Conventional and Critical Approaches to Terrorism: Strengths and Weaknesses Essay Example

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Conventional and Critical Approaches to Terrorism: Strengths and Weaknesses

Conventional and Critical Approaches to Terrorism: Strengths and Weaknesses

Studies on terrorism are not new to political scientists and scholars. This is because quite a number of them hold the opinion that extremism is not a new phenomenon. In one instance, they contend that terrorists have been transitional actors ever since the 1960s (Sandler 2013, p.252). However, during the Cold War, terrorism was regarded more as a local issue and source of conflict based on the hostilities that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. As such, many scholars and practitioners did not study fanaticism after the collapse of the Soviet until the horrific 9/11 attacks that befell the United States (Bilgen 2012, p.1). The terror attack on the U.S was carried out by non-state actors within the borders of the nation and on a scale previously unimaginable and unprecedented in the country’s history. The nature of the attack, therefore, led to the rise of a different approach towards terror as opposed to the orthodox, traditional or conventional method previously adopted (Iqbal 2015, p.1). In this paper, the article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of these two approaches: conservative and critical methodologies to terrorism.

The Conventional/ Orthodox Approach to Terrorism: Strengths And Weaknesses

According to the slant, terrorism takes the perspectives of both a recipient and an instigator. It also encompasses a terrorist group attacking a state or vice versa. The approach postulates that terrorism is a form of violence caused by a political conflict in which both the state and non-state actors seek political legitimacy. The protectorate believes that it manifests unchallenged monopoly over the political power. This includes subjecting its perceived enemies, both within and outside its territorial jurisdiction, to vehemence. Further, any challenge to the status quo is dismissed based on the notion that it does not contain the legitimacy (Iqbal 2015, p.1). Conversely, the non-state actors consider their activities as legitimate intending to both acquire and sustain political authority. Imperatively, because of state power dominance, many accept the term ‘relative legitimacy” while terrorism is acknowledged as a critical concept adopted by both parties in their effort to attain moral justification for their conflicting claims. The two sides both pretend to have ethical legitimacy and disapprove of each other’s actions with both terming those acts as an exercise in terrorism (Iqbal 2015, p.1). Due to these positions, scholars believe that the approach has both strengths and inherent weaknesses based on its assumptions and perspective.

One of the specialties of the tactic is that states possess the political legitimacy to quash any challenge, ostensibly to perpetuate status quo and control any resistance. Further, the scheme legitimizes the use of viciousness by state actors but in the same order condemns its use by the non-state players (Iqbal 2015, p.1). Imperatively, the theory allows its proponents to advance the use of state violence and reject the notion of terrorism propagated by authorities. The said argument is proven on the idea that the state monopolizes the legitimate use of force. Thirdly, the approach considers repression as a way of promoting political legitimacy while advancing peace. This is, however, not an aspect of state terrorism (Bachmann & Gunneriusson 2014, p.3). For example, the style allows the powers that be to deliberate on how terrorism operates instead of why acts related to it occur. It follows that the orthodox or conventional manner of confronting radicalism promotes the legitimate political position of both states and state-actors. Moreover, the style allows nations to define terrorism with the aim of serving political ends and is aptly revealed when it labels groups and individuals as terrorists based on the theory that they challenge the political legitimacy of the countries in question.

It is these contradictions that make the concept not only weak but prone to criticism. The first point of flaw is the position that the idea promotes: the legitimacy of political power and authority by state actors. On this basis, the impression fails to recognize that states which use violence to control repression and promote fear do not need legitimacy. Further, proponents of the theory argue that when federations resort to conventional terrorist approaches, they repress their citizens while promoting fear in the name of fighting domestic terrorism. Imperatively, this method authenticates state backed terrorism, instills fear and at the same time promotes repression. In response, the violent groups have no alternative but to use the same method by affirming that governments are indeed intimidating them with the aid of state-sponsored violence. These sets promote the position that associations use vehemence against their symbolic issues such as self-determination and leaders in addition to their resources (Iqbal 2015, p.1). As a result, the said groups find legitimate cause to respond by unleashing lethal violence on innocent people as retaliation to state-actors actions’ with the aim of intimidating and repressing them.

Secondly, critical approach to terror studies’ postulate that the conventional definition of terrorism or style is intended to serve political interests since it fails to address the problem of “how “instead of “why. “This method effectually labels individuals and groups as terrorists and are then outlawed and dealt with using state resources and measures like military force and legislative processes (Bilgen 2012, p.1). Imperatively, the undertaking in this process offers legitimacy to these very groups and individuals since they are easily considered heroes as opposed to villains. In the third instance, the methodology fails to distinguish terror from terrorism. Fear is a form of terror that is not only imparted by terrorist organizations but by states. For instance, in most cases, criminals without any intent to terrorism inculcate fear among their victims with the aim of reducing resistance to their unlawful activities. In this instance, politics is a rarity in such cases. Similarly, state actors induce some level of fear among the citizenry through carrying out arrests, different forms of punishments in addition to various legal convictions. Their actions again are backed by political ends and in the long run aimed at achieving peace and security of the citizenry (Iqbal 2015, p.1). Therefore, this form of methodology fails since the presence of the object namely fear, should not be used to promote the existence of state terrorism.

Thirdly, the said tactic does not consider other evils committed by nations as terrorism. Genocide is in all instances regarded as worse than terrorism with some states carrying out such acts prevalent in world history. Governments that implement such activities are however not labeled ‘terrorists” (Bilgen 2012, p.1). Many have argued that such actions or events were necessary with the aim of lulling the victims and not instilling fear in them. The Jewish Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were more deadly than modern terrorist attacks but the actors who were considered state proxies have never endured condemnation. The conventional approach to terrorism, therefore, ignores such acts of violence carried out by governments. Emphasis is impressed upon the need to counter insurgent groups which believe that their fundamental rights have been taken over by the state actors (Kennedy-Pipe et al 2015; p 91). It follows that the conventional approach to terrorism fails to not only explain the cause of terrorism but promotes the notion that state actors are usually justified when dealing with terrorists with the intention of deterring their activities, regardless of the means that they use.

Critical approach to terrorism: Strengths and Weaknesses

The failure of both the orthodox and conventional approaches to address key areas of concern in addition to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S led to the need for scholars to offer an alternative style (Bilgen 2012, p.1). Unlike the conservative approach to terrorism, a critical viewpoint is of the opinion that the object of extremism does not exist independently and is founded on the prevailing socio-political situations. It proposes that a terrorist and terrorism by large are influenced by the current societal and civil contexts. Imperatively, the focus must be on both the actor and the said circumstances. As a result, supporters of the critical approach to terrorism believe that the conventional manner ignores the violence orchestrated in counterterrorism efforts by states (Iqbal 2015, p.1). Again, the plan says that governments exploit the fickleness of dissident actions by perceived terrorist groups to crack down on these formations. Both scholars of critical approach and terrorism assert that states under the traditional style have used many excuses to perpetrate might on innocent people. The manipulation of public events cannot qualify as terrorism even in cases laced with influence and repression. Further, the scholars state that using the actions of the said dissidents is an excuse for a government. In essence, it is meant to help carry on with repression or use of excessive force in counterterrorism, thereby enhancing the need for people to take a critical approach in the quest for getting solutions to the problem. Proponents believe that much of research on a conventional approach to terrorism focuses on government reactions while in some perspectives, discussing the said act is a taboo. Therefore, the conformist research on terror fails to account for the viewpoints of the fanatics directly. For instance, repression may result in acts of political violence, including those that are terror related (Bhui et al. 2012, p.1). However, the conventional approach has overtly ignored the need to look at events from the dissident’s point of view. For example, it is easier to get government’s angles and their counterterrorism measures as compared to communiqués and statements from terror related groups (Sense 2016, p.1). Further, in cases where such materials have been obtained to extract information from the group leaders, most scholars have used them to analyze both the origins and motivations of the groups in addition to the insurgents’ tenacity to commit terrorism. What critical approach to terrorism considers are the challenges and loopholes that traditional approach has ignored (Kennedy-Pipe et al 2015; p 91).

The critical approach to terrorism advocates for the adoption of a particular set of ontological, epistemological, and methodological strategies. These are carried out with the aim of overcoming some of the weaknesses and challenges that forestall the traditional terrorism approach (Bhui et al. 2012, p.1). For instance, the critical style offers an opportunity for scholars to commit to engaging in inter-disciplinary research from all fields borne out of international relations. This mode provides researchers and analysts an opportunity also to consider other forms of violence perpetrated by state actors (Kennedy-Pipe et al 2015; p 93).A case in point is when governments establish death squads to target perceived terrorists with the aim of creating fear among the target audience. The critical approach to terrorism considers the actions of both state and non-state actors in their pursuit of the actual causes of the problem. Secondly, the said strategy allows scholars and practitioners to justify the actions of the state in committing violent attacks against its citizens. A case in point is what took place in countries such as Rwanda, Germany, and Eastern (Europe Kennedy-Pipe et al 2015; p.93).

However, the said theory also has its weaknesses. Initially, the view that government should not consider all evils as terrorism does not seem to convince most people. Some governments worldwide do not entertain dissidents, even so in liberal democracies. The said administrations effectively use threats and violence to crack down such dissents while different states have further manipulated public events to advance the need to carry out terrorist activities (Kroenig, M. and Pavel, B., 2015, p. 22).In the second instance, the approach encourages the use of terrorist perspective in the carrying out of research and ignores the government perception on origins and motives of terrorism which are equally essential. In the same breath, the traditional style like the critical slant fails to offer a substantive definition of the term terrorism.


It suffices to note that both approaches to terrorism possess both strengths and weaknesses based on the objective of a scholar. Further, both methodologies fail to offer a comprehensive framework that is devoid of the excesses of either party; state and terrorist group. The critical perspective promotes the radical point of view while the conventional approach is lop-sided in favor of the state and state actors.


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