construct the use of force as either defensive or in the name of the liberal peace (hence its imperial and neo-colonial overtones). (p.3, emphasis mine).

So even as NGOs engage in peacebuilding projects in Afghanistan, the “peace” construed and defined by them and the ways in which they carry out their projects might be telling of a liberal peace initiative (or are they still stuck at the Orthodox Terrorism Theory?), which has been severely criticised in today’s Peace/Conflict Studies.

The new keyword to consider — and for me to grasp at a later stage — is “post-liberal peace“.

To download the 2007 working paper, click here.

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