Book Review – Covering Bin Laden: Global Media and the World’s Most Wanted Man

Covering Bin Laden: Global Media and the World’s Most Wanted Man edited by Susan Jeffords and Fahed Al-Sumait. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2015. 259 pp, $95 hardcover 978-0-252-03886-0, $30 paperback 978-0-252-08040-1, E-book 978-0-252-09682-2

This review must start with a note of caution: this is not a book about Osama bin Laden. The aim of the editors and authors is not to add another interpretation on what bin Laden and Al Qaeda have been or, in the latter case, currently is. What they do here is take the real and symbolic figure of Osama bin Laden as a critical axis to explore the interplay between politics and media during the Global War on Terror. The result is a kaleidoscope that illuminates how news media represent and re-create reality and how those representations translate into concrete policy action.

As the title reminds us, Osama bin Laden became the world’s most wanted man in the decade from the 9/11 attacks to his capture and killing in Abbottabad (Pakistan) in 2011. Al Qaeda was presented as the paradigm of an entirely new type of terrorism: without parallel in history, and ready to kill as many civilians as they could in the name of some indiscernible millenarian views. Hunting bin Laden became the supreme goal. In pursuit of it, governments reshaped geopolitical relations and domestic politics, and launched wars.

You can continue reading in Global Policy Journal.

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El Salvador’s gang truce: a lost opportunity?

Violence is escalating again in El Salvador. March 2015 was the most violent month in over a decade, and the government is preparing army and police battalions to fight the gangs. These trends mark the definitive end of a process which started in 2012 with a truce between the two main gangs—MS-13 and Barrio 18—and evolved into a more complex and multidimensional approach to reducing violence, with a degree of international support.

The process was complicated, imperfect and subject to public controversy, but it stands as one of the most significant examples worldwide of an effort to reduce violence through negotiation with criminal groups. With an annual homicide rate of 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. It is also a notable example of the trend towards non-conventional, hybrid and criminal violence.

You can read the full article in Sustainable Security and Open Democracy. Thank you!

An ISIS spillover into Jordan? Wikistrat Report

This week, Daesh released a video in which the Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh was burned to death. The images have triggered retaliation by Jordan, including execution of some prisoners and strikes on Daesh targets.

A few weeks ago, Wikistrat conducted a two-day crowdsourced simulation in which its more than 45 analysts (including me) were asked to identify the ways in which the Islamic State could seek to penetrate Jordan.

An-ISIS-Spillover-Into-Jordan-Final-Report

Conquests by ISIS have put the country of Jordan at risk. The group has proclaimed a caliphate that aspires to consolidate political and religious control over the entire region. An attempt by Sunni Islamist militants to infiltrate Jordan would pose a significant challenge to the embattled kingdom. But there are opportunities for the country as well.

Jordan already finds itself under great pressure, hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees — some affiliated with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups. Originating from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, the country’s diverse population makes it vulnerable to the influence of radical forces. A serious infiltration by ISIS into Jordan would not only pose a threat to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom but could also drag Israel and the United States into the conflict.

The result of our simulation is this summary report, which highlights four paths the Islamist organization could take to infiltrate Jordan. While none of the scenarios seem promising for the Islamic State, Jordan is under significant pressure from unprecedented numbers of refugees, chaotic civil wars on two borders, turbulent politics and an overall weak economy. Any major misstep could provide the Islamic State with an opening that is not readily apparent. At the same time, recent events may present Jordan with opportunities to improve its security as well.

If you wish to continue reading, the whole report can be accessed here.

A sense of déjà vu: Illegal drugs in West Africa and the Sahel

As supply control policies for illegal drugs achieve partial successes elsewhere, international drug markets are shifting production and transit to West Africa and the Sahel. Facilitated by limited law enforcement and border control, the drug trade has been redirected along the historical trading routes of the Sahel. Though an integrated international approach would seem logical in the current context of a worldwide ban on the drugs trade, we need to be aware that conventional state-oriented, security-minded agendas tend to harm civil society more than criminals.

If you wish to read the complete article, click here to access The Broker.

 

Book Review – Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East… and Talking to Terrorists….

I published this book review in 2013 in the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF). Both books are relevant to understand and clarify concepts and processes related to radicalization, extremism, and terrorism. I suggest the lecture of both for those interested in these processes in the wake of the Paris attacks.

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George Joffé, ed., Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East: Reassessing the Causes of Terrorism , London and New York: IB Tauris, 2013.

Anne Speckhard, Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers and “Martyrs” , McLean: Advances Press, 2012.

Why and under what circumstances do individuals, groups or larger parts of societies radicalise? What are the drivers of extremism? Why do some individuals and groups engage in terrorism? Are today’s radicals tomorrow’s terrorists? The two volumes addressed here provide important insights in answer to these questions. Although they have rather different approaches, both share features that make them remarkable within current debates about radicalisation, extremism and terrorism, i.e. (1) a clear understanding of the differences among concepts and how to approach them; (2) a non-deterministic vision of the origins and nature of radicalism that rejects generalisations; and (3) an analysis of radicalisation(s), extremism(s), and terrorism(s) as context-bound processes that are both multiple and diverse, and that rely on a series of interactions of internal and external drivers.

The whole text can be accessed in the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF).