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Misunderstanding the Meaning of Contemporary Terrorism

Professor Bill Durodie
Senior Lecturer in Risk and Security, Cranfield University

Date: 20 February 2007
: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


The 'Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005', describes itself as a 'narrative'. The implication is that, after an investigation lasting almost a year, the best the authorities can come up with is, to identify what happened and when, but not why. The backgrounds of the perpetrators are described as 'unexceptional', their purported links to al-Qaeda as lacking 'firm evidence', and their methods and materials as respectively requiring 'no great expertise' and being 'readily available'. Despite this, the desire to attribute a meaning to contemporary terrorist attacks is very powerful. Many commentators have been particularly keen to suggest a link to the war in Iraq, despite Mohammed Siddique Khan himself making no mention of this in a video released subsequently.

For security professionals, identifying the supposed 'risk-factors' that act as 'pathways to radicalisation', dominates their work. But how well do we understand these? And, has a particular way of framing contemporary acts of terror come to dominate, at the cost of failing to understand it at all and possibly even, making matters worse? The recent police raid upon a house in east London suggests the authorities to be preoccupied by the possibility of a global terrorist conspiracy, inspired by an evil, foreign ideology and determined to acquire and deploy weapons of mass destruction. Yet, there is very little evidence for this.

This paper will suggest that the evidence we have to date points to the possibility that contemporary acts of terror are, in the main, perpetrated by lone nihilists or loose groups, more often than not educated and brought up in the West and lashing out against a society they feel alienated from but have no effective framework or capabilities to influence. If this is so, then the real truth regarding the attacks of 7th July 2005 may be that they were largely meaningless, and that it is our desperate attempts to attribute some kind of meaning to them and to deal with the terrorists through an assumed framework of values and ideas, that is the real problem.

About the speaker

Bill Durodié is Senior Lecturer in Risk and Corporate Security at Cranfield University. He was previously Director of the International Centre for Security Analysis, and Senior Research Fellow in the International Policy Institute, within the 5* Research Assessment Exercise rated War Studies Group of King's College London. His main research interest is into the causes and consequences of our contemporary consciousness of risk. He is also interested in examining the erosion of expertise, the demoralisation of élites, the limitations of risk management and the growing demand to engage the public in dialogue and decision-making in relation to science.