I- The Most Pressing Challenges to International Security: Why Terrorism May not be One
The seemingly simple task of defining the term “terrorism” belies the daunting challenges in dealing with the issue, both as a concept and as a phenomenon. Indeed, beyond the fact that “terrorism” is a “bad” thing and therefore carries pejorative implications, there seems to be little common understanding of the term. As Pillar (2001) argues in The dimensions of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, although it is often broadly understood as a politically motivated act of indiscriminate violence on civilian population, the term has come to mean different things to different people; it has also become a nametag used to demonize, dehumanize, and vilify the perceived “other” (i.e. it is not uncommon for politicians and political actors to portrait their rivals and oppressors with such a nametag; also common are words like Muslim terrorists, Middle Eastern terrorists, and in a more disparaging Trumpian parlance, Mexican terrorists)—all of which help further compound the difficulty. But this tendency is equally true beyond mere political discourses, and perhaps, best epitomized by the popular motto that “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
Moreover, if it is difficult to define the term, it is even challenging to gauge the scope or the degree to which it constitutes a major challenge to international security in the post-Cold War era. Plainly stated, despite the unwavering attention the issue of terrorism attracts, it is highly reasonable to believe that the threats to international security, stemming from terrorist acts, are generally over exaggerated. A case in point, consider the United States, for instance, which has been the leading actor in countering (some people would say, ‘promoting’ by virtue of some of its foreign policies) terrorism at home and abroad. The number of annual death caused by terrorist attacks, since 9/11, are overwhelmingly low compared to losses of lives due to gun-related violence, drug usage, car crashes, unintentional drowning, etc. Therefore, judged by their human costs, one would expect them to make the headlines. Instead, these tragedies usually get far less attention than they would warrant.
In short, if considered by the attention it receives on the international stage (global media), terrorism may be seen as a major international security issue. But the truth of the matter remains that there are more pressing issues to global peace and security than the usually dramatically conflated international coverage on terrorism would have us believe.
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