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Book Review - Terror Inc.

12.20.2005

Im thinking of making this regular enought, only when I read some good stuff. Let me know what you think, it would be nice

Terror Inc. by Loretta Napoleoni, published by Penguin.

Easily, one of the most debated and discussed topics in our western narrative is terrorism. We have yet to agree what it means but that doesnt preclude us from debating the hell out of it, which is healthy. I picked up Terror Inc. by Loretta Napoleoni a long time ago but only got around to reading it last week or so. Nonetheless, it is still well worth reading.

The book makes little attempt to cover old ground in the "what is terrorism?" debate. It unashamedly ignores the political arguments regarding classification and use of a heavily emotive word. Yet it delivers an impeccable analysis of the behaviour of terror organisations, or perhaps organisations dubbed terrorists for some among us, that's a chestnut I think we will leave at the beginning of the post.

Loretta is an economist by trade and the book traces the genealogy of traditional nationalist terror outfits through to their modern forms and analyses the recent trend to Islamic forms in the context of emergence. All of this is undertaken from an economic analysis, i.e. what it is these organisations do, how they relate to each other, to states, to people in order to survive and achieve.

The examination of the behaviour of these organisations reveals a manner in which they emerge as state-shells, adopting some of the economic behaviour of states but lacking major tenets such as law, legitimacy and territoriality. They often commandeer land in order to promote and economy which is directed at fuelling a war. The emergence of these trends in the PLO from Jordan to Palestine via Lebanon is pretty insightful and a useful tool in studying the emergence of Al-Qaida organisation. The PLO has turned itself into a de-facto state authority in these regions to finance and promote its war.

This development is a Cold War hangover where proxy armed groups like Afghan Mujaheddin and other's needed to privatise their finances and stop relying on state funding. The overview of the financial techniques used to secure solvency in a war economy and the knock on social effects these have are elucidated wonderfully and highly accessible to a feeble mind such as myself.

It makes one think long and hard, less about terror and more about the practical side of the issue. Little romance lies in debating the approaches to terror in this sense yet it is here some hard questions emerge. Since Al-Qaida/Jihad has benefited most from globalisation, and the means by which this has happened and the practices used to fund and distribute terror globally are shown, this asks real questions about the relation our economic system has to have with our safety. Not in a simple Socialism stops terror sense but a genuine consideration of how the manner in which some of our development has been achieved and also some of the outcomes of our processes of globalisation have not helped us in our primary struggle for survival.

The relationship between our economy and that of terror is alarmingly close, the terror economy is values at $1.5 Trillion yearly and contributes huge liquidity to the Western economies. Its shutdown would cause untold economic chaos. This seems a dangerous relationship between our world system and those who would destroy us. I was deeply disturbed toward the end when it all got tied together. The old-order PLO/IRA style of organisation has been superseded by a new form, under the impetus of two main political agendas, one Islamic one nationalist.

At the same time it is not a scare-monograms book but a delivery of another side of the terror story. I have probably not done it justice, alas, but recommended reading it is. Definitely. A clear and insightful view of the system which runs our world and the system that runs theirs. The dangerous bit is the size of the overlap and the positive bit is the over-reliance of their success on our doing nothing.

RR

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  1. Anonymous Tom Griffin | 2:55 a.m. |  

    I can't help wondering whether the retreat of the state over the past 30 years, hasn't reached a point beyond liberalism, where the state's monoopoly of force guarantees a level playing field.
    That monopoly is now being challenged by terrorism, organised crime, and private military companies.

  2. Blogger Cian | 12:20 p.m. |  

    Thats an interesting point, it seems that the state is certainly in a more vulnreable position in recent years from terror groups because it has retreated from some of its powers.
    The fallout from increasing globalisation poses a huge threat in the form of a globalised Jihad capitalised at around 1.5 trillion dollars. I think your right that the retreats beyond liberalism have made responses much harder.
    The retreat since the thawing of the cold war has seen the growth in
    Firstly) outsourcing of violence and then
    Secondly) the growth of these groups into independent war machines. Their existence is a challenge to the state they reside in and a result not of no-staets but of weak ones.
    A fascinating book, thoug i worry about the privatisation of violence no one benefits.
    RR

  3. Anonymous Tom Griffin | 10:58 p.m. |  

    You might want to check out this book chapter by Martin Van Creveld. It's hard to believe its fourteen years old:
    http://www.rmi.org/images/other/Con-TransOfWarCh7.pdf

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