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Terrorism and Counterterrorism Trends

Even though terrorism has been recorded since historic times, it has been described differently. According to Jaspal, terrorism can be described as a tactic and strategy, a crime and a holy duty, or even a justifiable reaction to oppression and inexcusable abomination. He notes this that relative variance in definition about terrorism is attributed to the philosophical, political, and religious roots of terrorist activities in the world. The author points out to terrorism as has often been used as an effective tactic by the weaker side in a conflict. This is due to the fact that terrorist organizations are normally secretive in nature and small in size with no clear organization through which they engage in terrorist activities to defend against or deter the opponent.

As pointed out by Jaspal, some terrorist groups have seen the activity as a means of countering conflict without realizing the nature of threats they are faced with. In so doing, these terrorist organizations have mistaken the act of terrorism for criminal activity.  This has made terrorism to become increasingly common among those organizations that extremely pursue their goals around the world. However, despite terrorism popularity, various agencies responsible for countering terrorism have continued to strategize on their combat effort in order to eliminate the criminal activity evident around the world. By this, various states’ security agencies have tried to come up with suitable definition of the term terrorism that would enable them to counter its trend.

For instance, FBI describes terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population in furtherance of political or social objectives.” From such a definition, security agencies have been able to associate terrorism with a criminal act engaged to influence the audience beyond the immediate victim. However, Howard, Sawyer & Bajema point out that terrorism have increasingly shown the ability to adapt to rendered counterterrorism measures. However, terrorists have developed new tactics in their attack in order to improve the efficiency of their existing methods. This paper discuses the argument that terrorism and counterterrorism patterns have fundamentally changed since mid twentieth century.  

According to Jaspal, the new trends of terrorism seem to differ from the older ones. While in the ancient times, roots of terrorism were based on the acts of assassination, regicide, and tyrannicide, he notes the emerging trend as more lethal and destructive.This was evident during the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C, Islmailis-Nizari during eleventh through to twentieth century, and that of Ku Klux Klan criminal activities in U.S during 19th century. However, unlike the old trends, the author notes that the evident alarming changes in terrorism have demonstrated new adversaries, new motivations, and new rationales being deployed by terrorist organizations in order to increase their opportunities and capabilities of improving their activities.

As Howard, Sawyer & Bajema point out; the current trend of terrorism demonstrates an increase in lethality and ruthlessness either in death or destruction. Unlike the past where terrorism was rooted on philosophical, political, and religious factors, they note that the emerging terrorism trend seems to be motivated by the growth of religious influence and existence of lethal mass destructive weapons. According to Jaspal, traditional terrorist organizations were only contented in killing small population rather than embarking on operations that cause large-scale human and physical destruction. Recent terrorism activities have recorded greater casualties and infrastructure damage.  For instance, in 1970s, US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) only reported 8,114 terrorist incidents globally with 4, 978 and 6,902 deaths and injuries respectively. While the 2001, twin towers collapse due to international terrorism amounted to more than 6,347 deaths.

Howard, Sawyer & Bajema give out various reasons as to why today’s terrorism has increasingly become more lethal and destructive. First, they point out the desire by terrorist to get more and serious attention from the media and decision makers. They note that due to increased information outlets and competition by major media organizations, terrorists have also increased their level of violence in order to attract the attention they require thereby taking advantage of this sensationalism. Additionally, the ease in accessibility of the various means of terrorism such as bomb-making manuals through internet, bookshelves, and other media sources by anyone as an aspect of containing grievances or agenda he or she wishes for has also been partly responsible for this increase.

Second, terrorists have profited from their past experience. The act has enabled them to make alliances with rogue states that in turn provide them with small but more sophisticated and deadlier weapons. Additionally, they have been able to acquire Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) weapons in the emerging black market for these lethal materials. Howard, Sawyer & Bajema point out that NBC weapons are intrinsically seen by terrorists as indiscriminate. Such weapons have therefore motivated their activities of inflicting large-scale casualties.  Recently, Jaspal notes that terrorists have continuously used biological and chemical weapons due to the technological complications associated with nuclear weapons’ manufacturing.  This is because materials and tools that are required to make biological warfare agents are not only cheap, but are equally easily accessible. For instance, building up an operational biological laboratory can require as little as $10, 000 worth off-the-shelf equipment which can be housed even in a small room.

Finally, the growth of religious imperative in terrorism activities has influenced the new adversaries, motivation, and tactics evident in today’s terrorism pattern. Howard, Sawyer & Bajema point out that religion has been the prime motivator of terrorist activities. They note that the growth of religious terrorism has been contributed by the insurgence of Islamic fundamentalist, Jewish extremists, Christian right-wing groups, and millenarian religious cults. On the other hand, Zefar argued that most of these religious terrorist groups have engaged in moral lethal attack based on their belief that it is sacramental or divine duty which should be executed in order to achieve some theological demands. This was evident in 1993 bombing of New York City’s World Trade center by Islamic radicals.

Similarly, counterterrorism trends have changed drastically. According to Ersun, the first decade of twenty-first century has witnessed the emergence of new forms of counterterrorism as demonstrated by various states’ agencies. He notes that the new counterterrorism has been more of ideological-religious in its rhetorical outlook and deployed through an organized and structured network. He adds that the new counterterrorism operations have become more lethal and brutal in its methodology. As Howard, Sawyer & Bajema point out; the shift to ideological-religious discourse in handling terrorism has been influenced by conceptual transformation especially regarding the nature of terrorism. While terrorism was seen in the past by security agencies as an act of crime, the new ideological shift in its notion has rendered it an act of war.

Ersun notes that understanding the nature of terrorism as an act of war requires ideological justification. This justification has been used by states with strong religious constituencies such as Israel and USA in seeking out the religious basis for their fight against terrorism. As Ahmad points out, the West-led war on terror near the consensus of terrorism as an act of war as envisaged by strong religious states is not only untenable, but unethical. This is due to the fact that these states use such concepts in legitimizing their action against terrorists. This results into more death as compared to those killed by terrorists. Ahmed comparatively asserts that in using such ideologies in justifying their operations, it is clear that the counter-terrorist agencies areas well involving themselves in the practice terrorism.

Ahmed believes that countering-terrorism cannot be effectively achieved by tightening “Homeland security” and protecting the national interest, but can only be achieved by shaping humane world with human interests. This aspect seems to disillusion in the new trend of counterterrorism. Ersun points out that the emergence of new counterterrorism strategy has been based on normalizing extra-judicial means either by creating overt and covert extra-judicial domains or through enhancing legal black holes.  In so doing, torture at political, intellectual, and cultural level has been used by security agencies thereby resulting into increasing levels of extr-judicial killing of suspected terrorists.

Additionally, Ersun point out that the new counterterrorism security agencies have increasingly deployed lethal strategies. This has lead to large-scale casualties even among innocent civilians. According to him, this has been contributed to by the hardening of traditional counterterrorism targets and inability by security agencies to obtain precise technology and intelligence that can help improve their operations. Additionally, he notes that the current networking by security agencies in countering terrorism has enabled their operations to go beyond the judicial sovereignty of courts. This has seen contractual arrangements made between state institutions and private enterprises in ensuring that the fight against terrorism is addressed at the national and international level.


In conclusion, terrorism and counterterrorism activities have changed periodically. Terrorists have used the concept of terrorism as a criminal tool in seriously attracting attention of decision makers in addressing their grievances. Counter terrorists on the other hand have seen terrorism as more than an act of crime, but rather an act of war. However, both terrorism and counterterrorism on their effects results into massive destruction of property and killing of civilian population. It is important for security agencies to ethically improve on their intelligence, and weaponry in order to avoid indulging in activities that resemble terrorist actions.  States should also adhere to rightful ethical judicial processes in fighting against terrorism.

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