Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalisation by Jaideep Saikia and Ekaterina Stepanova (eds.)
The book under review is a rare book that begins by attempting an unambiguous definition of the complex phenomenon of terrorism. The editors in a jointly written ‘Introduction’ bring definitional and conceptual clarity to their effort of bringing into one set of covers patterns of internationalization attending domestic, regional, and global instances of terrorism. Saikia and Stepanova have utilized their academic linkages to commission an international set of contributors enabling readers to engage with authors from nine countries writing of the experience of six countries, three regions, and of global transnational terrorism.
The editors define terrorism as ‘politically motivated violence against civilians carried out or threatened in an asymmetrical manner, that is, in order to create a disproportionately high political effect to exercise pressure on a more powerful opponent that is usually the state’. This helps dispel the subjectivity and political interpretations that attend the term serving to obfuscate it and commandeer it to motivated purposes of the user. Clarifying typology, they go beyond the well-worn distinction between domestic and international terrorism. Into the volume, their contributors bring out the internationalization that attends even domestic terrorism in terms of bases, funding, arms supplies, neighbouring state intervention in the form of proxy war, and political linkages. Interest in the aspect of internationalization, despite the higher incidence and human costs of domestic terrorism, owes much to the manner in which the global media enhances the intended destabilizing effect; internationalization is an increasing activity; and lastly the distinction between the two – domestic and international – is becoming blurred. Any strict demarcation no longer possible, the book attempts to offer a solution by ‘testing it against a wide range of empirical cases culled from different political contexts and regions’. The additional methods of classification of terrorism discussed in the book include motivation (socio-political; nationalist; religious) and functional factors as integration of terrorist group goals, interests, and agendas. Summation is in favour of local/regional terrorism internationalized to an extent and truly transnational terrorism with unlimited goals in the global context. Consequently, in the judgement of the editors, the ‘complex, elusive, and increasingly disturbing’ inter-relationship between the two otherwise autonomous levels of terror makes for ‘a far more difficult challenge’ for the ‘international community and nations’. The book is organized into two parts. The first deals with the more traditional cases of internationalization in which goals do not go beyond local or national contexts. This part comprises chapters on the sub-nationalist conflicts involving the Irish Republican Army and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), left wing insurgencies in Latin America and Nepal, Islamist terror groups in Bangladesh and Kashmir. The second part is on the advanced stage of internationalization and transnationalization. This includes chapters on India’s Northeast, the role of the Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, the Hamas, and lastly the epitome of a transnational organization, the Al Qaida. The book further carries a short brief on Mumbai 26/11 prepared by Saikia and another knowledgeable Northeast hand, Subir Bhaumik; a consolidated bibliography running into 21 pages; information on contributors; and a useful index. The font size and production values being adequate, the book is a recommended read, more for the cognoscenti than a lay reader. This reviewer has two observations on the direction of analysis. The first is at the global level relating to the transnationalization of Islamism incorporated in the book on its discussion on the contribution of the ongoing global war on terror on internationalization of local armed conflicts. The analysis, however, can be developed further in case the locus of the Al Qaida is recognized as lying in the Arab post-colonial experience. The energy security-related domination of the West amounting to a neocolonial embrace of the region is the primary motivation for the Islamist counter. The term ‘terror’ for their action is part of the battle for control of the information domain between the two contestants. The anti-state ideology of the movement – described as a quest for Caliphate – owes much to the need to meld the region across artificial boundaries presently dissecting the region into weak states run by manipulable regimes. The political element that informs the Al Qaida carries legitimacy in the post-colonial discourse. Since energy security is taken as a vital national interest by the US-led West, there is no alternative to violence to counter the same. The Bush years, in which the neo-con agenda was military imposed, has helped further transnationalization. The manner in which the global war on terror, initially begun with the promise of ‘infinite justice’, has unfolded, provides the rationale and legitimacy that the means and methods of terror may lack. The second observation is with respect to the South Asian region. Saikia’s chapter is of interest for bringing to the fore the complexity to the Northeast problem lent by the changing demographic profile of parts of the region. That the author makes the phenomenon appear to be a strategic act on the part of Bangladesh makes the issue more compelling. As the editors point out, ‘poor and politically speculative analysis . . . leads to inaccurate threat assessment, misguided policy decisions and public perception’, so gaining the correct perspective on this aspect would be necessary to tackling it appropriately. Likewise the linkages with Pakistan of the home-grown urban terror witnessed across India, averred to in the book, require tempering in light of the increasing, if currently insufficient, knowledge on the terror attacks being a form of ‘black propaganda’ – terror implicating some other groups, in this case a Muslim terror group, the Indian Mujahideen – by Hindutva groups. The editors need to be congratulated for presenting readers with a perspective, even if one that is contested here, on an important dimension of a complex subject. The collaboration across continents of the editors – Saikia, a terrorism and security analyst, and Stepanova of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – is a continuation of their earlier engagement over a UN University project. Such transcontinental networking would help keep the centre of gravity of international relations and strategic theory in sync with the global shift of power to Asia.