Introduction On October 12, 2001, one
month and a day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, the Development Studies Institute, based at the London
School of Economics and Political Science, held a panel debate on the
subject of terrorism and the developing world. Chaired by James Putzel,
director of the Crisis States Programme at the LSE, it united a group
of academics with unique perspectives on the roots of terror in the
developing world, to consider the events of September 11 from a development-studies
In this feature, James Putzel introduces the terms
of the debate by attempting to define the label "terrorism and the developing
world." He sets out to consider central questions ranging from what
gives rise to terrorist organizations in the developing world today,
to why these organizations gain legitimacy in some communities and countries.
He argues that terrorist action and the legitimization of terrorist
activity can be traced to the work of individuals, non-state and state
organizations throughout the developed and developing world.
We have been
bold, or some might say foolish, in labelling this session "Terrorism"
and the developing world. The term is much abused and since I am responsible
for its use in this session let me tell you to what I am referring.
I see as terrorist action any act of violence directed against civilian
populations designed to strike fear, demoralisation and disorganisation
into their midst--whether this be perpetrated by individuals, non-state
organisations or state organisations, including military and police
forces. Many of us abhor and oppose any kind of violence--war in particular--
and recognise these acts as blights on our civilisation, which we must
work to bring to an end by seeking out their causes and designing remedies,
and doing so through systems of law at local, national and international
levels. Terrorism, by definition, lies outside our laws and deserves
Despite our focus
today on the developing world, terrorism is not a phenomenon that originated
in today's developing world. Across Europe and North America, both state
and non-state actors have committed acts of terror within their own
boundaries or outside them throughout the last century and sadly, still
in our new century. The term itself emerged out of the French revolution
where terror was used by the state to consolidate its political authority.
We think of Nazi Germany and, more recently, Serbia; we think of the
contending sides in Northern Ireland. We think of the acts of terror
perpetrated by Japanese forces throughout Asia in the second world war,
but also the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, perhaps the most brutal
acts in recorded history designed to strike terror in the hearts of
In our session,
among the central questions we are asking is what gives rise to terrorist
organisations and activities in the developing world today, and why
do they gain legitimacy in some communities and countries? This is a
complex issue and still requires considerable research and analysis.
I would like to put some propositions to you.
First, I would
suggest that the increased terrorist activity emerging from organisations
outside the state is a consequence of the weakening of state organisations:
states unable to steer their people out of poverty and increased inequality
or to arrest destructive corruption; and state failures to rule by law
and ensure security of the people and communities under their authority.
States have been weakened in part by the negative impact of globalisation,
liberalisation and privatisation, reducing their fiscal capacity and
consequently their organisational capabilities--to manage economic development
and to organise accountable armed and police forces. In many parts of
Africa, states have collapsed, leaving room for the rise of armed organisations
regularly employing terror to achieve their ends. In the Philippines
and Indonesia, weak states have provided a fertile terrain for armed
organisations to pursue politics through kidnappings, assassinations
and other acts of terror.
States have also
been weakened by internal political failures, which in themselves, I
would suggest, constitute the second reason for the growth and increased
support for organisations that use terror in pursuit of their political
aims. There has been a decided decline in programmatic politics, in
the pursuit of power through persuasion based on clear political-party
platforms for governance and economic management. Worldwide, the realm
of political organising has been denigrated--through past failures of
ideologically driven programmes such as socialism, or the abuse of democratic
pluralism and through a consistent attack on the principles of secular
politics even in the world's most advanced democracies.
Politics is portrayed
not as a noble pursuit, but as riddled with corruption and self-seeking
individuals, where self-interested abuse of power is the norm. This
has created in many societies a political vacuum that allows the rise
of sectarian organisations and increases the appeal of fundamentalist
tendencies within them. The instrumentalism that accompanies fundamentalism
of all varieties opens the way to justify any means by its ultimate
goals, and creates an environment in which terror can be seen as a legitimate
means to pursue political objectives.
Finally, I would
suggest that organisations that employ terror have gained legitimacy
because of the often cynical, hypocritical and abusive exercise of power
in the international realm by today's most developed democracies. Preaching
the protection of rights at home, the military and intelligence organisations
of the great powers have too often supported abusive regimes abroad
if in doing so they gain strategic military advantage or access to natural
The United States
and other western powers supported Osama bin Laden and his networks
when they mobilised forces to fight the Russians in Afghanistan in the
1980s. For years the Afghan people have suffered regimes that abused
basic human rights and left a population mired in poverty, while external
powers have been more willing to send arms to one group or another rather
than to address that suffering comprehensively. One policy is adopted
towards the abuse of Kurdish people in Iraq, while another is adopted
when the same abuse is carried out by Turkey. The long condition of
statelessness and hopelessness among Palestinians tolerated by the international
community has provided legitimacy to organisations within Palestine
that have turned to terror to pursue the quest for statehood.
abuses of power and this neglect weaken the moral authority of our democratic
states on the world scene, and creates a fertile terrain for organisations
advocating terror and a rejection of the west, and the agenda of good
government and democracy it promotes in the developing world.
feel I must begin this session by expressing both our deepest sorrow
and our deepest indignation over the September 11 attacks on New York
City and Washington DC, and our sympathy for all those who have lost
someone dear to them. Nothing can justify such a horrendous act and
I wish to echo the unqualified denunciation of those who perpetrated
it, expressed by state and non-state leaders and religious authorities
of every denomination throughout the world. At the same time, I know
the whole room also feels deep sorrow over the lives that now are being
lost among both refugees and civilian casualties as the full force of
military might is brought to bear on Afghanistan.
feature was taken from a panel debate held at the London School of Economics
and Political Science on October 12, 2001. Copyright The London School
of Economics and Political Science.