War on Terror

To some, this term refers to the justified military response of nations attacked without provocation by terrorists. To others, it refers to an excuse or cover for Machiavellian stratagems aimed at furthering or protecting geopolitical dominance on the part of imperialist powers (primarily Russia, Western Europe, and the United States).

To the former group, the attacks of 9/11 (which initiated the War on Terror) were essentially unprovoked (or at least unjustified). They represented a terrorist attack on Western civilization and Western values by Islamists who wish to see Islam triumph over and dominate the Free World.

The latter group concedes that the attacks of 9/11 were clearly terrorist in that they targeted not only symbols of American imperial power but also civilians (at least as calculated “collateral damage”). But people with this view argue that the attacks represented an understandable (even if not morally justifiable) backlash against decades of Western colonialism and imperialism, which were (and continue to be) experienced as violence and oppression in much of the Muslim world.  

There has also been widespread debate over the practical utility of the phrase “war on terror” to describe the U. S. response to the events of 9/11. Some say the term “war” is justified, because it captures the urgency of the danger and the need to marshal resources to fight it. Others believe that the “war” term is overly vague, having already been diluted by the “war on drugs” and the “war on poverty.” They point out that calling something a war when it is not a conflict between nations distorts the frame of reference, creating expectations that don’t fit the actual context of the conflict. Some believe that the proper framing should be as a police action, an investigation, a manhunt, or some other more appropriate metaphor for the pursuit and prosecution of non-state actors.

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Do you think the phrase “War on Terror” has been useful? Or is it a misnomer that causes confusion? If you think it’s a useful phrase, what would you like to say to people who think it’s a misnomer? If you think it’s not useful, what term would you like to see used instead?

-Do you think the War on Terror has been justified? If so, what would make it unjustified? If not, what would make it justified?

-What, in your view, would completely eradicate terrorism as a means of violent opposition? What other solutions have you heard about, and how do you react to them?

Dialog Tips: 

Terrorism Issue Guide (2008) Public Agenda Issue Guides or 'Citizen Choicework Guides'

Terrorism: What Should We Do? (NIF Issue Guide) National Issues Forums Institute

Preventing Terrorism and Promoting Civil Liberties – A Citizen ChoiceWork Guide

Living Room Conversation Guide:Muslim Refugees & National Security

Contributors: 

Arthur M. Peña, Cynthia Kurtz

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