About CTlab's virtual symposia: CTlab symposia enable informed discussion regardless of the physical location and distribution of participants. They can be conducted ad hoc, in response to emerging and topical issues, or on any number of planned topics. Proceedings remain available for public viewing via this web page, and are also compiled, for ease of reading and distribution,  into a single PDF document. If you have an idea for a symposium that's consistent with CTlab interests, drop us a line so we can discuss it.


« Soldiers, Warriors and Strategy | Main | Chaoplexic Approaches and Urban Street Gangs »

Response to Tony Waters - al-Qaeda and the 'War on Terror'

Tony, thank you for your insightful account of L.A. gangs which absolutely confirms my own sense of the dynamics of such groups. I couldn’t agree more with the parallel you draw with al-Qaeda. In fact, I have written a yet unpublished paper on jihadist networks where I expand on the brief analysis I afford to this question in the book. I make precisely the point that the picture of al-Qaeda which has circulated since September 11 in both media and policy circles is fundamentally flawed and that we are in fact dealing with a much more diffuse movement of Islamist militancy composed of overlapping networks which have very little of the command and control structures one finds in state militaries or even in guerrilla groups of the Marxist-Leninist mould. Two authors have particularly persuaded me of this: Jason Burke and Marc Sageman with his Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad.  I have attempted to combine their insights with those of chaoplexity to contribute to a richer understanding of the emergence and operation of those networks.

Your question about the purpose of the military given the above is a very important one. Of course, many people objected from the start to the response to 9/11 being framed in terms of war, arguing it required something much more akin to policing. Having said that, what in fact strikes me about the ‘War on Terror’ is the extent to which the lines between war and policing have been blurred and with it any clear idea of what would constitute an end to it. For sure this is not an entirely new phenomena with the Cold War a lengthy period in which peace and war were difficult to distinguish but the central role attributed to transnational networks of non-state actors has further increased its salience. I must admit the conceptual framework of chaoplexity further contributes to this indiscernibility. There are major political and ethical considerations here with at least two possible outcomes I can think of: a more optimistic one which would see this at the opportunity for the military to acquire greater sensitivity to social context and policing (something it is having to do in Iraq and Afghanistan but which it is typically loathe to do) and a more pessimistic one which would point to an insidious and pervasive securitisation of civil society.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.