On the 11th of September 2001 al-Qaeda members carried out suicide attacks on American soil. They killed over 3,000 people and injured over 2,000 others (9/11 Commission Report, 2004). The attacks shocked the world as people never really thought of the magnitude of the attacks and their locations, in the United States where risk is calculated and anticipated. This terrorism event shed a light on a debate and begs a question to be answered: how can we explain terrorism by Al Qaeda using the perspectives of international relations and conflict in the Middle East, rather than by the nature of Islam? This question remains debated given the fact that the majority of international relations ...view middle of the document...
Structuralism perspective stresses that resources flow from poor states, i.e. ‘periphery’, to rich states, enriching the latter at the cost of the former (Burchil et al., 2005). Therefore poor states are deprived while wealthy ones are enriched by the way poor states are incorporated into the "world system" (Ibid). This economic oppression creates economic injustice; and when the poor find no other means to tackle the injustice, they resort to terrorism (Crenshaw, 1998).
Contesting perspective holds the belief that individuals join terrorist groups not merely because of economic injustice but also because of their interest in fostering cooperation and interdependence among those who share the same values (Post, 1984). Liberalism somehow supports this argument as it points out that the non-state actors (e.g. terrorist group) play important roles in spreading values across the borders of the states to foster economic and security cooperation (Jackson & Sorensen 1999, 177). However, liberalism finds it difficult to fully explain terrorism phenomena because terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, do not really aim to foster cooperation in the areas of economy and security with the other actors that do not share the same values held by the groups. In fact, the groups sees other actors as their enemies (Fiala, 2002).
While these contesting perspectives can possibly be reconciled, further research needs to be conducted to better understand terrorism by Al Qaeda using the perspectives of international relations and conflict in the Middle East. To date, the research hasn’t really assessed the roles of the conflict on the emergence of Al Qaeda; and it hasn’t adequately discussed what constructivism perspectives say about terrorism by Al Qaeda either.
This essay aims to apply constructivism theory to explain terrorism by Al Qaeda and the government responses to it. In doing so, firstly, this essay begins with an introduction to constructivism. Secondly, it discusses the application of constructivism around Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The discussion of the theory application is divided into three parts: (1) the roles of conflict in the Middle East on the emergence of Al Qaeda, (2) the social construction behind Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in the U.S. and (3) the constructivist responses of the U.S. and Saudi and Iraqi governments to Al Qaeda. This essay argues that the emergence of terrorism by Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda terrorist attacks are driven by a social construction of grievances that are resulted from the conflict in the Middle East. This essay also argues that the responses of the U.S. and Saudi governments to Al Qaeda are constructed around the governments’ perception of what Al Qaeda is. Finally, it provides a brief critique on using constructivism to explain terrorism by Al Qaeda.
Beck, U. (2002) The Terrorist Threat: World Risk Society Revisited. Theory Culture Society, 19 (39).