There’s something about ‘lone wolf terrorism’ debates that stinks. I can’t quite find a singular source of the smell, but after further investigation, it seems the relatively recent surge in the use of the category ‘lone wolf’ to describe individual acts of political violence draws on extremely rank racist, sexist, and alarmist logic. When you compare the sparse literature on lone wolf terrorism and the slough of articles on the topic, one thing is clear: definitions of lone wolf terrorism are “fuzzy”, disparate, and often rely on contradiction and assumptions about mental health and motivation. The defining feature of the lone wolf terrorist is his or her (actually it is almost always a male) lack of wolf pack (I can’t get past the Hangover reference either, but stay with me). They are loners, committing political violence. Below, I raise several questions about the literature and discussion on lone wolf terrorism in the hopes of inviting dialogue and debate about why this term has such political purchase.
1. Is it possible that ‘lone wolves’ are neither lone nor wolves? The problems with definition:
The US Government defines terrorism as “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The overarching argument is lone wolf terrorism differs from ‘regular’ terrorism in that it is orchestrated by an individual. Yet the existing definition of terrorism seems to include agents as well as groups. So what purpose does ‘lone wolf’ serve? If ‘lone wolves’ are defined as acting politically, doesn’t this assume- by definition- the affiliation, or at least association, with a larger group? Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, concluded that the individuals clearly expressed their beliefs and grievances to others, primarily family, friends, or an online community. This seems to indicate that ‘lone wolves’ aren’t that lonely. Continue reading
[Note: The following is a guest post by Prof. Dan Reiter of Emory University]
Joshua Goldstein wrote in the preface to his award-winning, 2001 book War and Gender that while finishing his book he “discovered a list of unfinished research projects, which I had made fifteen years ago at the end of graduate school. About ten lines down is ‘gender and war,’ with the notation ‘most interesting of all; will ruin career—wait until tenure.’” This was probably not a completely inaccurate assessment, at the time. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the study of gender and international relations was viewed by many as outside the mainstream of IR, lending itself only to post-modern and critical methods of inquiry. Fortunately, during this period scholars such as Cynthia Enloe, Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, and others sloughed off this marginalization, producing path-breaking work on gender and IR, asking new questions, posing new theoretical answers, and crafting entirely new agendas.
Last week 60 Minutes ran a feature called Women in Combat: Cracking the Last All-Male Bastion of the US Military. The segment, led by David Martin, focused on Marine Infantry Officer training. He finds that, although the Marines are required to integrate women as a result of the removal of the combat exclusion, no women have made it through the rigorous physical training requirements. This re-raises key questions around women in combat: *Do women have what it takes to serve in combat? and *Should the military adjust its standards to accommodate women?
Physical standards are- by far- the greatest sticking point when it comes to debates on women in combat. Opponents of gender integration have long argued that the average physical differences between men and women are proof that women are inferior. They also argue that any adjustments in the current physical standards would be tantamount to ‘softening’ ‘diluting’ or weakening the standards and thereby reducing military effectiveness. Focusing on whether women can meet the current physical standards maintains a stalemate in terms of their full integration into the US military and limit the military’s ability to develop standards that reflect modern warfare. There are three reasons for this:
1. Physical standards are out of date and disconnected from the job.
2. Physical standards are not as objective as we think.
3. There are no exclusive combat roles, and therefore no need for exclusive combat physical standards. Let me explain: Continue reading
Each time her sex is butchered with the pretext of purity…three million of our sisters face this violence each year…
In his new song “Tomber la Lame” or “Drop the Blade,” Burkina Faso hip-hop artist Smockey has an amazing call to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), a procedure that remains widespread in parts of Africa and the Middle East that removes a piece of a girl’s genitals with a knife so that she won’t experience sexual pleasure as an adult and, so the logic goes, be less likely to stray from her husband. It’s a horrifying practice, but one that foreign groups fought with limited success until local change agents and organizations like Senegal’s Tostan took up the mantle.
Smockey is a middle-aged married guy so having a man advocate an end to FGM makes for an interesting messenger. He himself argues in this PRI interview that woman are the main bearers of the tradition, which I’m not sure is exactly true or indeed an artifact of him speaking in his non-native tongue.
One of the most important observations of the transnational social movements literature over the past couple of decades is the importance of locally resonant messages and messengers (here Amitav Acharya’s 2004 IO pieceWhose Norms Matter is an exemplar). Having foreign actors champion norms is often a recipe for a local backlash, though certainly history is rife with foreign actors trying to change local beliefs, whether it be through proselytizing religion or related campaigns to stop cultural practices like female footbinding (documented in Keck and Sikkink’s masterful Activists Beyond Borders).
Thus, the success of Tostan, documented in Molly Melching’s autobiography, and future success of efforts like Smockey’s is a function of local actors with deep roots in their communities persuading their peers to change practices and outside actors, where they are involved in such struggles for cultural change, finding local interlocutors to carry the message forward.