Commonly perceived Contemporary terrorism, that has been associated with radical Islamist groups that have emerged in the twenty-first century has taken advantage of an increasingly globalised world to establish a dangerous network of radicalisation and violent extremism. Unravelling such a complex threat required an understanding of; what terrorism is, the demographics and history associated with it, and how it was able to obtain an international presence. Only then can a global effort be taken to contain and diminish the threat, one that needs to the cooperation of the international community.
Defining terrorism, radicalism and violent extremism is where the difficulties begin; there is no universal definition of terrorism, although it links with violent extremism, various governments and legal institutions utilise different definitions as a major problem with a standard definition is that the term ‘terrorism’ maintains heavy emotional and political implications (Schmid, 2013). Radicalism is the process where an individual or group becomes increasingly political, social or religious practices to reject or undermine a perceived status quo (Wilner & Dubouloz, 2010). Contemporary Islamic terrorism begs for an understanding of its origins in order to effectively tackle the issue, the rise of the Islamic State in 2015 is a great case study that encompasses a common origin of modern Islamic terrorism.
At its peak, the Islamic State encompassed 100,000 square kilometres of territory containing over 11 million people (Jones, Seth G, et al, 2017, 10-13). After splitting off from Al-Qaeda, IS was able to exploit the Sunni-Shia divide within the countries it operated in, portraying themselves as liberators of the perceived suppressed Sunni minorities of the areas and provide governance to further legitimise their claim (Ibid, 2017, 68-70).
The Islamic state was able to establish a sophisticated social media presence in order to push its international roots. A Genevan Security Policy report states that the social media website Twitter is most commonly utilised by the terror group, in 2014 there were at least 45,000 twitter accounts affiliated with ISIS, with some accounts having up to 50,000 followers (Liang, 2015, pp. 5). This global following that they established allowed for the group to both enhance its international infamy and tap into a global recruitment pool, the Islamic State was able to recruit over 18,000 foreign fighters from 90 countries by 2015 (Ibid, 2015, pp. 2).
The most consequential effect of this international presence is the large-scale ‘homegrown’ terror attacks inspired within the western world, an example of this is the recently ISIS claimed responsibility for the UK terror attacks that occurred during the 2017 election with the worst attack being the Manchester bombings that killed 23 people (Topping, Laville, 2017).
It is clear from this that the Islamic State has an extensive international presence. The subsequent destruction of ISIS through an extensive military campaign (Munro, K. 2017) in the last two years sets a precedent for dealing with the issue of contemporary terrorism as a whole. One key tool is the use of military action, against the Islamic State and other Islamist terror groups, is effective when suppressing recruitment campaigns, intercepting and targeting communication capabilities on the ground, striking critical members of the groups and protecting potential targets (Ochmanek, 2003).
Secondly, within an international context, this can divert resources that can be used to launch attacks against states outside the conflict region, while systematically reducing their online presence and limiting the threat of homegrown attacks, an example of this when Twitter suspended 235,000 accounts affiliated with ISIS (Woolf, 2016). Finally, effort from the international community must be taken to rebuild the regions where groups like ISIS thrived, ensuring the environment that produces radical, violent extremism is never present again, only then can contemporary terrorism be fully dealt with.
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