Role Of Civil Society In Combating Terrorism

1. The stalemate of terrorism has always been a threat to humans of this world in one form or the other, radiating from number of causes such as insensitive religious emotions, sectarian divergences, disparity of power among leftist and rightist schools of thought, communism vs. capitalism, exploitation of the ignorant and deprived ones and lust for acquisition of resources entailing in invasions etc. However, this problem emerged as a flash point after a tragic incident of 9/11 which drew attention of world towards uprooting this cancer by taking certain counter measures. Military solution, when crucial, plays its roles to some extent but cannot fully figure out the intricacies of terrorism without taking all the communities and nation onboard. This not only educates masses about issues in ‘war against terror’ but plays a key role in boosting morale of forces on frontlines. These have included the introduction of anti-terror laws; changes in reporting requirements for civil society organizations; and the increasing use of new border security technologies. In many countries, the impact of these measures on civil society and on citizens has been a source of great concern. The meaning of involving civil society in a wide-ranging and multidimensional response to the threat of terrorism has been stressed by various international platforms.

There's a specialist from your university waiting to help you with that essay.
Tell us what you need to have done now!

order now

2. “Civil society” covers a vast range of societal groups, interests, representations, inbuilt tensions and conflicts. It is very much obvious by a series of intended associations together with biased parties, skilled unions and specialized bodies, classified fundamentals, learned and research foundations, pious, strong believers, and community-based societies, social and environmental groups. An energetic civil society can show a strategic role in countering extremist ideologies, sectarian / social violence in the society.

3. Civil society can promote the voice of diverse social groups and causes, which endow with a channel of expression for the unimportant and can encourage an atmosphere of patience and pluralism. As a matter of fact, civil societies can also play a momentous role in building local support for counterterrorism through education, entrancing government establishments to adopt a pragmatic response that respects human rights, supervising execution of counterterrorism procedures, considering and broadcasting abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism, backing and support to sufferers, sponsoring the significance of harmony and safety, and providing capacity-building training. This paper will address this aspect of countering the terrorism to see where and how civil society comes into action for countering terrorism.


4. To carry out an in-depth study of civil society’s role in addressing terrorism, so as to identify the shortcomings hampering its efficacy with the view to enable a way forward in short and long term perspectives to make it an effective tool for combating terrorism.


5. The paper will focus on following:-

a. To briefly highlight various terrorism facets for drawing their relevancy and genesis form civil society’s standpoint.

b. To ponder upon the essentials that the civil society can perform in developing its profile for handling terrorism.

c. To highlight the limitations that handicaps our civil society’s efficacy in playing its due role in addressing terrorism.

d. To bring home an affect based approach focusing on immediate and long term actions to uplift our society’s role against terrorism both in cognitive and practical domains.


6. The word Terrorism is very much renowned and perilous to the global world. The modern world has made a number of counter measures to face this menace. Before defining the role of civil society in combating terrorism and extremism effectively; we must understand first about terrorism, its genesis types and causes. Since, solution to any problem will prevail only by knowing its basis and objectives.

7. What is Terrorism. [1] Terrorism is not new, and even though it has been used since the beginning of recorded history it can be relatively hard to define. Terrorism has been described variously as both a tactic and strategy; a crime and a holy duty; a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Obviously, a lot depends on whose point of view is being represented. Terrorism has often been an effective tactic for the weaker side in a conflict. As an asymmetric form of conflict, it confers coercive power with many of the advantages of military force at a fraction of the cost. Due to the secretive nature and small size of terrorist organizations, they often offer opponents no clear organization to defend against or to deter.

8. There is no universally accepted definition exists for the meaning of word “terrorism,” however several interpreters have counted more than one hundred different definitions. [2] The lack of an agreed definition allows those in power to interpret the term for their own purposes. Political leaders often take advantage of the terms ambiguity to label their opponents terrorists. However, there are certain definitions related to terrorism exist in the world with different connotation to its application used by different countries are as:-

a. United States Department of Defense. It defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements – violence, fear, and intimidation and each element produces terror in its victims.

b. Federal Bureau of Investigation (United State). States that, “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

c. United State Department of State. It defines “terrorism” to be “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience”.

d. United Nations. United Nation produced this definition in 1992; “An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.” The most commonly accepted academic definition starts with the U.N. definition quoted above, and adds two sentences totaling another words on the end; containing such verbose concepts as “message generators” and ‘violence based communication processes.” Less specific and considerably less verbose.

e. British Government. The British government definition of 1974 is”aˆ¦the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear.”

9. Types of Terrorism. Being complex in definition, there is also difference in opinion among the academics over the types of terrorism. However, [3] Encyclopedia of Britannica describes the following types of terrorism:-

a. Revolutionary Terrorism. It is very common type and is aimed to achieve certain political goals. Practitioners of this type of terrorism seek the complete abolition of a political system and its replacement with new structures. Modern instances of such activity include campaigns by the Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Faction (Baader – Meinhof Gang), the Basque separatist group etc, each of which attempted to topple a national regime.

b. Sub Revolutionary Terrorism. A least common and is used not to bring down an existing establishment but to transform the existing socio-political arrangement. Since this modification is often accomplished through the threats of deposing the existing regime, sub revolutionary groups are somewhat more difficult to identify. An example can be seen in the African National Congress (ANC) and its campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

c. Establishment Terrorism. During cold war, Soviet Union along with its allies ostensibly engaged in widespread support of international terrorism and United States supported rebel groups in Africa that allegedly engaged in acts of terrorism, such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in 1988s.

d. Nationalist Terrorism. It is aimed to establish separate state for certain religious, ethnic or tribal groups. It has been popular among the most flourishing at winning international sympathy and acknowledgment. Being so called freedom fighters, they use violence to draw attention of the world to gain sympathy for their national agenda. Movement run by Irish republican Army in UK (IRA) and Palestine liberation organization (PLO) in Palestine are some examples from the past. However, it is fascinating truth that both groups renounced terrorism in 1990s and adopted the political means of conflict resolution.

e. Religious Terrorism. It is growing rapidly and discussed widely on the international media. Religious terrorists seek to use violence to further what they see as divinely commanded purposes, often targeting broad categories of foes in an attempt to bring about wide changes in the system.

f. State-Sponsored Terrorism. State uses secreted groups to contain anti state or anti government rudiments in the country and is normally accomplished by autocratic to restrain the political opponents. They are more capable, professional and energetic than other groups because of having moral, political and logistic support of the government or state.

g. Inter-State or International Terrorism. This type witnessed events of uprising and terrorism between two big powers in the guise of cold war. Although USSR and USA never confronted directly but no one can deny proxy wars of these two powers in different parts of the world. Palestine is very clear example of the international terrorism where America supported Israel and USSR was giving backup to Al – Fateh a militant arm of Palestinian liberation organization (PLO).

h. Group Terrorism. It occurs on the formation of various groups for common objectives in the society. Such groups are based on sectarian, linguistic, ethnic and tribal bases. When these groups work for the establishment of the supremacy and superiority for their own agenda it ultimately causes tension and clash with opponent groups. For example, Catholic and protestant conflict in Ireland, black white tension in US and South Africa etc.

10. Causes of Terrorism. To counter the menace of terrorism, it is essential to know and identify causes of terrorism. Terrorism being a multifaceted phenomenon has several reasons such as social, economic, religious and political etc. This global phenomenon has various causes and some of them are being spelled out briefly for the better understanding of the issue. This is also notable that the causes of terrorism may be different in various societies due to its religious, ethnic and political nature.

a. Helplessness and Hopelessness. Helplessness which leads to hopelessness is the psychological state that enhances terrorism in the society. The society in which people are ignored and have to experience from socio economic and political unfairness, provide favorable milieu to promote terrorism like long outstanding disputes of Palestine and Kashmir. Similarly, in communist regimes where the people were not given their socio-political rights they brought about even poisonous rebellion.

b. Political and Economic Deprivation. When political and economic rights of certain groups are not granted it chooses the suitable method of terrorism to show their anger. For example in northern states of India such as Assam, Nagaland, and West Bengal; the communists started guerilla war against the Indian Government being economically and politically deprived.

c. Influence of Communist Regimes. At the end of cold war the influence of communist regimes inspired by Marxist and Leninist theories made a cause of escalation of terrorism in the world. Being influenced by such regimes many freedom movements adopted violence. Like Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka communists and Tamales who started violent movements in the last two decades of twentieth century for their freedom.

d. Poverty and Economic Exploitation. Illiteracy, hunger and economic disparity etc always attract terrorism in the society. Famous philosopher Aristotle claimed that “Poverty is mother of Terrorism and Revolution”. Daniel Pipes also says that “As long as there is poverty, disparity, unfairness and suppressive political systems, radical tendencies will grow in the world.”

e. Easy Access to Weapons and Modern Technology. Due to incredible advancement in weapons technology and human knowledge it has become easy for the terrorists to get them easily. Hugh quantity of information about the arms manufacturing has been spread by internet which has made the access of the terrorists easy and they use weapons to get quick results the act of terrorism.

f. Sheer Success of Terrorism. Terrorism is a short cut tactic for the terrorists to achieve their goals quickly. It is more result orientated rather than peaceful movement. That is why the terrorist groups adopt this for getting more results in shorter time. Easy access to weapons and widespread information of the arms technology is the cause of escalation of terrorism in modern times.

g. Lack of Democracy and Dictatorship. Lack of Democracy is the main cause of terrorism in present times. The dictators and autocrat governments frighten opponents. They do it to create the fear among the masses to suppress any opposition against their governments. In undemocratic circumstances the people do not find ways to express their disagreement and as a result some of them turn to the violent means to submit their expression. We can see in many autocrat and communist states in Latin America and Africa the massive force was used against the political opponents such as in Cuba Zambia and Congo etc.

h. Religious Extremism. There is a school of thought which considers that the religious extremism is the major cause of terrorism. Mark Juergensmeyer says that “The religion is crucial for these acts since it gives moral justifications for the killing and provides images of cosmic war that allows activists to believe that they are waging spiritual scenarios”. It does not mean that the religion causes terrorism but it does mean that the religion often provides symbols that make possible bloodshed even catastrophic acts of terrorism. As evidence we can observe that the majority of the terrorist movements are inspired by the religion or at-least it is claimed.

11. Counter Terrorism. Counter terrorism is also a contested concept. The term embodies a wide range of measures with differing impacts, which can be loosely characterized as the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the bad and ugly categories are Counter Terrorism Measures (CTMs) that overemphasize security and distort development and aid priorities, and that lead to extrajudicial killings, greater state repression, and increased human rights abuse. Overly restrictive counterterrorism measures constrain the social, political, and operational capacity of civil society actors and impede the work of groups promoting improvements in governance, human rights, and development. These are all important elements for reducing conditions, such as political marginalization, repression, and despair that can fuel grievances and lead to expressions of political violence. On the positive side are cooperative nonmilitary measures that enhance the capacity of governments to thwart terrorist attacks while promoting and protecting human rights. Also in the good category are policies that encourage support for sustainable development and good governance.

12. The proposed categorization is figurative and not meant to suggest absolute judgments about particular policies. The range of counterterrorism measures is extremely wide, and specific policies can have differing impacts in varying conditions and settings. Strengthened law enforcement efforts are good when they prevent attacks and bring perpetrators to justice, but these same measures can be bad if they lead to abuses and increased repression. Efforts to prevent the financing of terrorism are positive, yet programs intended to interdict such funding often have negative implications for nongovernmental groups and charities seeking to overcome oppression. The evaluation of particular counterterrorism measures depends greatly on context and the way in which specific actors implement policies. Judgments about particular policies should be based on the degree to which they contribute to genuine security and democratic governance, while also upholding the rule of law and protecting the work of peace builders and human rights defenders.

13. Counterterrorism measures are usually weighted toward the executive branch of government, with little attention to enhancing judicial independence, legislative oversight, and citizen involvement. Emergency measures passed in the name of fighting terrorism have had the effect of undermining civil liberties, restricting the ability of civil society groups to operate, and impeding development and relief activities in marginalized communities. Repressive CTMs have reversed progress achieved in recent years toward the integration of human rights and accountable governance into development policy. Individual rights and political freedoms have eroded as states have accumulated greater security powers. The nongovernmental monitoring organization Freedom House has reported an alarming erosion of global political freedom in recent years. In its 2010 annual survey the organization noted “intensified repression against human rights defenders and civic activists “and reported declines for political freedom in countries representing 20 percent of the world’s total polities. The last few years have witnessed the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the organizations nearly 40-year history of publishing annual ratings. [4] In 2011 Freedom House noted a further decline in political freedom and a reduction in the number of countries defined as politically free. The report highlighted the continued poor performance of countries of the Middle East and North Africa, although this trend may be partially reversed if the democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries produce freer societies and more representative governments.


14. Civil society can play a significant role in helping states increase awareness of the threat and the impact of an attack on local communities, and in deepening public support for government action to address it, which is an essential component of any effective long-term strategy. Terrorism is obviously the state of extreme in human conflict that occurs when the violence enters in the matter. The terrorism is the result of failure in conflict resolution which can occur anywhere in the world. It is the crucial social problem of the society as well. The generally classified and unified roles of civil society in order to preventing and reducing of terrorism are as follows:-

a. Counseling and Educational Role.

b. Community Services.

c. Sponsorship and Research.

d. Legal Facets.

Counseling and Educational Role

15. Civil society organizations can play a momentous counseling and educational role. They can provide policy opinions and proficiency on features of preventing terrorism that is often not obtainable within government. Similarly, civil society experts may provide alternative appropriate language and terminology to public officials in addressing issues related to terrorism and security keeping in view its importance. In order to reinforce co-operation with governments, civil society should also find it appropriate to acknowledge positive steps or measures taken by law enforcement officials and government where they occur. In addition, they may have a positive counseling role in providing tangible substitutes to counter-terrorism policies and measures that they consider to be ill-conceived. It is important to identify and give relevant information to the government in order to understand the real extent of the threat and to be able to provide adequate suggestions of a response [5] .

16. As for as educational role is concerned, it is very much important for civil society to make clear that human rights are a useful structure for mounting useful counter-terrorism strategies rather than an impediment. Some of the specific activities on this account may include providing information to school students as well as to youth workers and police and law enforcement officials. With regard to the latter, civil society may enter into partnerships with law enforcement bodies to develop targeted programs of co-operation, focusing, for instance, on increasing awareness and understanding of the diversity of communities.

Community Services

17. It is almost self-evident that civil society institutions can also perform valuable community functions. They have an important role to play as catalysts for the development of opinions and ideas that is vital for building strong and vibrant communities. By creating safe spaces for dissent and by providing a forum where experiences can be shared on a personal level, civil society institutions may contribute to healing community rifts and tensions. They may also consider engaging in outreach activities and taking proactive steps to address the root causes of terrorism. Activities of particular value in this regard are those that strengthen human rights and the rule of law. The promotion and protection of these pillars of democracy contribute to building strong societies in which citizens are free to participate in the political process and exercise their rights. Providing practical and effective support to defenders of human rights is therefore also essential.

18. Another issue which may warrant further examination is the question of whether civil society should attempt to engage in dialogue with individuals and groups involved in and perpetrating acts of violence and “terrorism”. For various reasons, it is easier for civil society to engage in such dialogue than for governments. However, a human rights-based approach is essential in this regard. This includes a clear indication that dialogue does not imply affording any form of legitimacy to the perpetrators of violence. The positive experience of the peace process in Northern Ireland is one example that may provide valuable lessons.

Sponsorship and Research

19. Civil society may play a meaningful advocacy and research role. As a matter of principle, it is important that they condemn all acts of violence against civilians regardless of the motivation behind those acts. With regard to positive measures in the area of advocacy, they may consider writing open letters and statements to armed groups condemning terrorist tactics and maintaining a principled approach to the applicability of human rights standards, i.e. that these standards apply to both perpetrators and victims of violence. There may be a role for civil society in reducing the emotional and psychological impact of terrorism. In particular, they may engage in activities that aim to amplify the voices of the victims of terrorism and of persons affected by unlawful counter-terrorism operations.

20. Other aspects of an effective advocacy role include the issue of engaging with the media to shape the public discourse around “terrorism”. It is essential for civil society to establish a constructive relationship with the media and the entertainment industry in order to provide reliable information, challenge negative or unbalanced portrayals of parts of the community, and initiate public debate on issues of public security and human rights. At the same time, it is important to encourage debate within the media profession on the image that is conveyed of minority groups in connection with the fight against terrorism and to alert them of their the responsibility to avoid perpetuating prejudices, stereotypes, or inaccurate and/or incomplete information.

21. Moreover, civil society may contribute high value studies in the field of terrorism, political aggression and for circumstances favorable to the increase of terrorism. High quality studies and research is very important as it reports to helpful and convincing encouragement and prevention efforts. High-quality research may comprise conducting studies and surveys on the impact of counterterrorism measures and on the intricate question of the issues that make persons pledge to radical ideas and engage themselves in acts of aggression. Equally, keeping in view the importance of increase in statistical and monitoring work; civil society can also connect with government in an open and facts-based discussion about the efficacy of counter-terrorism procedures.

Legal Facets

22. Finally, there is yet another and important role that civil society has to play is legal facets related to terrorism in the society. Their work on legal issues related to terrorism and counter-terrorism continues to make a significant input to amplification international and national legal frameworks for counter-terrorism activities, particularly for the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law. There is a need to expand the work of civil society institutions to answer technical questions relating to: the definition of terrorism; the scope of application of domestic, bilateral, and multilateral laws, treaties, and other instruments dealing with terrorism; the accountability of perpetrators and redress for victims of terrorist acts and of unlawful counter-terrorism practices, in respect of both domestic and international law; educating decision makers about the nature and extent of complexity among different legal frameworks, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and domestic criminal and civil law; and translating complicated legal arguments for wider public mobilization.


23. The role of civil society in eradicating terrorism is magnanimous but there are many interrelated factors that restrict its freedom of action. Some of these restrictions are discussed as under:-

a. Political Space and Measures Restricting Civil Society. Despite the contributions they are capable of making, civil society groups in many countries lack the capacity, resources, and expertise to engage on counterterrorism issues, while in others, because of lack of political space and measures restricting civil society, civil societies simply do not have the freedom to engage. This ability of civil society to engage is largely tied to basic standards of freedom of information, freedom of association, and freedom to seek funding, which states have an obligation to ensure.

b. Counterterrorism as Exclusively Government Responsibility. The inclination of some governments to view counterterrorism as exclusively a government responsibility and the related “over-sensitivity on the part of security forces and their tendency to consider everything relating to terrorism as top secret” has significantly limited the information flow to civil society, thus inhibiting their ability to gain a full picture of the threats facing and vulnerabilities.

c. Counterterrorism a Crack Down Tool on Civil Society and Political Opposition. In some instances, counterterrorism has been used as a pretense to crack down on civil society and political opposition. A number of successive governments in our country have adopted overly expansive counterterrorism legislation and used it to clamp down on freedom of association, speech, and assembly. The lack of a common definition of terrorism consistent with international human rights standards has made it easier for governments to act this way. More common are subtle forms of state interference including overly restrictive or arbitrarily-applied regulations and restrictions on civil society.

d. Lack of Education and Awareness. The civil societies of the developing and under developed countries are yet to shape themselves to become a resilient part in the power circles of the countries. The main reason for that is the lack of education and awareness of these societies. Since, education is a basic ingredient to generate awareness and sense of responsibility in each person thus its scarcity in masses brings dormancy in the thought processing character of a society. This fact is practically advocated once we peep through the most developed societies of the modern world which have a high literacy rate.

e. Lack of Freedom of Expression. Terrorism most often rises and flourishes in the societies which are either conservative or do not allow the freedom of expression to the masses. This makes the civil society reluctant of speaking freely since they always fear the Government. Thus lack of freedom of speech and expression plays a major role in limiting the role of civil society in tackling the menace of terrorism.

f. Securitizing Aid. The recent global focus on counterterrorism and multilateral counterinsurgency operations has accelerated a trend toward using aid and development funding for security-related purposes. This approach subordinates traditional goals of mitigating poverty to the agenda of counterterrorism and defeating insurgency. It blurs the analytic boundaries between security and development while politicizing both and detracting from efforts to improve the lives of most disadvantaged communities. The process works in two ways: firstly, a growing proportion of aid funding is channeled directly through military institutions and secondly, development programs are increasingly implemented in support of military operations, thus depriving a larger portion of the society potentially prone to acts of terrorism owing to abject poverty and hunger. The percentage of US aid funding allocated through the Pentagon has increased in recent years from 3.5% in 1998 to approximately 25% ten years later. [6] Major recipients of US development assistance are countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan who are central to security and counter terrorism objectives. In countries like Pakistan where foreign assistance is provided, police forces are highly repressive and unaccountable. Assistance provided to such forces in the absence of needed structural reforms may simply reinforce repressive tendencies and undermine civil society efforts to defend human rights and establish democratic oversight. Aid provided through a security lens overlooks the plight of most marginalized populations.