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21 Nov, 2014

New research opens door for travel & tourism to demand answers for failed “war on terror”

The Global Terrorism Index 2014 (GTI), released earlier this week, will provide the travel & tourism industry with powerful research to challenge the conventional wisdoms on the “war on terror” and start pursuing alternative perspectives. The report provides statistics clearly showing that nearly 15 years after 9-11 attacks, the trillions of dollars spent on combatting terrorism have achieved nothing. Rather than declining, “the level of global terrorist activity has greatly increased in the last decade.” If the same strategies continue unchecked, the problem will get worse, the report warns.

GTI report cover

Click on the image to download the report

Travel & tourism, and its first cousin, transportation, have been the economic sectors worst hit by terrorism, in terms of higher security costs, visa restrictions, racial profiling, inflamed ethnic and cultural hostilities, and geopolitical complications. Over the years, industry leaders have blindly accepted the official narrative of governments on how to combat it. This report makes it clear that the time has come to change tack. One of the report’s highlights is an essay by Larry Attree, Head of Policy, Saferworld and David Keen, Political Economist and Professor of Complex Emergencies, London School of Economics, which says: “Most of the public conversation about terrorism has focused on conventional counter-terrorism efforts: intelligence gathering, policing, and military force. However, such efforts are often ineffective, and even counterproductive.”

In other words, they have failed.

Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the second edition of the GTI provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over a 14-year period 2000-13. It is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) considered to be the most comprehensive dataset on terrorist activity globally. The GTI report summarises trends and analyses the changing patterns of terrorism in terms of geographic activity, methods of attack, organisations involved and the national economic and political context.

It says, “In 2013 terrorist activity increased substantially with the total number of deaths rising from 11,133 in 2012 to 17,958 in 2013, a 61 per cent increase. Over the same period, the number of countries that experienced more than 50 deaths rose from 15 to 24. This highlights that not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well.”

The essay says that dealing with ‘terrorism’ (sic) is one of the foremost priorities on the domestic and foreign policy agendas of western nations. However, it adds, “the urgency surrounding the agenda has not always facilitated sober reflection on the available facts regarding the nature of the problem.”

Says the essay, “The public debate on how to respond to ‘terrorist’ threats tends to revolve around the most horrific outrages and sensational crises. Whether the option in question is to bomb a reviled spoiler, to arm those opposing an evil regime, or to sponsor a regional partner to take on the dangerous militants, public debate tends to focus minds on apparently simple choices between action and inaction. In this climate, the pressure on leaders to appear strong and act decisively—especially in the face of violent provocation—is very powerful. However, when the media directs its fickle gaze to newer stories, the success or failure of policy responses to ‘terrorism’ threats overseas over the long term is rarely publicly discussed.”

The report cites it is perhaps not widely known that:

(+) In Iraq, heavy handed military action, such as the assault on Falluja in the wake of the lynching of four American security contractors in April 2004, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, including many women and children, and served to fuel further insurgency;

(+) In Afghanistan, because of local codes of revenge in Pashtun areas, killing insurgents has often served ‘to multiply enemies rather than subtract them’. Studies have also ‘found little evidence that aid projects are “winning hearts and minds”’ in the country: ‘instead of contributing to stability, in many cases aid is contributing to conflict and instability’;

(+) In Somalia, thousands of weapons and hundreds of vehicles and high-frequency radios provided by the international community as security assistance during the 1990s ended up in the hands of local militias. In addition, from 2004 onwards over 14,000 Somali soldiers trained by Ethiopia reportedly defected or deserted with their weapons and uniforms, while UN-trained police were implicated in violent abuses against civilians.

In perhaps the most damming comment for the travel & tourism industry, which claims to be an industry of peace, the essay says, “It is remarkable that such failures have led neither to detailed public debate on how peace can best be achieved in the wake of ‘terrorist’ violence, nor to any serious accountability for the leaders and officials that presided over them. But what is even more striking is that the mistakes of the present echo those of past decades: for example, the practice of bombing large swathes of the countryside and the diversion of aid to corrupt purposes that fed public support for the Viet Cong in Vietnam; or the government emergency measures, including the attempt to use ‘development’ and forced relocation as instruments of counterinsurgency, that strongly fuelled the Mau Mau insurgency under British rule in Kenya during the 1950s.

“While such problems are, tragically, familiar to scholars and experts working to document the track record of counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding approaches around the world, attention to the lessons of the past is strikingly absent from the public debate on how to do better in future.”

The essay makes a definitive statement: “Despite the investment of huge resources in such contexts by Western governments, the results have been mixed at best: the current long-term instability of the Middle East, North and East Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the spread of al-Qa’ida into multiple new regions, and the mushrooming of other transnational militant groups suggest that something is seriously wrong with the Western response to such problems.”

It cites three main areas as posing potential long-term problems.

“Firstly, by setting national security above human security objectives the West has – whether directly or through proxies— too frequently responded to the threat of ‘terrorism’ with the use of violence. Such violence has, all too often, been indiscriminate, and has had a tendency to exacerbate conflict dynamics rather than contribute to sustainable peace.

“Secondly, counter-terrorism efforts and related actions taken under the label of ‘stabilisation’ and ‘statebuilding’ have often failed to address drivers of conflict in meaningful ways. In fact, they often clumsily reinforce the most serious drivers of conflict – especially patterns of abusive and exclusive governance and corruption.

“Thirdly, the Western response has typically neglected to focus on sustainable solutions to conflict that involve and respond to the concerns, priorities and potentials of conflict-affected people in constructive ways.”

The essay says it is now becoming necessary to “examine why similar shortcomings are repeated from one decade to the next with diminishing public scrutiny. However, what is perhaps more challenging, and more useful, is to envisage what constructive alternatives are available.”

The essay then lists “Six Things To Do Less Often” and “Six Directions For Constructive Alternatives.” It adds, all these policy directions “are neither a call to side with the ‘enemy’, nor to evade the imperatives to respond to conflict swiftly and effectively. Instead, they are a call for the lessons of the past and the available alternatives to be more carefully considered, with the overarching objective of working towards long term peace in mind.”

The essay and indeed the entire GTI 2014 report need to be carefully studied and analysed by the travel & tourism industry globally. It has opened a golden opportunity for the academic community to do some intense follow-up work on how the war on terror has impacted more specifically on travel & tourism. Our industry leaders will not do anything to address the problem, or provide alternative perspectives, unless they begin to face countervailing pressure. Only when the people lead, will the leaders follow.

Click here to download the full report.