The POLSIS department at The University of Birmingham run a weekly seminar which is normally led by a guest speaker on a topic relating to Political Science or International Studies. The seminar this week was something special. We had Prof. Richard English the esteemed ‘Northern Ireland terrorism’ specialist and Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrew’s University.
Prof. English delivered the seminar based on his book ‘Terrorism: How to Respond’. As a student of Northern Irish politics it was a particular honour for me to hear Prof. English speaking. I found him to be a pleasant and affable man who approached his subject with sensitivity and personality.
Prof. English has recently joined the faculty at St. Andrews after a 20 year career at Queen’s University Belfast. Alongside other incredible scholars this makes St. Andrews one of the best places for the study of Terrorism and Political Violence in the UK.
Whilst this talk was undoubtedly brilliant I did have one time niggling question relating to Prof. English’s thesis. Please remember, as with everything else context is King. If you weren’t there don’t jump to any conclusions, rather read the book and formulate your own thoughts. I would also like to suggest checking out my post on ‘Academic Etiquette’. I am challenging one of Prof. English’s ideas, not him! Therefore, this is just one of my observations.
Out of a list of seven ways to respond to terrorism and political violence Prof. English suggested one way was to ‘Learn to live with it’. My understanding is that Prof. English is suggesting that over response to terrorism simply legitimises the cause of those perpetrating the horrible acts – but this suggestion was seemingly out of kilter with some of the arguments towards the preservation of human dignity and human security. I’ll try to give some background to the discussion that went on here.
The first suggestion of Prof. English in response to Terrorism was ‘Not to have an overmilitarised response’. There was a question fielded on this topic. An attendee at the seminar questioned Prof. English’s rationale for this. The attendee noted that in fact a heavily militarised response had been extremely effective in some cases – citing the examples of Sri Lanka and some parts of Russia and the Caucasus’. Prof. English gave a great response to this based on argument of human security, protection and dignity and said that an overmilitarised approach jeopardises this. I agree. But, it seems to me, that there is a tension between this argument and the argument that an appropriate response to Terrorism is to ‘learn to live with it’. I’m not sure these ideas are entirely compatible.
Prof. English did recognise that the book on which his talk was based was a short work and therefore there was only so much that could be addressed fully. So perhaps it is simply the case that this tension has not been appropriately debated yet.
In theory both ideas have credibility. Giving legitimacy to Terrorists is a dangerous thing to do and having a heavy-handed response is dangerous for all parties and, indeed, innocent citizens. it’s a hard argument to ratify and I’m not sure either theory is necessarily full or correct as a lone-standing argument.
Overall, the talk was provactive, challenging and interesting – much like the person delivering it.
What do you think?Purchase Prof. English’s book Terrorism: How to Repond.