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Addressing a Complex Issue

Bibhu Prasad Routray

Edited by Paul Shemella
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2014, pp. xv 400, Rs. 795.00


What does it take to win a war? Leadership, sol-diers, strategy, weapons or finance? What explains the inadequate accomplishments of the states, with enormous resources at their disposal, vis-à-vis terrorism? Are we confronting an enemy which simply can’t be defeated? Or philosophically speaking, are we, with an aim of defeating terrorism, merely fighting against ourselves, trying to overcome our inadequacies? Post-2001 period has seen a wave of literature on terrorism and its associated evils. And while most claim to know the reason for our failures, few seem to have a clue to solving the problem. Fighting Back is aimed at achieving two purposes. Firstly, a limited one, to serve as a textbook in the ‘Civil-military responses to terrorism’ seminars of the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey. And secondly, to broadly help the US government officials develop the best means to help other governments develop the capacity to fight terrorism successfully. While the first of the twin objectives appears to have been fulfilled, it is not clear whether the counter-terror policy of the United States has been influenced to any extent by the words of wisdom contained in this 400-pages book.   On the surface, this book appears as one that prescribes a hardcore approach to mitigating terrorism within the civil-military cooperation paradigm. Chapters in the first two of the three sections of the book suggest ways to target terrorist networks, terrorist financing, cyber terrorism, maritime terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction. They also prescribe ways to build effective counter terrorism institutions, establish inter-agency decision-making, and adopting the right tools and strategies for combating terrorism. At the same time, the book also speaks of other soft approaches for fighting terror—taking for example the image of an onion whose terrorism ‘core’ must not be smashed to pulp along with the entire onion, but how the layers, the moral resources of the civil society, must be mobilized to isolate the core. Editor Paul Shemella writes in the chapter on ‘Defusing Terrorist Ideology’, ‘Anyone attempting to counter ideological support for terrorism must realize that such efforts can succeed only from within the ideological community itself.’ That, in a way, makes this an off-beat book, rebelling against the common refrain ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ that dominated the post-9/11 world. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, US Secretary of State Colin Powell ...

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