Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Rise of the Terrorist Professors: Throughout Academia, the Study of Terrorism Is Booming. but in Reality, Argues Kevin Toolis, These "Experts" Represent an Ideology That Has Its Roots in the Cold War and in Israeli Conservatism

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Rise of the Terrorist Professors: Throughout Academia, the Study of Terrorism Is Booming. but in Reality, Argues Kevin Toolis, These "Experts" Represent an Ideology That Has Its Roots in the Cold War and in Israeli Conservatism

Article excerpt

After every atrocity, every shooting, every bomb, the television studios are filled with a new breed of expert--the counter-terrorist academic, with his pat soundbites. In our baffling, violent world, the terrorism expert, discreetly hinting at access to cryptic intelligence material, is the high priest, able to discern within the entrails of atrocity a fingerprint and a culprit.

At best, "counter-terrorism" is a rehash of very old-fashioned political studies with a bit of fortune-telling thrown in. At its worst, it is a bogus intellectual justification for authoritarianism, military repression and neoconservative Islamophobia.

In academia, terrorism studies are the new, new thing and graduate programmes are springing up like an intifada across the western world. The lecture theatres are filling at the Inter-University Centre for Terrorism Studies at George Washington University in the US capital, at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliyya, Israel and at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The counter-terrorism academic conference circuit is tight and incestuous, and features such figures as Professor Paul Wilkinson (St Andrews), Professor Walter Laqueur (Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC) and Dr Bruce Hoffman (ex-St Andrews, now at the Rand Corporation, Washington).

Then there is a web of private corporations, institutes and guns-for-hire contractors that have sprung up to service the post-11 September era. It is often difficult to disentangle the supposedly academic institutes from their lucrative private sponsors or from explicitly neoconservative Israeli or Washington think-tanks.

A private conference this month at the Royal United Services Institute in London is billed "as the UK's most important gathering of counter-terrorism minds". Delegates will pay [pounds sterling]412 for the day to hear Wilkinson and, inevitably, an ex-SAS man, Major General Arthur Denaro, speak on the dangers to the world of terrorism. In the conference programme would-be delegates are further enticed by the promise that a "senior Whitehall adviser"--a man from M16--will appear. Unsurprisingly, the sponsors Olive Security (bodyguards/security) and Global Risk Strategies (kidnap/ransom and corporate risk assessment) seek to profit from post-11 September paranoia.

This blurring of boundaries between the academic study of counter-terrorism and the private security trade is nothing new. One of the fathers of British counter-terrorism studies, Richard Clutterbuck, supplemented his salary from the University of Exeter with some amateurish spying against the animal rights and anti-apartheid movements in the mid-1980s. Posing as an academic interested in conflict, Clutterbuck interviewed the Animal Liberation Front founder Ronnie Lee and passed the material back to Control Risks, an insurance risk assessor on whose board he sat. The company then sold this "intelligence" to a consortium of British pharmaceutical companies targeted by animal rights activists.

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From its very origins, counter-terrorism was a sullied sub-academic doctrine fused from cold war hatreds and the last counter-insurgency struggles of empire in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Ireland. For propagandists such as Brian Crozier, a figure long associated with the hard-right fringes of M16, every guerrilla movement--the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the African National Congress or the IRA--was part of Moscow's assault on the west. The young Gerry Adams and the middle-aged Yasser Arafat, it was suggested, both took their orders from the KGB.

Terrorism was a sub-game within the east-west struggle. In this global contest, Israel and apartheid South Africa were both viewed as strategic assets of the west. The counter-terrorist solution to revolt was always the same: military repression, assassinations, torture programmes and state-licensed killing squads. …

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