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What are the differences between the academic and the political view on international terrorism?

Seminararbeit 2001 14 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Frieden und Konflikte, Sicherheit










As a student of political science, who participated in the course United Nations International Student Conference of Amsterdam (UNISCA). I am supposed to write a final essay. This final essay is expected to combine the scientific perspectives from the syllabi during the preparation with the practical perspective that I gained in the actual conference.

In this simulation of the policy process in the United Nations (UN) I obtained the role of an Israeli ambassador, who had to cope with the issues of international terrorism, right to self-determination and the peaceful use of outer space in the 1st Committee.

Due to the events of 11th September, that might become a turning point in history, as many believe, most of the time and negotiations in the 1st committee were devoted to the issue of international terrorism during the conference. It therefore seems logical to me that I dedicate my paper to this topic that struck fear in the hearts of million people in the entire western world, confronting us with new global cleavages, alliances, and a shift toward security at the expense of individual freedom. Though the course-material regarding international terrorism was collected before the terrorist attack on the USA on 11th September, and certainly needs to be updated and re-evaluated, it provides the reader with a general insight on that matter. In the academic sphere, problems can be defined, analysed and eventually successfully solved. But on the other hand it is the sphere of politics that mainly has to deal with problems. There are other rules in the political realm endemic than in the scientific world. These political rules basically reflect relations of power and therefore cannot solve problems ‘easily’ like in the academic realm. Since the terror attacks were followed by other chemical attacks in the U.S. and the US-retaliation even mounted into a war in Afghanistan, it appears extremely urgent to overcome these two realms in order to find appropriate measures to fight terrorism and to settle conflicts. Therefore this essay seeks a better understanding of this gap between both realms.

Since the term ‘terrorism’ is exposed to debate about it’s meaning, I will provide a definition in order to prevent from confusion with the right to self-determination: “Premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” ( Kegley and Wittkopf 1999:375).

Consequently I am leaded to my following research question of this essay:

- What are the differences between the academic and the political view on international terrorism?

I will answer this research question by splitting it up into the following sub questions:

1. What is the academic approach on international terrorism?
2. What is the political approach on international terrorism?
3. What are the most striking differences between both views?

Question one examines the academic way in which UNISCA dealt with the issue regarding the choice of literature and the content of the lectures. Apart from that, I will include two writings of other scientists who seek to analyse terrorism to broaden the perspective a little bit. These two examples should serve as an illustration of an academic approach on terrorism next to the UNISCA-course. It would be easy to take other writings as well into account, but that would surely extend the scope of this essay.

Question two deals with the political realm that I experienced at the UNISCA-conference. Here the procedures and outcomes of the political game are described that differ fundamentally from the scientific world. I will also consult some literature on the policy-process to get a better understanding of the way policy is created and implemented.

In question three I will compare distinguish both views and mark the most important differences. Once again other literature of political scientists is consulted to describe the gap between both realms.

Of course, the answers of these questions will be related to the material and the practical experience that were provided by UNISCA. This description of the academic approach constitutes just a small example from the University of Amsterdam and is not necessarily representative for other scientific approaches located elsewhere in the world. Furthermore the simulation of the United Nations conference doesn’t necessarily reflect the real UN-institutions either and leave out many other policy processes in other International Governmental Organisations (IGO) or governments that might be handled differently. So, in a nutshell the conclusions that are mainly based on the UNISCA-example should be examined with care.

1.What is the academic approach on international terrorism?

With regard to this issue UNISCA provided sources of information like several scientific articles as well as lectures, hold at the University of Amsterdam.

The events of the 11th of September have dramatically changed the political landscape worldwide as well as the conclusions of the articles relating to terrorism in the reader of the 1st committee. Nevertheless the reader on international terrorism delivers different, and even contrary point of views.

Following Ehud Sprinzak`s conclusion of his article “The Great Superterrorist Scare” (1999) would have made the USA less exposed to terrorist attacks. This kind of view definitely proved to be wrong. The two articles of John Deutch`s “Terrorism: Think Again” (1997) and Bruce Hoffmann’s “Is Europe soft on Terrorism ?” (1999) elaborate the governmental differences in approaching international terrorism but are limited in finding new perspectives. Furthermore the reasons, motivations and intentions of terrorist groups, which lead them to these actions, are not examined sufficiently. Walter Laqueur pictures the changes in international terrorism throughout the last decades in his article “Postmodernism” (1996). Moreover the last article, Confronting Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Terrorism (Richard A. Falkenrath1998) summarises/analyses the incidents of NBC-weapon usage so far and recommends ‘appropriate’ preventive measures to governments.

The recent terrorist attacks in the US however appear to derive yet from cultural cleavages as suggested by Samuel D. Huntington in his book “The Clash of Civilisations”. In his book Huntington argues that culture will be the dominant source of world conflict in the twenty-first century. He notes that cultural ones are replacing the old ideological cleavages of the cold war. Since even national political cultures are decreasing we are left with a division between the western world, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilisations. Huntington is firmly pessimistic about the relationship about them. In his view they will necessarily collide through globalisation that will cause friction and interaction, constituting a high potential for conflict. What counts is therefore ‘what you are’ instead of ‘on which side you are on’. Given the recent news about the tragic terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, that were apparently committed by Islamic extremists Huntington’s view seems to be applicable. Additionally in the wake of this attack the US terminology and retaliation even widens the cleavage between the western and the Islamic world. Furthermore the escalating violence between Arabs and Israelis contributes to this spiral of violence. Nevertheless one should not forget to take also important forces as nationalism and the vitality of nation states into account. Huntington misses this point. There is also an economical need for cultures to cooperate.

Concerning the lectures the events of 11th September heavily affected the course even at its very first session. 10 major changes were introduced at the opening of the UNISCA-course that will, in the lecturers opinion, be comparable to the day the Berlin Wall was built (13 August 1961) and the day it was torn down (9 November 1989). What happened on the 11th of September was described to trigger far-reaching changes in world politics, not only in its main direction, but also in its very character.



ISBN (eBook)
419 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universiteit van Amsterdam – FMG
7,5 from max 10
What United Nations International Students Conference Amsterdam



Titel: What are the differences between the academic and the political view on international terrorism?