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Democracy as counter-terrorism in the Middle East: a red herring?

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East: a red herring?

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The shock of the 9/11 attacks had complex and profound effects on US policy in the Middle East. One result was the decision of George W. Bush’s administration to place the discourse of democracy promotion at centre stage in its policy towards the region. This decision was based on the notion that the spread of democracy would serve as antidote to the emergence of Islamist terrorism and enhance Western security. This paper challenges the assumption that the causes of Islamist terrorism can be solely or primarily reduced to the political factors of exclusion and repression. The paper then argues that, if authoritarianism is not the cause of Islamist terrorism, we must look elsewhere for an explanation. Economic and social causes are not the main issue at play here either. Far from seeing them as irrational actors driven by religious or millenarian motives, Islamist terrorists – similarly to most other terrorist organisations, with some exceptions - are rational and calculating in their choice of tactics. Promoting democracy as an antidote to terrorism must be replaced by alternative policies. If we accept that Islamist movements adopt terrorist tactics for instrumental or strategic reasons, effective counter-terrorism will start from the understanding that Islamist terrorists are rational actors, who will always make cost-benefit analyses with regards to the use of terrorist tactics.

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