Tom – GSAL Alumnus (2019 Leaver)
Editor’s Note: Former student Tom (2019 Leaver) was an editorial member of Salutaris, the Sixth Form academic journal, during his time at GSAL. This insightful essay was originally published in Salutaris 2019, a project led by Mrs Gray, E-Learning Designer. CPD
For many humans in the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have a voice amongst the hundreds of millions of people surrounding them. There is not a single country in the world which has perfect equity or absolute freedom of speech. It is highly likely, however, that every single country in the world has conflict of interests in almost every segment of their nation, be it religious, political, or wealth inequality, amongst hundreds of pressing issues. The western world prides itself on seemingly managing these issues to an acceptable extent. There has not been a civil war in Europe for over 20 years, going back to the 1997 revolt in Albania and the Troubles in Ireland in 1998, supposedly marking the end of violent internal conflicts within nations, at least on the surface.
However, whilst open conflict may not exist with any banners or flags, there is a form of violence that simmers beneath the surface in almost every country, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Much of this violence is classified as terrorism, “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.
Terrorist incidents are incredibly diverse in terms of the type of attack, but all are united in their shared ambition to establish a culture of fear amongst their targets, with the primary intention of creating political uncertainty to exploit. Ultimately, a terrorist event can be analogised as a show, designed to maximise the effect of what has occurred. Terror groups use audio-visually impressive methods such as car bombs and loud explosions the same way movie directors use them: to enhance the scene and draw attention to what the group want the audience to be looking at. For example, a potential terrorist plot to fly a jumbo jet into an American nuclear power station was deemed unsuitable by the organisation themselves, partly due to the security factor, but mostly because the area was remote and would unlikely be televised, despite the damage potential it had. Instead, the target was changed to the twin towers in New York, on September 11th, 2001 in order to provide the world with a “spectacle” befitting the severity of the message that Al-Qaeda wished to send.
In terms of terrorism changing in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a huge increase globally, but not necessarily in western countries. The rise of jihadism has had catastrophic effects on the geopolitical security of several countries in the past two decades: Iraq, Syria and Sri Lanka, who have all been severely repressed in their bids to develop as societies because of terrorism. However, whilst initial levels peaked in 2016, terrorism has been on the decrease two years in a row since then, which shows significant promise for the future.
Finally, looking past the numbers of the various death tolls and casualty lists, you see the true devastating effect terrorism has on a population; for every man, woman and child’s life claimed by terrorist acts, dozens more are impacted upon by their loss. Furthermore, a culture of uncertainty is established where no-one can truly feel safe. It is very important to take this into account when measuring severity, because it disrupts the social norm of everyday life in such a way that armed conflicts and world wars are unable to do.