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The Theory of Shock and Awe: Anarchism and Terrorism Taken to the Extreme


On July 18, 2008, The Dark Knight was released. This was a new, darker and edgier take on the Batman character, and a very good film. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker as the pure incarnation of evil was legendary. Ironically, he accidentally killed himself before the film was released. And yet, whilst watching the film, an inescapable sense of unease took over me. I gently removed my ‘thrill me’ lenses and watched the film from a different angle. There was something new there. The film turned evil, terror, and vigilantism into something sexy. I discreetly looked around. I wondered what the young audience in the cinema was making of the film. Those thoughts still feel fresh in my mind whenever a new terrorist atrocity hammers humanity. On November 13, 2015, a Friday, a dark night descended into Paris. One hundred and twenty-nine people that we know about died during a series of coordinated attacks and at least twice that number were directly wounded.

The Dark Knight Rises, again a very good film, was bolder: civilian uprising, terror on an industrial scale, massive bombings, nuclear devices, inevitable fatalities, you name it. The year was 2012. By then, however, the newer generations have learned that somehow the impossible is possible, or so some of them believe. But whether a film or the real world, how far do you need to go now to supersede the previous threshold? Can you see some parallels with the terror-inspired events that appear to be happening ever more often?

Do you remember the once controversial activities of the feminist group Femen? Notorious for their topless protests and ambushes of world leaders, their ‘sextremism’ no longer seems to raise many eyebrows. Although not linked to terrorism, sextremism is part of the shock and awe culture characterizing contemporary protests and forms of anarchism. The combination of nudity and protest has actually become a norm in many corners of the world. Go bolder! Inspired by what went on during the Iraq war, Latin American drug cartels started using decapitations and mutilations as terror techniques a decade ago. Today, the question is when and where this is going to happen next —perhaps a famous museum during a busy tourist day? The same applies to bombings, some of which go unreported as they are no longer newsworthy. How many innocent civilians need to get killed now for an act of terrorism to make the evening news?

A key problem is that to the new generation of terrorists and jihadists killings are no longer means to an end. There are no coherent or discernible political, religious, or economic reasons guiding their actions anymore. Quasi-political or religious messages are simply used as slogans. Their mindset simply blends together the idea of a Utopian world that does not actually exist; the desire to play a protagonist’s role in that imaginary world; and hate towards anything undermining the fantasy. They also want to be popular in a very twisted way. To make the mix even more volatile, there is a shared cult of death making these people believe that dying is just an intermediate life stage. The Joker becomes real and starts brainstorming ways to take anarchism and terrorism to new extremes, to shock and awe us!

As this picture does not fit the traditional profile of a terrorist, the intelligence services are finding it incredibly difficult to identify the next perpetrators of massive atrocities. For what we know, they might be quietly watching television now two doors down from us. It will thus take some time for experts to develop the knowledge necessary to deal with terrorist organizations solely motivated by pure evil and hate like ISIS, or its supporters. Meanwhile, please brace and hope not to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as it will be a while before we can conquer this 21st century problem.

About militaryecology

MilitaryEcology.com focuses on topical global security issues. We approach them against the backdrop of the fast evolving military ‘ecology’ landscape populated by myriad public and private actors often explicitly or implicitly operating in public-private ‘security partnerships. This Private-Public Military Ecology blog is linked to PrivateMilitary.org’s aims, which are oriented towards the dissemination of security knowledge. We also encourage people to engage in constructive debate.


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November 2015
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