pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues & Insights Vol. 08 – No. 02

The main theme of our foreign policy has been a global war on terrorism. But there are serious problems with the idea of a war on terror, much less making that the theme for foreign policy. For example, Britain has recently told its officials not to use the words “war on terrorism.” Americans have a rhetorical tradition of declaring war on abstract nouns like drugs and poverty, but the British have focused on concrete opponents. The basic British concern lies in a different analysis of the problem. When interrogating arrested terrorists, British officials have found a common thread. Al Qaeda and affiliated groups use a simple yet effective narrative to recruit young Muslims to cross the line into violence. While extreme religious beliefs, diverse local conditions, or issues like Palestine or Kashmir can create a sense of grievance, it is the language of war and a narrative of battle that gives recruits a cult-like sense of status and larger meaning that leads to action.