A Civil Solution

Article excerpt

WE ARE AT war against a new form of terror. 9/11 was significant, not least because it launched Al-Qaeda as a household name but also because it signaled the arrival of neo-terrorism: traditional terrorism packaged for the 21st century, alert and adapted to the circumstances and challenges of the new millennium. Until we take the war to these new battlegrounds, to address terrorism's newfound effectiveness, we will not win the War on Terror.

Technologically, the terrorists have responded inventively to our conventional state-led security responses to the threat they pose. (1) Governments have continued to upgrade their security measures, as well as to concentrate on disrupting terrorist financing (particularly narco-terrorism) and the rogue states and individuals that sponsor them. (2) But conventional state counter-terrorism methods, however necessary, tend to palliate rather than provide a remedy to the disease. We need to consider counter-measures that are neither conventional nor government run.

And prevention can be better than cure. Neo-terrorists such as Al-Qaeda have effectively created an ideological brand that they can franchise to those who are the subject of poverty, ignorance and injustice throughout the world. The neo-terrorist uses the media not just for self-publicity but also as a means of instilling fear (into every TV home), as a recruiting device and as a channel to justify its actions to the public. We have no choice but to wage a public-relations war against the culture that sustains terrorism. That means inverting many of the images that the terrorist seeks to propagate and from which they gain benefit.

A terrorist group's cause is dependent on its being the underdog or the victim--and on its enemies being large oppressive forces: Asymetrical warfare is natural to terrorism. Central to such self-serving justification is the painting of governments--whether British, American, Israeli or Serbian--as enemies of humanity while simultaneously de-humanizing their victims. Terrorist propaganda tends to justify the damage its campaign causes based on the morality of its cause. How often have we heard the terrorists describe their murders as simply "casualties of war"?

Let us consider the possibility that victims, their families and their community of supporters might be a better counter-terrorism delivery mechanism than governments. But how could ordinary citizens take the fight to the terrorists? How could they take the fight to the new public-relations and financial battlegrounds?

THE FAMILIES of the victims of the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland have found a way. The Real IRA (RIRA) murdered 31 people in cold blood on August 15, 1998. The police ascertained from intelligence who was responsible but they lacked admissible evidence for the criminal law to stop the culprits from continuing to live in the community they had all but destroyed. But the bereaved and injured families, as well as the community in which the terrorists lived, were not content to sit back and do nothing. They commenced a unique civil law suit in 2001, which will come to trial this year. They are suing five individuals and the RIRA as an organization. They seek to rely on the inherent advantages in civil law that enables hearsay evidence to be presented before the civil court, which generally has a burden of proof more favorable to the plaintiff.

Their legal action is, in effect, a vehicle for a wider public-relations and media campaign that has targeted the IRA, their domestic and American supporters, and terrorist ideology itself. Plainly, such individuals would have preferred to be simple members of the public with no personal investment in this war against terror. Nevertheless, as one victim of terrorism who was asked why he was participating said, "I didn't find the IRA, they found me."

The campaign went into battle against the highly successful IRA propaganda machine. …