Writer Eryn Browning discusses the possibility of the eradication of extremist movements and terror groups.
Terrorism can be defined as any illegal violent act carried out in order to further a political goal. In the two decades since 9/11, terrorism has been becoming an exponentally bigger threat in peoples’ minds – shaping views on war, security, freedom and religion – however often these shifts in opinion have been reactionary and bigoted. Now, 20 years on from the attack that changed global politics for so long, we feel it is important to ask: is it possible to entirely eliminate the threat of terrorism so that a similarly negative shift in public opinion never happens again? And if so, how might the world look after such a transformation?
To determine what a world after terrorism would look like, we need to question if it is even possible to eliminate terrorism in the first place. This is a tricky question: technically, if we made terrorism legal, it wouldn’t be terrorism anymore, and alternatively, if we could eliminate violence by removing free will, terrorism also would cease to be a threat – but that also doesn’t seem like a very good option.
The definition of terrorism also doesn’t appear to match up with what is and is not recognsied as terrorism. For example, the USA hasn’t formally declared war on any nation since 1942, making all US invasions after then illegal under the Hague convention of 1907 (III) Article 1, which clearly reads: “The Contracting Powers recognize that hostilities between themselves must not commence without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of a reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war.” Despite this, there are few who would argue that the Korean or Afghanistan wars were terrorist acts in and of itself, despite them being illegal, violent and in pursuit of the US’ political goals.
When asking what a world after terrorism means, we tend to imagine an end to organised non-state-affiliated terror groups, which is a similar, but different concept. These can clearly be eliminated, because unlike the nebulous view of “terrorism”, these are tangible threats that can be dealt with. The elimination of Hezb-e Islami as a militant force in 2016 after they signed a peace deal with the Ghani administration shows this perfectly. Unfortunately, doing this on a global scale with every group both known and unknown would require a prolonged and united world front against all forms of violent extremism.
“When asking what a world after terrorism means, we tend to imagine an end to organised non-state-affiliated terror groups…”
So what would a world without organised terror groups look like? Well, without so-called “Islamist” terror groups, we could hopefully assume that Islamophobia would be reduced. Evidence shows that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes per year is strongly tied to terrorist attacks by these groups, with hate crimes against Muslims rising 1617% from 2000 to 2001 after 9/11, with this number rising even higher in 2016, a year which saw major terrorist attacks in Brussels, Nice and Ataturk, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Additionally, without the threat of violence from organised terror groups, individual freedom would likely increase. In response to 9/11, the US Government introduced The USA-PATRIOT Act (“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act). This act gave a range of additional powers to law enforcement when dealing with suspected terrorists, including, but not limited to, the ability to search a property without a warrant or consent from the owner, confiscate any and all property deemed suspicious, prevent suspects from talking to media about their case, and read the contents of any and all communications a suspect has. Whilst the Patriot Act itself was scrapped in 2015, these exact same provisions were reinstated by the USA Freedom Act of the same year. Both Acts were instated with the express aim of targeting international terrorism, thus without international terrorism being a majorly pressing threat in the public eye, it would be impossible for the US Government to justify these violations of privacy, and it would be near impossible for any other government to establish anything similar. Unfortunately, the UK’s equivalent to the Patriot Act, the UK Civil Contingencies Bill 2012, could possibly survive the extinction of all terror groups, as it was introduced to give law enforcement emergency powers in “an event or situation which threatens serious damage”, which is a tad too vague.
“…without the threat of violence from organised terror groups, individual freedom would likely increase…”
We could also hope to see the number of extremist attacks fall if domestic terrorist groups like the UK’s Combat 18, or the Proud Boys in the USA, would no longer be around to allow for organised assaults on minorities. The Capitol Hill riot early this year showed the danger of far-right domestic terror groups such as the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, or QAnon, with five people dying and over 140 people being injured. If we could eliminate groups like these, known for promoting extremism and fuelling violence, we can assume, then, that extremist violence would at least decline in their absence. These groups would also be easier to eliminate than overseas terrorist cells: there would be no need to declare war on said group before launching an offensive.
“The Capitol Hill riot early this year showed the danger of far-right domestic terror groups…”
Without hateful terror groups intentionally spreading misinformation, we could also hopefully see discourse become more open, constructive, and productive. Evidence of these groups spread false facts can be seen in the Wi-Spa incident protests in July, during which right-wing journalist Andy Ngo – who has links to violent far-right group Patriot Prayer – blamed Antifa (which he mistakenly believed to be a group) for violence which was later found to have been perpetrated by Ngo’s fellow right-wing protestors. Yet even after this was discovered, Ngo continued to insist Members of Antifa had been responsible, further illustrating the far-right’s desire to create a divide between people.
When asked what a world without terrorism would look like, it is only practical to ask about eliminating organized terror groups, as individuals cannot all be controlled. In the event of all terrorist groups being successfully eliminated, it is likely that we would see a fall in religious bigotry, an increase in civil liberty, a fall in extremist violence, and a fall in misinformation being spread. However, there are, of course, a myriad of other changes to the world that could take place relevant to this discussion, showing that this conversation is far from over.