A highly ideological, jingoistic clique masquerades as objective scholars, all to justify US militarism
By Glenn Greenwald
Shortly prior to the start of the London Olympics, there was an outburst of hysteria over the failure to provide sufficient security against Terrorism, but as Harvard Professor Stephen Walt noted yesterday in Foreign Policy, this was all driven, as usual, by severe exaggerations of the threat: â€œWell, surprise, surprise. Not only was there no terrorist attack, the Games themselves came off rather well.â€ Walt then urges this lesson be learned:
[W]e continue to over-react to the â€œterrorist threat.â€ Here I recommend you read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewartâ€™s The Terrorism Delusion: Americaâ€™s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security. Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed â€œIslamic terrorist plotsâ€ against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) â€œincompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.â€ They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying â€œwe must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,â€ noting further that al Qaedaâ€™s â€œcapabilities are far inferior to its desires.â€
In the next paragraph, Walt essentially makes clear why this lesson will not be learned: namely, because there are too many American interests vested in the perpetuation of this irrational fear:
Mueller and Stewart estimate that expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective â€œthey would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year.â€ Finally, they worry that this exaggerated sense of danger has now been â€œinternalizedâ€: even when politicians and â€œterrorism expertsâ€ arenâ€™t hyping the danger, the public still sees the threat as large and imminent. As they conclude:
â€¦ Americans seems to have internalized their anxiety about terrorism, and politicians and policymakers have come to believe that they can defy it only at their own peril. Concern about appearing to be soft on terrorism has replaced concern about seeming to be soft on communism, a phenomenon that lasted far longer than the dramatic that generated it â€¦ This extraordinarily exaggerated and essentially delusional response may prove to be perpetual.â€
Which is another way of saying that you should be prepared to keep standing in those pleasant and efficient TSA lines for the rest of your life, and to keep paying for far-flung foreign interventions designed to â€œroot outâ€ those nasty jihadis.
Many of the benefits from keeping Terrorism fear levels high are obvious. Private corporations suck up massive amounts of Homeland Security cash as long as that fear persists, while government officials in the National Security and Surveillance State can claim unlimited powers, and operate with unlimited secrecy and no accountability. In sum, the private and public entities that shape government policy and drive political discourse profit far too much in numerous ways to allow rational considerations of the Terror threat.
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But thereâ€™s a very similar and at least equally important (though far less discussed) constituency deeply vested in the perpetuation of this fear. Itâ€™s the sham industry Walt refers to, with appropriate scare quotes, as â€œterrorism experts,â€ who have built their careers on fear-mongering over Islamic Terrorism and can stay relevant only if that threat does.
These â€œterrorism expertsâ€ form an incredibly incestuous, mutually admiring little clique in and around Washington. Theyâ€™re employed at think tanks, academic institutions, and media outlets. They can and do have mildly different political ideologies â€” some are more Republican, some are more Democratic â€” but, as usual for D.C. cliques, ostensible differences in political views are totally inconsequential when placed next to their common group identity and career interest: namely, sustaining the myth of the Grave Threat of Islamic Terror in order to justify their fear-based careers, the relevance of their circle, and their alleged â€œexpertise.â€ Like all adolescent, insular cliques, they defend one another reflexively whenever a fellow member is attacked, closing ranks with astonishing speed and loyalty; they take substantive criticisms very personally as attacks on their â€œfriends,â€ because a criticism of the genre and any member in good standing of this fiefdom is a threat to their collective interests.
On a more substantive level, any argument (such as Waltâ€™s) that puts the Menace of Islamic Terror into its proper rational perspective â€” namely, that it pales in comparison to countless other threats (including Terrorism from non-Muslim individuals and states); that it is wildly exaggerated considering what is done in its name; and that it is sustained by ugly sentiments of Islamophobic bigotry â€” is one that must be harshly denounced. Such an argument not only threatens their relevance but also their central ideology: that Terror is an objective term that just happens almost always to mean Islamic Terror, but never American Terror.
Thus, Waltâ€™s seemingly uncontroversial article was published for not even 24 hours when it was bitterly attacked for hours on Twitter this morning by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, and itâ€™s not hard to see why. Looking at Gartenstein-Rossâ€™s reaction and what drives it sheds considerable light onto this sham â€œterrorism expertâ€ industry.
Gartenstein-Rossâ€™ entire lucrative career as a â€œterrorism expertâ€ desperately depends on the perpetuation of the Islamic Terror threat. He markets himself as an expert in Islamic Terror by highlighting that he was born Jewish, converted to Islam while in college, and then Saw the Light and converted to Christianity. During his short stint as a Muslim, he worked at the al-Haramain charity foundation in Oregon â€” the same one that was found to have been illegally spied upon by the Bush NSA â€” but became an FBI informant against the group because â€” as he claimed in a book,â€My Year Inside Radical Islamâ€, which he subsequently wrote to profit off of his conduct â€” he was horrified by â€œthe group hatreds and anti-intellectualism of radical Islam.â€
He is now listed as an â€œexpertâ€ at the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (the groupâ€™s list of â€œexpertsâ€ is basically a Whoâ€™s Who of every unhinged neocon extremist in the country). Gartenstein-Ross is specifically employed by the Foundation as something called â€œDirector of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization.â€ According to his own bio, he also â€œconsults for clients who need to be at the forefront of understanding violent non-state actors and twenty-first century conflictâ€ including for â€œmajor media companies, and strategic consultations for defense contractorsâ€ and â€œalso regularly designs and leads training for the U.S. Department of Defenseâ€™s Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace (LDESP) courses, the U.S. State Departmentâ€™s Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance, and domestic law enforcement.â€
Unsurprisingly, Gartenstein-Ross â€” like so many â€œterrorism expertsâ€ in similar positions â€” is eager to depict Islamic Terror as a serious threat: he knows where his bread his buttered and does not want the personal cash train known as the War on Terror ever to arrive at a final destination. If you were him, would you?
In 2009, he wrote a study entitled â€œHomegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.â€ which, needless to say, was only about Muslims: an â€œexamination of 117 â€˜jihadistâ€™ terrorists in the United States and the United Kingdomâ€ which â€œconcludes that religious beliefsâ€ â€” namely, Islam â€“â€play a role in radicalization.â€ In 2011, he wrote a book entitled Bin Ladenâ€™s Legacy: Why Weâ€™re Still Losing the War on Terror, which argues that â€œdespite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda remains a significant threat.â€ He has hyped the ludicrous alleged Iranian Quds Forces plot against the Saudi Ambassador (explaining that â€Holder weighing in on the plotâ€™s connection to Iran means the administration is deadly serious about itâ€), and recently touted Nigeria as the â€œnext front in the war on terror.â€
To be sure, Gartenstein-Ross is more nuanced and sophisticated than the standard neocon â€œterror expertâ€ cartoon â€” his 2011 bin Laden book argues against wasteful counter-terrorism programs that are out of proportion to the actual threat, and he has, to his credit, publicly opposed some of the more crass Islamophobic attacks â€” but if the War on Islamic Terror disappears, so, too, does his lucrative career as a â€œterrorism expert.â€ In that regard, heâ€™s a highly representative figure for this industry.
Waltâ€™s clearly expressed and uncontroversial argument about the exaggerated Terror threat prompted hours of angry derision and personal mockery today from Gartenstein-Ross (who ironically often holds himself out as the Beacon of Civil Discourse). It began this way:
Gartenstein-Ross then demanded that Muslim Terror be taken more seriously than Walt suggests: â€œterrorists actually put 3 bombs on passenger planes since 2009.â€ He was then joined by fellow â€œnatsecâ€ clique members for hours of swarming group mockery aimed at Walt (thatâ€™s how they typically behave). Gartenstein-Ross continued: Foreign Policy â€should rename Waltâ€™s blog â€˜An Ideologue in an Ideological Age.â€™ The idea he transcends ideological blinders is laughable.â€ Professor Walt, he then said, is â€œfar less rigorous than his reputation suggestsâ€ and â€œthe gap between perception & reality is rather astounding.â€ Then: â€œwhen an academic starts blogging itâ€™s often easy to tell if that â€˜authorityâ€™ is undeserved.â€
All this public impugning of Waltâ€™s reputation, scholarship and character over the crime of pointing out that the threat of Islamic Terror is wildly overstated by people who have an interest in perpetuating the threat. Itâ€™s as though Gartenstein-Ross and his friends were eager to jump up, wave their arms, and prove Waltâ€™s argument by identifying themselves as precisely the fear-mongering culprits he was criticizing.
Exactly the same thing happened this week in response to Juan Coleâ€™ssuperb post entitled â€œTop Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others,â€ pointing out all the revealing differences in how white perpetrators of violence are talked about versus non-white (especially Muslim) ones. Coleâ€™s argument was every bit as threatening to the vested interests of the â€œterror expertâ€ industry as Waltâ€™s was, as it reveals the ugly truth that the hysteria over the Muslim Threat is motivated far more by Islamophobic bigotry and subservience to U.S. Government militarism than any rational policy assessments or high-minded scholarship.
This was too much to bear for J.M. Berger, a self-described â€œspecialist on homegrown extremismâ€ and author of â€œJihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam,â€ which, in his words, â€œuncovers the secret history of American jihadistsâ€ â€” meaning Muslims, of course. â€œAmerican Muslims have traveled abroad to fight in wars because of their religious beliefs,â€ says the bookâ€™s summary. (Symbolizing how relentlessly incestuous this clique is, Gartenstein-Ross randomly took a moment out of his attack on Walt today to pimp what he called Bergerâ€™s â€œvaluable bookâ€). Like Gartenstein-Ross, Berger avoids the more overt forms of anti-Muslim rhetoric, often stressing the need to distinguish between Good Muslims and the Terrorist kind, but he spends his time doing things like shrieking about the Towering Menace of Anwar al-Awlaki and generally hopping on whatever Muslim-Terrorism-is-a-Grave-Danger train that comes along.
Berger denounced Coleâ€™s piece as â€œ80 percent BS, 20 percent fair pointsâ€ and said it was composed of â€œlazy generalizations.â€ Specifically, Berger complained that when a Muslim launches a violent attack, there are â€œwhole stories dedicated to AQ being fringe and Islam being peaceful,â€ but when thereâ€™s a violent attack by a white shooter, â€œno one does stories about how white people are mostly peaceful and non-racistâ€ (apparently, the true victims of unfair media coverage of Terror attacks are white people, not Muslims). He insisted, needless to say, that white perpetrators of violence are depicted as lone nuts while attacks by Muslims are depicted as part of a broader Terror threat only because itâ€™s so true. Itâ€™s vital to Berger that Islamic Terror continue to be perceived as a vital, coordinated national security threat or else J.W. Berger and his â€œexpertiseâ€ will cease to matter.
The key role played by this â€œterrorism expertâ€ industry in sustaining highly damaging hysteria was highlighted in an excellent and still-relevant 2007 Washington Post Op-Ed by Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it, he described how the War on Terror has created an all-consuming Climate of Fear in the U.S. along with a systematic, multi-headed policy of discrimination against Muslim Americans based on these severely exaggerated threats, and described one of the key culprits this way:
Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum.The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.
Itâ€™s very similar to what Les Gelb, in expressing his regret for supporting the attack on Iraq, described as â€œthe disposition and incentives [in Americaâ€™s Foreign Policy Community] to support wars to retain political and professional credibility.â€ When I interviewed Gelb in 2010 regarding that quote, he told me that D.C. experts know that they can retain relevance in and access to key government circles only if they lend theoretical support to U.S. militarism rather than oppose it.
(Notably, people in these insular, government-subservient D.C. enclaves try to suppress and delegitimize any discussion of who funds them and what their careerist and cultural incentives are by denouncing any such discussion as illegitimate ad hominem; thatâ€™s all a way of demanding that they be accepted at face value as â€œexpertsâ€ and that the financial and institutional pressures and groupthink precepts shaping their world and their views never be assessed).
Similarly to Brzezinskiâ€™s Op-Ed, Ken Silverstein recently wrote an excellent June, 2012 Harpers article examining the fraud known as Matthew Levitt, Ph.D., who heads the â€œCounterterrorism and Intelligence Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,â€ where he tracks â€œglobal jihadist movementsâ€ (as usual, â€œterrorism expertsâ€ fixate on Muslims). Levitt has been repeatedly used by the U.S. Government as a â€œterrorism expertâ€ witness in the prosecution of dozens of Muslims accused of Terrorism despite a history of discredited claims and extremely dubious grounds for claiming â€œexpertiseâ€. Silverstein writes:
That is a description that applies generally to the sham â€œterrorism expertâ€ industry.
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But the most pernicious attribute of this â€œterror expertâ€ industry, the aspect that requires much more attention, is its pretense to non-ideological, academic objectivity. In reality, these â€œterror expertsâ€, almost uniformly, have a deeply ideological view â€” a jingoistic, highly provincial understanding â€” of what Terrorism is and is not. They generally fixate on Muslims to the exclusion of all other forms of Terror. In particular, the idea that the U.S. or its allies now commit Terrorism is taboo, unthinkable. Their views on what Terrorism is track the U.S. Governmentâ€™s and, by design, justify U.S. government actions. They are not â€œexpertsâ€ as much as they are ideologues, rank propagandists, and servants of Americaâ€™s establishment power centers.
The reason the term â€œterrorism expertsâ€ deserves to be put in quotation marks is not as some ad hominem insult (something the mavens of the â€œterror expertâ€ clique are incapable of understanding, as they demonstrated with their ludicrously personalized outrage when I applied this critique to one of their industryâ€™s most cherished Patron Saints, Will McCants). Rather, itâ€™s because â€” as Iâ€™ve written aboutmany times before â€” the very concept of Terrorism is inherently empty, illegitimate, meaningless. â€œTerrorismâ€ itself is not an objective term or legitimate object of study, but was conceived of as a highly politicized instrument and has been used that way ever since.
The best scholarship on this issue, in my view, comes from Remi Brulin, who teaches at NYU and wrote his PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne in Paris on the discourse of Terrorism. When I interviewed him in 2010, he described the history of the term â€” it was pushed by Israel in the 1960s and early 1970s as a means of universalizing its conflicts (this isnâ€™t our fight against our enemies over land; itâ€™s the Entire Worldâ€™s Fight against The Terrorists!). The term was then picked up by the neocons in the Reagan administration to justify their covert wars in Central America (in a test run for what they did after 9/11, they continuously exclaimed: weâ€™re fighting against The Terrorists in Central America, even as they themselves armed and funded classic Terror groups in El Salvador and Nicaragua). From the start, the central challenge was how to define the term so as to include the violence used by the enemies of the U.S. and Israel, while excluding the violence the U.S., Israel and their allies used, both historically and presently. That still has not been figured out, which is why there is no fixed, accepted definition of the term, and certainly no consistent application.
Brulin details the well-known game-playing with the term: in the 1980s, Iraq was put on the U.S. list of Terror states when the U.S. disliked Saddam for being aligned with the Soviets; then Iraq was taken off when the U.S. wanted to arm Saddam to fight Iran; then they were put back on again when the U.S. wanted to attack Iraq. The same thing is happening now with the MEK: now that theyâ€™re a pro-U.S. and pro-Israel Terror group rather than a Saddam-allied one, they are magically no longer going to be deemed Terrorists.That is what Terrorism is: a term of propaganda, a means of justifying oneâ€™s own state violence â€” not some objective field of discipline in which one develops â€œexpertise.â€
This flaw in the concept of â€œterrorism expertiseâ€ is not a discrete indictment of specific â€œscholars,â€ but is a fundamental flaw plaguing the entire field. Even the most decorated and honored â€œterrorism expertsâ€ are little more than ideological propagandists, because thatâ€™s what the term necessarily entails. Today, Brulin wrote the following to me regarding U.S. Reagan-era policy in Central America â€” namely, supporting Terror groups (death squads) while denouncing Terrorism â€” and the specific â€œterrorism expertâ€ often held up as the fieldâ€™s most prestigious, Bruce Hoffman:
One obvious question comes to mind: how do â€œterrorism expertsâ€ deal with US policies in Salvador during the 1980s?
A comprehensive analysis of the two major â€œterrorism studiesâ€ journals, â€œStudies on Conflict and Terrorismâ€ (simply titled â€œTerrorismâ€ until 1992) and â€œTerrorism and Political Violenceâ€ shows that overall these journals have dealt with this issue by â€¦ being silent about it. More precisely, several authors in fact absolutely accept that the concept of â€œstate terrorismâ€ is a valid one, and that acts by â€œdeath squadsâ€ clearly fall under that definition also. They simply never deal with this issue in the context of the real world policies of the United States and of the Reagan years in particular, a silence all the more surprising than Reagan was the first American President to develop a â€œdiscourse on terrorismâ€.
Reacting to Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Exum wrote: â€œGreenwald makes it seem as if states are never mentioned as terrorist actors, but there is a lot of literature on the use of coercive violence by states and state terrorismâ€. This is true of course, but at least when it comes to the conflict of El Salvador studied here, and to US policies in that country, those who did write about this issue have never been published in the major â€œterrorism studies journals.â€
Exum then adds: â€œBruce Hoffman published this book in 1999. Iâ€™m pretty sure those two guys are terrorism experts without the scare quotes.â€
In â€œInside Terrorismâ€, to his merit, Hoffman devotes a full chapter to the question of the â€œdefinition of terrorism.â€ What follows in the rest of his book is naturally dependent on what he decides to include and not include in his definition of â€œterrorismâ€. Here is, in full, how Hoffman deals with the issue of â€œdeath squadsâ€ (emphasis added):
â€œThe use of so-called â€˜death squadsâ€™ (often off-duty or plain-clothes security or police officers) in conjunction with blatant intimidation of political opponents, human rights and aid workers, student groups, labor organizers, journalists and others has been a prominent feature of the right-wing military dictatorships that took power in Argentina, Chile and Greece during the 1970s and even of elected governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru since the mid-1980s. But these state-sanctioned or explicitly ordered acts of internal political violence directed mostly against domestic populations â€” that is, rule by violence and intimidation by those already in power against their own citizenry â€” are generally termed â€˜terrorâ€™ in order to distinguish that phenomenon from â€˜terrorismâ€™, which is understood to be violence committed by non-state entities. (Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 27).
Sadly, Hoffman does not tell his readers who at the time â€œtermed acts by death squads â€˜terrorâ€™â€, or who wishes to do so â€œin order to distinguish this phenomenon from â€˜terrorism.â€™â€
Not only is this argument rather less than convincing, but most crucially no one in Washington, at the time, ever used this argument, and this for obvious reasons. Indeed, as Hoffman himself notes, the â€œdeath squadsâ€, â€œeven in elected governments like El Salvadorâ€, were â€œstate-sanctionedâ€, precisely what the Reagan administration kept denying at the time. Furthermore, Hoffmanâ€™s argument makes no sense in the historical context: can one imagine the Reagan administration defending US aid to El Salvador as part of the â€œfight against terrorismâ€ while stating that the ties between that State and the â€œdeath squadâ€ posed no problem because they merely fell under the concept of â€œterrorâ€?
Thus, the role of â€œterrorism expertsâ€ cannot simply be described as blindly accepting of the official â€œdiscourse on terrorismâ€, although this is already a strong critique. As the case of El Salvador demonstrates, what they have done is to invent arguments aimed at excluding from discussion specific issues, while hiding or being completely silent about the actual debates that took place on this topic at the very heart of Washington. In so doing, they have allowed a â€œterrorism discourseâ€ to developed and become hegemonic despite the many internal inconsistencies that have been at its heart from the very beginning.
Finally, one will note that Hoffman, in Inside Terrorism, makes no mention of the Contras and their support by the Reagan administration. This is a difficult decision to explain, since aid to the Contras falls under the concept of â€œstate sponsored terrorismâ€, the validity of which is accepted by all experts. Here, Hoffman uses the technique used by so many other â€œterrorism expertsâ€ in this case:he simply decides to not write about it, with no explanation given.
The entire field is one huge effort to legitimize U.S. state violence and delegitimize the violence by its enemies (along those lines: the court-martial of accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan began today, and I asked earlier today on Twitter whether this attack constituted Terrorism given that it targeted a military base and soldiers of anation at war. My mere asking of this question sparked all sorts of intense outrage from the predictable â€œnatsecâ€ D.C. mavens: Of course itâ€™s Terrorism, as Hasan killed unarmed people including one civilian, exclaimed people who would never, ever dare apply the Terrorism label to the civilian-devastating U.S. attack on Iraq or the use of American drones and cluster bombs to kill innocent civilians by the dozens; that is the discourse of Terrorism: violence by Muslims against a U.S. military base during a time of war qualifies, but violence by the U.S. Government against thousands of innocent Muslim civilians never could).
Brulin is far from alone among scholars in recognizing the true purpose of this sham discipline. Harvardâ€™s Lisa Stampnitzky, whom I interviewed several months ago, is also a leading scholar on the exploitation of Terrorism and the field that calls itself â€œterrorism experts.â€ In a superb journal article in Qualitative Sociology, she documents that â€œâ€˜Terrorismâ€™ has proved to be a highly problematic object of expertiseâ€; in particular, â€œTerrorism studies fails to conform to the most common sociological notions of what a field of intellectual production ought to look like, and has been described by participants and observers alike as a failure.â€ She notes that the harshest condemnations have come from those who work in this academic discipline: â€œTerrorism researchers have characterized their field as stagnant, poorly conceptualized, lacking in rigor, and devoid of adequate theory, data, and methods.â€ That includes Bruce Hoffman himself, who, she notes, wrote:
Fifteen years ago, the study of terrorism was described by perhaps the worldâ€™s preeminent authority on modern warfare as a â€™huge and ill-defined subject [that] has probably been responsible for more incompetent and unnecessary books than any other outside the field of sociology. It attracts phonies and amateursâ€¦as a candle attracts mothsâ€™â€¦ [T]errorism research arguably has failed miserably.
Stampnitzky adds: â€œMore than 15 years after this assessment, descriptions of the field are rife with similar claims.â€ Indeed, her forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press is entitled â€œDisciplining Terror: How Experts Invented Terrorismâ€ and, in her words, it â€œexplains how political violence became â€˜terrorism,â€™ and how this transformation led to the current â€˜war on terrorâ€™.â€ For that reason, she argues in her dissertation, â€œthose who would address terrorism as a rational object, subject to scientific analysis and manipulation, produce a discourse which they are unable to control, as attempts at scientific discourse are continually hybridized by the moral discourse of the public sphere, in which terrorism is conceived as a problem of evil and pathology.â€ Indeed, she explains in her journal article, â€œOne of the most oft-noted difficulties has been the inability of researchers to establish a suitable definition of the concept of â€˜terrorismâ€™ itself.â€
In a recently published journal article in International Security, entitled â€œThe Terrorism Delusion,â€ Professors John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart (cited by Walt) extensively document what a fraud the concept of â€œTerrorismâ€ has become over the last decade. Specifically, â€the exaggerations of the threat presented by terrorism and then on the distortions of perspective these exaggerations have inspiredâ€” distortions that have in turn inspired a determined and expensive quest to ferret out, and even to create, the nearly nonexistent.â€
Richard Jackson is a Professor at the The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand. He has written volumes on the fraud of â€œterrorism expertiseâ€ and the propagandistic purpose of this field of discipline. He has documented that most self-proclaimed â€œterrorism expertsâ€ simply ignore the primary cause of the violence they claim to study: â€œmost terrorism scholars, politicians and the media donâ€™t seem to â€˜knowâ€™ that terrorism is most often caused by military intervention overseas, and not religion, radicalization, insanity, ideology, poverty or such likeâ€ â€” even though â€œthe Pentagon has known it for years.â€ In one article entitled â€œ10 Things More Likely to Kill You Than Terrorism,â€ he notes that â€œThe chances of you dying in a terrorist attack are in the range of 1 in 80,000, or about the same chance of being killed by a meteor,â€ and that bathtubs, vending machines, and lightning all pose a greater risk of death.
In a book critiquing the â€œterrorism expertâ€ field, Jackson argued that â€œmost of what is accepted as well-founded â€™knowledgeâ€™ in terrorism studies is, in fact, highly debatable and unstable.â€œ He therefore scorns almost four decades of so-called Terrorism scholarship as â€based on a series of â€˜virulent mythsâ€™, â€™half-truthsâ€™ and contested claimsâ€ that are plainly â€œbiased towards Western state priorities.â€ To Jackson, terrorism is â€œa social fact rather than a brute factâ€ and â€œdoes not exist outside of the definitions and practices which seek to enclose it, including those of the terrorism studies field.â€ In sum, it means whatever the wielder of the term wants it to mean: something that cannot be the subject of legitimate â€œexpertise.â€
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There is no term more potent in our political discourse and legal landscape than â€œTerrorism.â€ It shuts down every rational thought process and political debate the minute it is uttered. It justifies torture (we have to get information from the Terrorists); due-process-free-assassinations even of our own citizens (Obama has to kill the Terrorists); and rampant secrecy (the Government canâ€™t disclose what itâ€™s doing or have courts rule on its legality because the Terrorists will learn of it), and it sends people to prison for decades (material supporters of Terrorism).
It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated. It is, as I have noted before, a word that simultaneously means nothing yet justifies everything. Indeed, thatâ€™s the point: it is such a useful concept precisely because itâ€™s so malleable, because it means whatever those with power to shape discourse want it to mean. And no faction has helped this process along as much as the group of self-proclaimed â€œterrorism expertsâ€ that has attached itself to think tanks, academia, and media outlets. They enable pure political propaganda to masquerade as objective fact, shining brightly with the veneer of scholarly rigor. The industry itself is a fraud, as are those who profit from and within it.