From 9/11 to Nairobi: understanding today’s terrorism

Saturday 19 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Free Stage Hot off the Press 2013

On 21 September this year, 15 heavily armed members of the Al Shabab terror group took over Westgate Shopping Centre in central Nairobi and proceeded to slaughter shoppers without mercy and without any apparent goals other than wreaking carnage. While ‘terrorism’ is nothing new, the lack of any clear political agenda to this attack was particularly striking, and very much in contrast to the 20th century terrorism of groups like the PLO or the IRA. Whatever one thought of such organisations, there was no doubt that they had clear political goals and even enjoyed a degree of support among the people they claimed to represent.

While many observers have tried to understand attacks like 9/11 and 7/7 in similarly political terms, their perpetrators never bothered to articulate any agenda beyond claiming to target the enemies of Islam (even as they slaughtered innocent Muslims). So is the Westgate attack the latest example of a qualitatively different kind of terrorism? If so, how should we understand it? If not political, is Islamist violence genuinely inspired by religious belief or something more like nihilism? What is the appropriate response to seemingly mindless terror?

Jamie Bartlett
director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, The New Face of Digital Populism; co-author, #Intelligence

Professor Bill Durodié
head of department and chair of international relations, University of Bath

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Ed Noel
teacher; former schools and alumni coordinator, Debating Matters Competition

Produced by
Ed Noel teacher; former schools and alumni coordinator, Debating Matters Competition
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Dr. Bill Durodié, Strategic Multi-layer Assessment, September 2013

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