By Jeffrey N DeMarco, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey DeMarco is a lecturer in Criminology at Kingston University and research associate with the Centre of Criminology and Sociology at Royal Holloway, University of London. The views expressed are his own.
Here we are again. An attack. A metropolis. A sensational depiction of violence. A Western victim. These are the thematic artifacts of our current (British) understanding of the “War on Terror.” Regardless of the venue, the perpetrator, or the modus operandi we reach an ultimate conclusion: Islamic jihadists. Full stop. The drawn out era of conflict post-9/11 has limited our already narrow understanding of a worldwide conflict fuelled by our incomprehension of “another.” The “War on Terror,” meanwhile, has evolved.
When the Twin Towers fell, our concept of terrorism and victimology dramatically changed. No longer did these atrocities play out on foreign soils, but instead on our neighbors’ door steps. The attack on London's transit system in July 2005, as with that on Madrid's in March 2004, only reinforced our own feelings of victimization. What we fail to acknowledge is the evolutionary process terrorism, as crime, follows.
On Thursday, with the killing in Woolwich in Southeast London of a man believed to be a soldier, we were reminded of the dynamic nature that a terrorist act can take. As details emerge, we see the substantiated process of the “lone wolf” or “wolf pack” emerging further. The purpose of terrorism is not, contrary to popular belief, to terminate the maximum number of lives. Instead, the goal is the installation of fear and uncertainty amongst the populace. Al Qaeda’s influence is not about direct contact – the group’s mere existence is intoxicating, given the appropriate channels.
The intricate structure of contemporary Islamic intifada is actually a product of popular discourse. Our “enemies” are our own creation. Yes, the self-radicalized terrorist is a real threat, but it is one produced by none other than our own foreign policy. Whether it be five or fifty “victims” matters not. The popular reaction is what counts. If we are scared, the mission is successful. We are.
Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, has discussed a process of radicalization. When grievances are internalized, the potential for real martyrdom may emerge. In today's atrocity, this seems to have been the case. We no longer need to look for the sensational and fantastic act of terror in order to fear it. Things change. Methodologies evolve. Terrorism is no different.
The symbolism of capturing the events as they took place on the cell phones of passersby also highlights a shift in our comprehension of terrorism. The perpetrators in today's attack aimed to digitally capture their actions, thus providing a real-time “educational” tool to those interested in pursuing the cause. And, as with 9/11, we are able to realistically experience the consequences of these acts, regardless of our location. We feel violated; wronged; and involved. It makes it that much more personal.
Our society is full of risks, in all shapes and forms. We adapt to whatever poses a threat. With this latest incident, we need to appreciate this fact and comprehend at a deeper level what has happened. Yes, the details are still emerging. Regardless, though, we need to acknowledge that mass casualties are not necessarily the endgame; the epidemic of fear bestowed by an unsuspected entity can be just as damaging.