The Local Roots of Terror
Deniz Kandiyoti

Editors 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, hosted 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 brought together a group of academics with unique perspectives on the roots of terrorism in the developing world, to consider the events of September 11 from a development-studies perspective.

In this feature, Deniz Kandiyoti, reader in anthropology and sociology at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London, examines the local roots of terror. She argues that, contrary to appearance and rhetoric, what mobilise people into terrorist action is not simply universal ideologies such as jihad, but the combination of very specific local forces and circumstances with the international flow of funds and arms.

Terrorism has no country. It's transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke, Pepsi or Nike. (Arundathi Roy, Guardian)

Terrorists are able to have bases (in Afghanistan) because they articulate grievances felt by millions of people who are not terrorists. (Barnett Rubin).

I would like to take these two quotes as the starting point for my reflections. These statements seem to pull in opposite directions but are, in fact, complementary since they articulate the global and the local roots of the diverse phenomena loosely grouped under the label of 'terrorism'.

Today I would like to focus on the 'local', and to argue that, contrary to appearances, it is not universal ideologies and calls to jihad that mobilise people but the combination of very specific local contingencies with international flows of funds and arms. In particular, I want to follow up the suggestion that what conditions and facilitates the recruitment of individuals and groups to movements using armed insurrection and acts of terror is the prior breakdown of political legitimacy and the rule of law. The colonisation of the spaces created by such breakdown by networks of patronage and protection presided over by 'strong men' is a well known phenomenon. The use of these networks by organised armed groups corrodes the fabric of society to such an extent that the political process becomes the hostage of these forces-- such is the sad fate visited on Pakistani society as a result of its sponsorship of the Taliban backed by CIA finance and the drugs trade.

My own work has been in an area of Central Asia adjoining Afghanistan, which is well known as the recruiting ground of the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), a group now listed as a bin Laden franchise. I have been witnessing, since 1997, growing land hunger, crumbling social safety nets and the growth of an informal economy, which, despite its largely licit nature, inevitably involves many illicit activities. Traders constantly cross borders to sell their goods. The forces of law and order, the traffic and border police, do not receive proper wages but are on the 'take'. Farmers are routinely subjected to all sorts of exaction, and much of their produce just goes towards paying bribes to bazaar officials or the police. It makes sense to seek protection, to become clients of the local mafia bosses who have much longer standing accommodations with the forces.

One such strong man was a devout Muslim and on the 'wanted' list of the government; he eventually fled to Tajikistan. There were murmurings about his wealth having to do with narcotics, but he was a good man, they said; who else could you turn to for money if your child got sick? The villagers in that region don't know much about the Great Satan or the West; they are more exposed to Bollywood than to Hollywood and tend to watch Russian television. But what they do know is that there are no jobs for the young; some are crossing over the border to join their former benefactor. Some of their faces are now pasted all over the walls of provincial and local administrations. Their jihad is not against some distant west but against increasingly desperate conditions. The more we in the west take the trouble to understand the micro-dynamics of terror in specific contexts, the less we will be tempted to use the loose talk of clashes of civilisation which have become the propaganda tools of Bush and bin Laden.

This 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.