Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: Challenging the Assumptions of Transnational Terrorism

By Gueli, Richard | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: Challenging the Assumptions of Transnational Terrorism


Gueli, Richard, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


ABSTRACT

Some specialists and observers have charged that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have marked a major turning point in the evolution of transnational terrorism. The fact that the New York and Washington attacks have had such an immense impact on the course of contemporary international relations has led many to question the most basic assumptions on terrorists and terrorism. This article attempts to determine Whether the nature of terrorism has in fact changed by, firstly, discussing how the basis for terrorism has changed since its more modern form began in the early 1970s, and secondly, demonstrating how terrorism--in its transnational form--has increasingly played a fundamental political and strategic role in world affairs.

1. INTRODUCTION

The events that unfolded on the morning of September 11, 2001, will probably be inscribed in living memory as one of the more famous landmark dates to punctuate modern history. In fact, so famous (or infamous) has 11 September already become that it does not even have to be referred to in full, but can be signalled by the simple shorthand of two numbers, that is 9-11.

From the moment terrorists turned jetliners into weapons that caused mass destruction, the world appears to have been catapulted into a new and uncertain conflict against terrorism, (1)) and perhaps even to have stepped into a new era of international relations. Arguably, no other event in the last decade has so dominated the headlines and, already, it has inspired a distinct body of academic literature. Indeed, Cox maintains that 9-11 has made the previously unfashionable subject of terrorism fashionable (and the dominant paradigm of the 1990s--globalisation--distinctly unfashionable), while, as during the Cold War, rendering the study of weapons and military budgets, large-scale wars and armed forces, academically exciting once again. (2)) The focus of this article is to examine the nature and evolution of terrorism, in its transnational form in particular, and to establish whether the most basic assumptions about terrorists and terrorism need be re-evaluated in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

While the future cannot be exactly defined, it is clear that the international community at large--particularly the United States of America (US) and its allies--faces a number of new or unexpected threats, many of which could lead to international tension and conflict in the years ahead. In the case of the US, challenging its preferences and undermining its global influence are often referred to as 'asymmetrical' threats to its security. Of the various threats, transnational terrorism, and the proliferation of both weapons of mass destruction (3)) (WMD) and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles are all seen as part of the 'asymmetric' dynamics that are shaping the US and the rest of the world. (4))

The results of some of these dynamics have been witnessed in the 9-11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. More seriously, the 9-11 attacks appear to reflect both a deep concern regarding how the US is behaving in the world and an apparent belief that using such threats can deter US power.

2. ASYMMETRY AND THE AMERICAN SECURITY ENVIRONMENT

More recently the term 'asymmetry' or 'asymmetric' has been extensively used in military journals, and has spilled-over into political and academic discourse. Concepts such as 'irregular', 'unconventional', and 'non-traditional' are often considered as precursors to the current preference for the term asymmetry. (5)) However, although a modern construct, the concept of asymmetric attacks or warfare is a concept as old as warfare itself (6))--the idea of mismatching forces seeking to achieve comparative advantage has been around for a very long time indeed. (7)) For centuries weaker opponents have sought to neutralise their enemy's technological or numerical advantage by fighting in ways or on battlefields that nullify it.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: Challenging the Assumptions of Transnational Terrorism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?