Dewan and Cheraoui – War on Terror 2.0: The Rise of White Supremacy Terrorism

One of our members, Khalil Dewan, has co-authored ‘War on Terror 2.0: The Rise of White Supremacy Terrorism‘ with Tarek Cherkaoui.

Here’s the abstract:

“The rise of the far-right and white supremacy pre-dates the War on Terror. The lack of focus on this threat stems from an inherent legal-architectural design flaw, which has been in place since 9/11. Consequently, the global response to political violence perpetrated by non-Muslims is not handled through the legal framework of the “War of Terror.” The reason has been clear for nearly two decades: Terrorism was not seen as a white problem. The rationale for such position lays in the adoption and dissemination of orientalist ideology by power structures in Western countries. This ideology cascaded down to the masses worldwide via the mobilisation of media bias, which demonised certain ethnic groups and played upon fears of the ‘other’. The attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand demonstrate that white supremacy terrorism is here to stay. This Policy Outlook calls for an impartial, adequate, and integrated response to this rising terrorist threat.”

Following the horrific terror attacks in Christchurch, this is a timely report highlighting the issues of far-right terrorism and how it has developed in recent times. It’s good to see that this issue is starting to be properly analysed after it has been thought of as a non-issue in public thought over the past few years.

It’s available in PDF here.

What do you expect to be the most important trend in the future of technology, terrorism, and/or armed conflict in the rest of this century?

Here, we come to our final week of full discussions. After more than 2 years of work on the Technology, Terrorism, and Armed Conflict in the 21st Century research network, it is coming to an end in terms of regular material. It’s been immensely interesting to read, watch, think about, and discuss a variety of topics and issues that we’re all interested in. But, the time to move on has come. Beyond technology, terrorism, and armed conflict there are more concepts to discuss and ideas to dream up. So, that’s what Mike and I (Josh) are going to do. We’ve started a podcast as a vehicle for us to discuss wider things. You’re more than welcome to come along for the ride. We’ll publicise it soon. 

The TTAC21 website will remain in place for at least another year. A few members who have joined later on have already sent in comments for previous posts. I’ll update the original posts with them in the next few weeks. 

If you have something new to say on the issues covered by the network, you are more than welcome to write a blog to be published here. Or if you want to comment on any of the pieces we’ve previously looked at, either pop your ideas in the comments box at the bottom or e-mail them over. 

The network itself will now become a mailing list for sharing interesting pieces, calls for applications/papers, and that sort of thing. We’ve amassed a really great group of people in TTAC21, so it would seem a waste to not keep in touch. If you aren’t on the mailing list but would like to be, just send an email and we will add you to it. 

Before we look at our answers to the question, I thought I would explain the pictures in this post. The featured image at the top of the page is one of Jean-Marc Côté’s pieces from his ‘En L’An 2000’ (In the year 2000) body of work. This was a series of postcards drawn for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. They show visions of 100 years into the future. fittingly for us, several relate to military operations and I’ll put a few in this post. If you want to see them all, they’re available here.


Now, for the final time, let’s see what we thought … 


TTAC21 has been going now for over 18 months, and in that time, its given us some fascinating discussion points. I for one have certainly benefitted from being a part of the network. To respond to this, the final ‘official’ question put the group, I’m not sure I can come up with a single answer. Since this research group came into being, we’ve already seen examples of drones causing disruption in a civilian setting, and this sort of thing will only become more prevalent over the coming years. How the rise of drones will affect the military setting however is another matter entirely. From my own perspective, I imagine the major western powers will continue investing over the odds in overly-expensive, overly-complex systems such as Reaper / Predator, while smaller players will start to make use of the disruptive power of drones to take on major powers at their own game. As Josh and I have said many times before, it can’t be long before people start strapping explosives to the sorts of drones that can be bought in shops. This will pose a massive problem for law enforcement agencies, and for military powers, as enemies and criminals will both have access to the sort of powers that for a short while were solely the preserve of the major players. Fighting drone crime and drone terrorism will certainly prove a major challenge in the years to come. 

But while drones are certainly one of the most important trends, I can’t help but think cybercrime will also continue to prove a problem – in particular in relation to electric / self-driving cars. If hackers can already break into certain cars via their stereo systems and advanced on board electronics, we can only imagine what might happen when self-driving cars become ubiquitous. Fair dodging and going ‘off grid’ will be the least of authorities’ problems as criminals may be able to kidnap individuals remotely, or even commit crimes of murder or mass murder without even having to enter the vehicle they intend to use as a weapon. And that’s just the tip of a very big cybercrime-related iceberg! 

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University 


Perhaps I’ve been thinking about Paul Virilio a bit too much recently, but I think the biggest trend in the future of technology, terrorism, and armed conflict will be speed. Faster computing speeds allow for more computation and more complex computation to take place, leading to technological advances. Lots of people talk of artificial intelligence as being the future, yet AI is just computer programmes performing tasks that require human-level cognition. But as Alan Turing spoke about (in the 1930’s!) is that any universal computer can compute anything. So, what allows AI to be realised is the emergence of computing speed necessary to make these computer programmes work in an acceptable time. 

In terrorism, we see a battle between terrorist plotters trying to hide their activities and security services trying to investigate these activities. A terrorist can be as discrete as possible, but they will almost inevitably leave some clues. Thus, it becomes a race for security services to find these clues and stop a plot before the terrorists can put their plan into motion. Therefore, the faster a terrorist can move, the less chance they have of being caught. 

When it comes to warfare, the most significant trend we’ve seen in recent years is the revival of hybrid or non-linear warfare by Russia. Often, this involves changes in tactics or strategy to overwhelm the enemy in unexpected ways. For example, an adversary prepared for a typical military-on-military confrontation would be dealt severe blows if a force could melt into the civilian population only to pop up and carry out major attacks at irregular intervals. The sooner one force can adopt vastly different tactics to outwit their enemy, the more advantage they can gain. 

It’s also possible to conceptualise hybrid warfare as entailing temporary allegiances against common enemies. As such, the sooner allegiances can be made, then more force can be applied more quickly than otherwise. Plus, once those allegiances have run their course, the sooner one party can betray the other, the more advantage they can gain over them. Thus, speed is also a key concept in late modern warfare – and that is all before we even really look at the ever-increasing operational tempo of modern combat! 

In conclusion then, speed seems to be the basis of all major trends happening at the moment. I expect it to continue into the future. As it is the underlying trend, perhaps speed would be better conceptualised as a ‘meta-trend’? 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University  

So, that’s what we thought, and that’s it. What do you think? 

What is the most significant terrorist tactic of the 21st century so far?

Following on from our discussion last week about the most significant counter-terrorist trend, here we discuss terrorist tactics. There have been many significant tactics used by terrorists in the Global War on Terror. Of course, hijacking planes and using them as a weapon at the outset of GWOT was a massive change from hijacking for money or a political platform. As it has progressed, improvised explosive devices, car bombs, suicide attacks, gaining and holding territory, cyber-crime/hacking and multi-site ‘rampage’ style attacks have all been used by terrorist groups. All of these have been significant changes, and show terrorist groups as both innovative and dangerous in the face of massively more powerful state-actor adversaries. Unfortunately, all of this makes the job of securing populations by state-actors all the more difficult.

Here’s what we discussed at out reading group, followed by some individual thoughts.

  • Technology is neutral (much in the same way that counterinsurgency doctrine suggests ‘The Jungle is Neutral’). It has, however, been repurposed by terrorist groups for nefarious means. Thus, it would seem wrong to try to re-forge technology to be the tool of states – learning how to adapt to it and find ways of preventing adversaries from carrying out terrorist or cyber-crime activities would be a better approach.
  • Approaching cyber-terrorism with a repressive approach may work in the short-term, but in the long-term people always tire of authoritarianism and overthrown such leaders. Furthermore, use of repression or oppression to deal with adversaries puts terrorists on the same side as campaigners for civil rights, leading to tyrannical groups of innocent people as adversaries.
  • The democratisational ability of technology has de-centralised some power, particularly prevalent in this discussion is violent power, from states to individuals. The ability for the stereotypical teenage bot in his bedroom hacking a major corporation or piece of national infrastructure is evidence of this. However, de-centralised power has also created democratised promotional platforms upon which extremists can use as a soap box to feed their messages to impressionable people.
  • This democratised and de-centralised power allows for networks to expand and diversify. The use of the internet soap box allows messages to be accessed by whoever can find them, or can have the message pushed to them – with present day social media, this is far easier than in was in the past. In terms of diversification, the expansion of network into the realm of criminality expose terrorism to organised crime as markets for resources such as weapons and explosives. A question here is what other markets or services become available to terrorists as such networks expand.

The most overt terrorist tactic of the 21st century so far is certainly the suicide bomber – so much so that the bomber is synonymous with both the terrorist and the subsequent ‘war on terror’.
However, beyond the suicide bomber I would suggest that the most significant tactic of the 21st century so far is the computer hacker or cyber warrior. Such is the subtlety and subterfuge with which the cyber warrior wages war we struggle to even know what group the hacker belongs to or whose cause he or she is fighting for. Even as I write this now, there are news items published today suggesting the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks may be attributable to North Korea. But even then, do we know that for sure, and even if we did, what could or should we do about it?
There are also of course suggestions that the American presidential election may have been influenced by cyber warriors, either fighting for themselves or for larger groups. Whichever the case, I suggest the potential impact of attacks such as these actually goes far beyond the direct physical impact of the suicide bomber, and will prove to be our greatest challenge in the coming years.
Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

I’ve recently been thinking about the efficacy of networked command structures. As terrorists do not need to match militaries and law enforcement who have strict command structures, they have the ability to go outside of this traditional model, and function as networks, rather than hierarchies. This arrangement enables most members of a terrorist group to remain hidden and still move forward with their plans, even if one of their number is arrested/captured/killed. Thus, why the rapid operational tempo used by JSOC and other special forces during house raids to try and eliminate networks of terrorist groups rapidly in order to eliminate an entire network, rather than just capturing one or two members at a time. During the Iraq War, special forces would raid terrorist houses, and use the information gleaned to find more targets, raid that house, and then do the same until they brought down terrorist networks. The speed required for this meant that special forces were often raiding 10 properties per night at the height of their campaign.
Furthermore, networking allows for (semi-)autonomous groups to function under a leadership, without strong communication links. This means that there is less chance of plots being found, as less communication will be happening between attackers and known terrorist leaders. Thus, resulting in the need for intelligence services to resort to mass surveillance to find terrorist plotters amongst the crowds of the general public.
Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University.

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