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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past
Robert J. Art and Louise Richardson (eds.)

(United States Institute of Peace Press: Washington, D.C. 2007) 481 pp, PB, 18, ISBN 978-1-929223-93-0

There ?is not one terrorism but many?, the editors remind us towards the end of this fascinating and frustrating journey. Equally, they speak of mature as well as new and fragile democracies; and in the text one author refers to ?hollowed out? democracy. The frustration we encounter lies in the volume?s inconsistent approach to the relationship between democracy and terrorism. Without the latter there is no need for counterterrorism and its absence would have made this book redundant. In his classic In Defence of Politics published in 1962, Bernard Crick reminds us that democracy ?is perhaps the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs. She is everybody?s mistress and yet somehow retains her magic even when a lover sees that her favours are being, in his light, illicitly shared by many another?. A few years later C.B. Macpherson explored the nature of this promiscuity when he made the distinction between liberal and non-liberal democracy - the latter consisting of the communist and underdeveloped variants. He divided the former into four models: protective, developmental, equilibrium and participatory democracy.

We have laboured this point because too many terrorism studies are facile and belong in the world of post-Cold War politics. Little distinction is made between the nature of political violence and the milieu in which it operates. ?Terrorism? becomes a catch-all expression devoid of proper analysis; and part of the motivation for this volume seems to be the challenge to the United States created by international terrorism. That is a worthy objective so long as it is not conducted in the hysterical mindset of neoconservativism. It has to be said that Art and Richardson do not fall into that category. They have produced a summary that is commonsensical and comprehensive with their emphasis on sticks and carrots and ?soft? and ?hard? power. Furthermore, some contributors have addressed the difficult issues openly. Peter Waldmann?s essay on Colombia, sub-titled ?Failed attempts to stop violence and terrorism in a weak state?, is a superb piece of analysis; the Japanese study is a good example of where countries can learn from their own past misdemeanours; and Turkish treatment of the Kurdish problem reads like a classic example of arbitrary governance.

There are many valuable lessons to draw from this volume. An important truth is contained in Richard Solomon?s foreword where he writes that put ?simply, terrorism often works?. The need for international cooperation, communication, closure, and for repentance legislation are all flagged up. But in the end the true value of this volume may reside in the individual case studies and the realisation that each of them are culturally and politically specific. Yes, there are lessons to be drawn but fewer Iron Laws to be proclaimed.


Prof Paul Arthur, School of History and International Affairs, University of Ulster



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