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Winter 2016

Web Exclusive | AY 2015 - 2016
Being an Advoc...

Being an Advocate for Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: Jeffrey Smith

How did you decide to enter the research and advocacy field? Why did you decide to focus on sub-Saharan Africa?


To be honest, there never really was a time during which I made a conscious decision to enter the research and advocacy field. I initially went to college with the idea of studying communications and radio journalism, wanting to somehow incorporate my love of music into my profession. I found myself listening more and more to socially conscious artists ranging from Mos Def, The Roots, and Public Enemy to Bob Dylan and The Clash. The topics covered in those songs and albums ultimately sparked a deep interest in social movements and human rights issues. I became very interested in—and eventually read every book I could find on—Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, and later Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and Desmond Tutu, giants and true heroes of South Africa’s anti-Apartheid struggle. From then on, I was hooked. Five years later, I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a double major in political science and human rights, the latter of which was a program I helped design. I’m still a huge music fan, by the way, and remain especially interested in the intersection of art and human rights.



What has been the most interesting story or issue that you have covered in your career? Why?


The most interesting issues I have worked on thus far have pertained to countries that are a bit off the grid, ones that may not necessarily receive the attention I think they merit given the atrocious human rights violations that routinely take place. Swaziland, for instance, is a country that immediately comes to mind for me: It is the last absolute monarchy on the African continent and is ruled by a multi-millionaire king who has demonstrated dreadfully little regard for the welfare of his own citizens. In Swaziland, dissent is criminalized and the basic human rights that many of us take for granted are nonexistent. The issue is also a profoundly personal one for me, as several friends have been imprisoned under their draconian laws. I recently helped raise awareness of the worsening situation there by means of a campaign called #SwaziJustice, which helped lead to the release of two imprisoned journalists. To date, that outcome, by far, has been the most gratifying one I have experienced in my professional life.



What are some of the less often discussed security threats facing some of the countries you cover? How can these be addressed?


The Gambia, a small and highly repressive country in West Africa, is disproportionately contributing to the ongoing refugee crisis that we have seen unfold on our television screens. The humanitarian disaster has been instigated by the Gambian president’s increasingly hostile rhetoric, and violent actions, helping to destabilize two entirely separate continents. Through the first half of 2015, for instance, The Gambia was fifth in terms of total numbers of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, behind only Syria, Mali, Eritrea, and Nigeria. To put these staggering figures into perspective: at less than 2 million people, Gambia has about 1% of Nigeria's population—and importantly, no jihadist insurgency—but has accounted for 5.1% of migrants that reached Italy by sea, just shy of Nigeria's 5.3%. Examples like The Gambia, and also Eritrea in East Africa, which is losing an estimated 5,000 citizens a month, should prompt us to reconsider what we think of as ‘stable’ nations and force world leaders and donors alike to address the root causes of instability around the world—more often than not, they are a lack of respect for human rights, democratic principles, and basic human dignity.



What advice would you give someone, such as a current graduate student, who is interested in a career in human rights and security advocacy and research?


This may sound rather simple, probably because it is: do not hesitate to reach out to people and initiate a personal connection with those successfully working in the field. It is no secret that careers in human rights, specifically related to advocacy and research, are hard to come by and are highly competitive. As such, we have all been there—we have all had moments of despair and we have all, at one time or another (and whether we like to admit it or not), figured we may never have the chance to prove ourselves. You will. But, in the meantime, it certainly does not hurt to email and reach out to employed professionals who can give you some necessary insight and perhaps introduce you to others working in the field. Also: be courteous and polite (i.e. be sincere in your relationships, respond to emails, and say ‘thank you’), use social media (particularly Twitter) to position yourself as an expert in your field, study, and work abroad (if you can afford it), and do not hesitate, ever, to apply for internships, even if they are unpaid (they quite often lead to entry-level jobs in this line of work).

Jeffrey Smith 


Jeffrey Smith is currently Program Officer at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights where he manages the organization’s advocacy projects that focus on sub-Saharan Africa. He collaborates closely with grassroots civic activists and journalists across the continent—and the world—to highlight pressing human rights concerns to a wider audience. Mr. Smith’s research and advocacy has covered Zimbabwe, The Gambia, Swaziland, and Kenya, among others. He appears frequently in media outlets as an expert commentator on African affairs, including on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC, and Voice of America. Mr. Smith is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, where he also received a master’s degree in international relations and was the university’s first recipient of its distinguished human rights graduate certificate. 

Za'atari: Feral o...


Feral or Resilient City?

Charles Simpson
(Karl Schembri/Oxfam)

In 2003, Dr. Richard Norton presented a gloomy picture of urbanization: “Imagine a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles… a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.” Norton is describing his vision of the “feral city,” a space where political, economic, and military stressors bring about a city’s decline, a concept that became a major concern of security thinkers over the next decade.


Reading Norton’s descriptions, large urbanized refugee communities of the Syrian crisis appear especially vulnerable to feral relapse. However, despite superficial parallels to Norton’s description, field research presented in this article will argue that the 82,000-resident Za’atari Syrian refugee camp—perhaps the most grimly reported refugee camp in the region—stands significantly in contrast to the “feral city” model: rather than declining to a “feral” state, Za’atari’s residents and authorities have demonstrated incredible resilience while maintaining, strengthening, and innovating new governance mechanisms for achieving human security. A wider search for feral cities in Mogadishu and Syria suggests that this resilience to feral decline is more the rule than the exception for modern cities.



Predicting the Feral City


Around June 2009, civilization reached an impasse: for the first time, over half of earth’s population lived in cities, rather than rural communities. This rapid urbanization created a new security domain with numerous unsolved challenges given these spaces’ scale and complexity. To make sense of this new security domain, U.S. Navy War College Professor and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy graduate Richard J. Norton developed his concept of the “feral city.” In Norton’s theoretical feral city,[1] life is bleak. Human security becomes the responsibility of the individual or those with the support of armed gangs. Public services are non-existent, requiring services to be accessed exclusively through private contracts. The rare governance available are only provided by criminal organizations. The economy is kept on life support through local subsistence and smuggling of resources.


Norton predicted that as the 21st century plays out the feral city will become commonplace and represent a dominant security challenge for the United States. Norton’s vision caught the attention of policy thinkers—significantly because of the erosion of Baghdad under coalition occupation in the years following the article’s publication—and the concept of the “feral city” became a dominant lens through which American war colleges, security professionals, and think tanks began addressing the challenges of modern urban settings. Amidst chaotic global urbanization from Baghdad to Beijing, Norton’s model made sense.



Finding the Feral City: Mogadishu?


But twelve years after the publication of the seminal “feral city” article, Somalia's Mogadishu is still the only example of a wholesale feral city.[2] The inability to find a genuine example is not due to lack of searching. Dr. David Kilcullen—a world expert in urban counterinsurgency—conducted fieldwork in numerous cities that, at a distance, appear to closely resemble Norton’s model, including both Baghdad and Mogadishu. But what Kilcullen and his research teams discovered was not the wild borderline-anarchy of Norton’s vision. For example, the Mogadishu Kilcullen observed was markedly different from Norton’s prediction:


The city was a byword for chaos, lawlessness, corruption, and violence. But this wasn’t the Mogadishu we saw. Far from it: on the surface, the city was a picture of prosperity. Many shops and houses were freshly painted, and signs on many street corners advertised auto parts, courses in business and English, banks, money changers and remittance services, cell-phones, processed food, powdered milk, cigarettes, drinks, clothes, and shoes. The Bakara market in the center of town had a monetary exchange, where the Somali shilling—a currency that has survived without a state or a central bank for more than twenty years—floated freely on market rates that were set and updated twice daily. There were restaurants, hotels, and a gelato shop, and many intersections had busy produce markets. The coffee shops were crowded with men watching soccer on satellite television and good-naturedly arguing about scores and penalties. Traffic flowed freely, with occasional blue-uniformed, unarmed Somali National Police officers (male and female) controlling intersections. Besides motorcycles, scooters, and cars, there were horse-drawn carts sharing the roads with trucks loaded above the gunwales with bananas, charcoal, or firewood … Power lines festooned telegraph poles along the roads, many with complex nests of telephone wires connecting them to surrounding buildings. Most Somalis on the street seemed to prefer cellphones, though, and many traders kept up a constant chatter on their mobiles. Mogadishu was a fully functioning city,” (Kilcullen 70-71).


Kilcullen does not dismiss Norton’s feral city model as a total impossibility, and notes several elements of the theoretical feral city are in evidence in Mogadishu, but his observations undermine Norton’s urban post-apocalyptic predictions. While Mogadishu is chaotic, it is not feral. Instead, the city has resiliently adapted to economic, political, and military stresses to reach an effective, if messy, system of governance. Mogadishu is more complexly organized than a traditional city, but continues to carry out the functions of a city to more or less the same degree.[3]


Therefore if Somalia, perhaps the most notorious “failed state” on the global stage, does not represent a true example of Norton’s feral city, where else could one emerge? Syria and its borders seem at first to be an environment where cities would be rapidly declining to feral conditions under the intensity of regional conflict. In fact, popular media has produced numerous pictures of Syrian cities and urban refugee communities that appear to match Norton’s vision. These stories of harsh conditions for refugees and photographs of eroded Syrian cities within the conflict zone apparently validate Norton’s predictions. But a more thorough examination on the ground finds a more complicated picture, closer to Kilcullen’s resilient Mogadishu than Norton’s feral city.



Finding the Feral City: Za’atari?


At first glance, perhaps the strongest case for a Syrian “feral city” is not an actual city, but rather Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. Za’atari is a camp in name only, and is a small city in practice: its peak population was 202,000 residents, plus thousands of aid workers, administrators, and security practitioners (in fact, Za’atari is the fourth largest “city” in Jordan today, at 82,000 residents). In parallel to Kilcullen’s description, Za’atari is complete with information technology (IT) infrastructures, a road network, an economy, numerous marketplaces, cafes, and street food vendors. It is run by what is effectively a municipal administration composed of the Jordanian government’s Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate within the Ministry of Interior, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Za’atari team. Za’atari has schools, day cares, hospitals and clinics, mosques, sports leagues, gyms, and virtually every other feature one would find in a traditional city. The application of the term “camp,” rather than “city,” has more to do with particularities in legalese used when hosting refugees than the actual function of the environment.


Initial portrayals of the camp in the news media from 2013 to 2014 found Za’atari to be a feral city. Journalists’ cursory inspections to the camp found numerous points of evidence fitting Norton’s model. A mafia of crime lords was alleged to operate the flow of food, water, shelter resources, drugs, people, and weapons in and out of Za’atari. Human security in the camp was widely reported as horrendous, with rumors of domestic violence, child abuse, rape, and kidnappings proliferating among both camp residents and international onlookers. The economy of the camp was widely understood as purely subsistence-based, with residents relying on handouts from the UNHCR and aid organizations, supplemented by the smuggling operations of mafia street leaders. News reports of camp riots, attacks on aid workers, and planned abductions of UNHCR employees completed the scene of Za’atari as a truly feral city.


According to this conventional narrative, amidst intense insecurity and chaos, Syria’s southern cities broke down, people fled, and formed a new feral city in the desert: Za'atari. However, field research conducted in 2015 found a more complicated scene where the population of Za’atari is best defined by its resilience, rather than its feral features, similar to Kilcullen's experience in Mogadishu. After interviews with camp aid workers, UNHCR employees, security advisors, Jordanian police, Jordanians living in the neighboring towns of Mafraq and Irbid, and Syrians living in Jordan, a different picture emerges.


While Za’atari in much of the popular media was a “byword for chaos, lawlessness, corruption, and violence,” this depiction misses the fact that in many ways it is a “picture of prosperity.” Where Kilcullen saw the thriving Bakara market in Mogadishu, Za’atari has an equivalent large market area referred to colloquially as the “Shams Élysée,” a reference to both Syria and the prestigious shopping strip of Paris. As of 2014, Za’atari also has a Safeway supermarket, in addition to other grocery stores for residents to access food resources at their convenience. Vendors around the camp also supply other goods, from cellphones to fresh falafel.


Similar to Kilcullen’s observations, Za’atari residents have access to television, and watch the latest soccer matches in cafes with shisha. Furthermore, the camp has its own soccer league where coaches provide “non-formal education” of life lessons, leadership, and team building for young men and women. Other sports—from Tai Kwon Do to gymnastics—are also taught to young people in Za’atari.


Kilcullen also interestingly observed “Somali National police officers (male and female),” patrolling the streets and monitoring traffic flows. Replace “Somali National Police” with “SRAD Community Police,” and you have an accurate description of Za’atari. Today, around 60 community police officers including both men and women will patrol, unarmed, through the streets of Za’atari. These community police officers go beyond basic law enforcement, focusing their mission on resolving interfamilial disputes, meeting resident demands about issues ranging from inefficient food distribution to lack of shelter weatherproofing, and working with engineers to reduce life safety hazards like pedestrians being forced to walk along crowded roadways also used by supply trucks.


The close similarities of a “thriving” if chaotic city in both Za’atari and Mogadishu suggests a trend that opposes Norton’s predictions of cities rapidly falling into feral decline. Mogadishu, Za’atari and their people do not demonstrate so much feral dissolution as they do incredible resilience: they showcase a strong ability to withstand, adapt, and recover from security stressors.


So while a Western onlooker may see social, political, and economic order breaking down in Za’atari and Mogadishu, a more thorough review finds a series of adaptable, nuanced systems that rapidly emerge to fill the human security needs of residents. Urban theory has long known that cities, at their cores, are “growth engines,” and have a way of overcoming stressors through the efficiencies created by having large groups of people in close proximity to share ideas, services, and resources. This is not to say cities cannot be shaken, destroyed, or disrupted, but that urban theory and evidence on the ground suggests that the efficiencies of cities makes them inherently resilient to decline into a truly feral state.



The Resilient City: Not to Miss the Point


Highlighting the incredible resilient traits of Za’atari and its residents are not meant to paper over the strenuous and harsh conditions within which Syrian refugees are living: indeed, the human security vulnerabilities, psychosocial traumas, and legal obstacles facing refugees are staggering. Much of the reason governance mechanisms were adapted, rather than directly applied, was a product of lack of funding and resources. But members of the humanitarian and security communities are too eager to buy into a feral city narrative and mischaracterize refugees simply as victims waiting to be saved: instead, onlookers must take a more detailed, thorough look at the these cities and recognize the immense resilience that can be tapped into to improve the human security condition of both residents and hosts.



Finding the Feral City: Greater Syria?


To a skeptical onlooker, Za’atari may appear to be a cherry picked example—a unique case where the right conditions of geographic isolation, a relatively homogenous citizenry, and good leadership from the UNHCR and the Jordanian government allowed an irregular level of resilience. However, several additional cases of Syrian cities wracked by conflict also demonstrate immense resilience to feral decline. While an accurate picture of the conditions of cities within Syria is difficult to view given the ongoing nature of the conflict, several specific examples are in evidence.


First, in Aleppo, the traditional municipal leadership structure was broken by the war, but since the 2012 outbreak of conflict, sections of the city have developed a system for popular elections of local leaders. An ad hoc but legitimate system of law and order was established where defected judges and police “organised themselves, creating associations such as the Aleppo Free Lawyers Association and the Revolutionary Security force … Over time, judges and lawyers in Aleppo have developed a legal system that is becoming quite sophisticated,” (Heydemann 2013, 13). A similar mechanism is in evidence on the other end of Syria in Zabadani. Similarly to Aleppo, Zabadani’s residents have formed a law enforcement system out of defected police and military officers, judges, and government bureaucrats that work to enforce social order and mitigate transnational organized crime, mostly smuggling. These mechanisms provide relative daily security to residents and aid workers, and a functional (if strained) legal system.


Finally, in Damascus, the functions of the city carry on. During the day traffic remains congested and busy, stores generally stay open, and children continue attending school. And in the evening, the music from dance clubs breaks the night’s silence more regularly than bursting barrel bombs. While individual neighborhoods may be struck by intense if irregular pockets of conflict, and individuals are far more on edge amidst the uncertainty of the crisis, the city as a whole has continued to function.


The situation in Syria’s cities is far from rosy: numerous homes, families, and historic sites have been entirely destroyed by the fighting. In peripheral cities a lack of good leadership and poor training for ad hoc leadership and legal experts has resulted in imperfect public confidence in these adaptive governance mechanisms. Flows of resources are constantly disrupted. Additionally, the proliferation of crime has in many cases overwhelmed the capacities of adaptive systems of law and order: black marketing especially is a major concern. However, given the level of strain from military, economic, and political pressures, the level of continuity of function in Syria’s cities demonstrates an immense resiliency to feral decline. And while a conclusive picture of the condition of Syria’s cities will not emerge until long after the current conflict resides, initial evidence brings into question Norton’s prediction of vulnerability to feral collapse, even in Syria amidst the most intense and complex conflict of the decade.





The vision put forward by Norton in 2003 was indeed compelling and valuable: it brought the challenges of 21st century urban security into the spotlight for analysts to begin thinking about potential solutions. However, thorough observational case studies bring into question the idea that the truly feral city is likely to occur in practice. While Norton’s “mosaic” feral cities with pockets of decline—like Chicago’s South Side and Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas—are clearly very real, a true feral city in its entirety is not found in the most likely settings: Somalia, Syria, and Za’atari. Instead, these cities demonstrate incredible resiliency to stressors, drawing on the efficiencies of the urban “growth engine,” and abundant social capital to produce adaptive systems that meet resident’s economic, social, and political needs. A thorough investigation of these cities finds that under stress they become chaotic and lose their superficial appearance of order, but underneath remain tame.

[1] While it goes beyond the scope of this article to critique the Orientalist undertones of the term “feral city,” it is worth mentioning because it highlights mainstream thinking about urban security in the developing world, namely that developing cities are vulnerable, at the edge of or beyond a state of civility, and that order is something to be imposed from outside, not sustained from within.

[2] Noting that examples of Norton’s “mosaic” feral cities—cities where pockets of feral conditions exist within a largely functional city—are widely in evidence and include Baghdad, Nairobi, and Mexico City.

[3] While it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the Mogadishu case study in depth, interested readers are referred to the following sources: Nikola Pijovic. (2012). “’It is chaotic but not chaos,’ civil society, local governance and the construction of political order in and around Mogadishu.” Australasian Review of African Studies 33:2; Ken Menkhaus. (2007). “Governance without government in Somalia: Spoilers, state building, and the politics of coping.” International Security 31:3; Peter Leeson. (2007). “Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse.” Journal of Comparative Economics 35:4; Alice Hills. (2014). “Does police work need a police institution? The evidence from Mogadishu.” Policing and Society.



Heydemann, Steven. “Syria’s Uprising: sectarianism, regionalisation, and state order in the Levant.” FRIDE Working Paper 119 (2013).

Kilcullen, David. Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Norton, Richard. “Feral Cities,” Naval War College Review 56, no. 4 (2003).



Charles Simpson  


Charles Simpson is a Program Manager at the Boston Consortium for Arab Region Studies (BCARS). He holds a B.A. in International Affairs and a M.S. in Security & Resilience Studies from Northeastern University. He has researched urban resiliency in cities across the MENA region, and studied global city security with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Strategic Blinds...
Paris 2015: Ter...

Strategic Blindspots: 

Essentializing, Securitizing, and Empowering

Women and Men to Counter Violent Extremism

Sahana Dharmapuri
(UN Photo/Christopher Herwig)

Today, the international community has at its disposal an underutilized tool to address the multidimensional problem of violent extremism: UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, Peace and Security. October 2015 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the resolution, and the first time that the Security Council recognized that gender equality is a critical component of maintaining international peace and security. It is now widely recognized that conflict and peacebuilding are highly gendered activities, and that women and men experience violence and security differently.


Recognizing that the roles of women vary greatly from perpetrators or victims of violence, to their role as peacebuilders and political actors, is an important first step by security actors to take into account women’s different experiences and perspectives in international security and peace decision-making.  


However, basing preventative approaches to violent extremism on a narrow understanding of what it means to be male or female—e.g. solely focusing on the roles of women or men—not only limits policy options but perpetuates two strategic blindspots: essentializing women and securitizing women’s roles in CVE. Both essentializing and securitizing prevents a diverse examination of how both men and women are affected by and influence the promotion and the prevention of extremist violence in of CVE policies and programs.


This is because a narrow focus on the roles of women and men excludes an examination of the context-specific, socially and culturally relevant opportunities and constraints that both men and women experience.  As such, an exclusive focus on men and women’s roles obscures the entry points available to understand and counter violent extremism more effectively.


UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security can help shed light on these blindspots in CVE because it requires both the participation of women and a gender perspective in policies and programs related to international security and peace. As such, the resolution offers analytical tools to help CVE practitioners analyze the complex issue of violent extremism, namely the use of a gender perspective.  A gender perspective helps to reveal solutions and courses of action that would otherwise be overlooked in highly localized, context-specific, socially and culturally sensitive conflicts.



Essentializing Women


More often than not, the consideration of women’s equal participation in addressing security matters such as violent extremism remain focused on identifying the range of women’s roles in CVE, such as mother, wife, or daughter. This can lead to essentializing women as a monolithic group.


Essentializing women means treating women as a homogenous group, and thus leads to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to increasing women’s participation in peace and security matters. Understood in the context of security, examples of essentializing women include assuming that all women are mothers or that all women are, by nature, more peaceful than men and therefore are more docile, submissive, and less interested in participating in political violence.


It is certainly true that mothers have historically played influential roles in peacebuilding. Some better known examples of this are from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the Mothers’ Fronts in Sri Lanka. Both groups used their identity as mothers to successfully shame their respective national governments into action to address human rights violations.  But, assuming that all women share the same experiences as mothers, or assuming that all women have the same power to act within their private or public lives is not only incorrect, but a critically flawed assumption that carries negative impacts.


 For example, Mia Bloom explains the conundrum of the role of women as mothers in countering violent extremism: “Much of the discussion about women and countering violent extremism has focused on their roles as mothers. Mothers are thought to be either the source of radicalization, or entry points for de-radicalization… In several cases, including Maryam Fahat to Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, mothers are the source of radical views and perpetuate the notion that the task of women in the jihad is to raise their sons to carry on their father’s tradition. On the opposite side of the spectrum…mothers […] are seen as critical agents in prevention efforts. A leading Salafi police officer from the UK, confided in me that in crisis situations, the police try to get the perpetrator’s mother on the phone especially in hostage situations, “because only the mother has an effect.”[1]  


The fact that mothers play a role in both promoting and preventing violent extremism leads to obscure conclusions, and raises additional questions. How can mothers be both peaceful and violent? If they are both, where do they “fit” into the spectrum of CVE approaches? And how can the negative aspects of mothers’ influence be mitigated while empowering mothers to be positive forces for peace? These are some of the perplexing but key questions that a CVE practitioner and policy maker faces when essentializing women.



Securitizing Women


In addition to essentializing the role of women and men, securitizing women’s roles is equally problematic. Securitizing women’s roles means consulting with women’s organizations and activists on military or security matters without considering the possible negative consequences to women and women’s organizations.


For example, inviting women to one-off meetings with military or other security actors for consultations on social justice issues without considering the safety of those women can make them easy targets of extremist groups and/or corrupt state actors who are interested in undermining accountability and transparency of the State’s treatment of its citizens.  By trying to include women in CVE in this way, both international and domestic security actors miss opportunities for effective and human-rights based approaches to CVE.


In contrast, security actors might consider providing protection mechanisms for women’s human rights defenders working in conflict zones. These women human rights defenders may or may not be mothers, but they are most likely challenging human rights violations by extremists and by State actors. Or, security actors may consider supporting women-headed households (instead of “mothers”) who are survivors of extremist violence by offering access to justice and legal counseling, psycho-social support and opportunities for economic empowerment.


Utilizing a gender perspective to take a step beyond identifying women and men’s roles can help reveal context-specific, socially and culturally relevant responses and solutions to violent extremism. This is because it focuses on understanding the different experiences, needs, and priorities of women, men, girls, and boys regarding their security and their life during and after conflict. Understanding the different security needs of different individuals can help prioritize the safety of individuals and communities from extremist violence, acts of terror, and from the unintended negative effects of counter-terror measures.



Removing the Blindspots: Using a Gender Perspective in CVE


Terrorism and extremist violence are highly gendered activities that typically exploit rigid stereotypes of both masculinity and femininity. It is therefore crucial to use a gender perspective to understand social constructions and misconceptions that can influence the spread of extremist violence.


In addition, using a gender perspective can improve the effectiveness of policies and programs. For example, peace-building, peacekeeping and international development policies and programs that incorporate a gender perspective and increase women’s participation have a track record of increased effectiveness. For example, studies show that women’s participation in peace negotiations increases the probability of violent conflict ceasing by 24%.[2] Similarly, evidence from peacekeeping and peace support operations shows that the integration of a gender perspective and the inclusion of women has a significant, positive impact on increasing the effectiveness of the operation.


Furthermore, international organizations, from NATO, and the UN to coalitions of sovereign states engaging in stabilization operations, note that information gathering and analysis improved when the differential impact of armed conflict on women and men is taken into account. [3] Attention to diverse experiences of both men and women in conflicts reveals comprehensive information on the area of operation. This allows actors to construct a more nuanced understanding of local socio-political dynamics, including the identities of local power brokers, division of labor, access to resources, kinship and patronage networks, community security threats, risks, interests and needs. As such, analysis of the impact of an operation on the local population—men and women, boys and girls—can increase the capacity of the mission to effectively accomplish its goals.



Paying Attention to Hyper-masculinities


Interestingly, the practices of essentializing and securitizing women’s roles can essentialize men and boys’ experiences of violent extremism. The counterpoint to a submissive and docile private life led by women is the assumption that men and boys are the key targets of violent extremists, and the key aggressors. This interpretation of social relations also assumes that men and boys are not natural allies of peace-building and that their masculinity—or their behavior as “real men”—is defined by the use of violence.


For example, in many conflicts, men and boys are routinely the primary targets of violence and the focus group for recruitment into fighting forces. In the case of ISIL, the organization targets their recruitment of young men by essentializing women and encouraging the idea that men are manly only if they have many wives and many Jihadi children.[4]  Reducing women’s roles to their reproductive capabilities for both men and women reinforces the rigid gender norm of women as only child bearers, with no other identity or agency, and men as inherently violent. Reinforcing rigid gender norms in this way can reinforce hyper-masculinity. Hyper-masculinities are emphasized when men’s position of power over women is considered a natural right, and the use of violence by men is reinforced as a defining trait of manhood.  


What might boys’ experiences in conflict zones reveal that would be of relevance to countering violent extremism? A 2015 study by USAID and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Crisis In Syria: Now is the Time To Seek Male Allies for Leadership Equality, found that boys in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable to glamorizing and adopting hyper-masculine behavior in the form of violence, even on the playground.


The study found that while men and women could not agree definitively on how to empower women as political leaders to counter violent extremism, they all agreed that special attention to young boys was especially important in this conflict situation.[5] The study interviewed schoolteachers and parents focusing on the visible shift in young boys’ psyches at a school in a refugee camp. The report states, “War games and physical fights have replaced football and laughter. A father said it plainly: “there is a revolution inside of young boys.” He went on to describe his attempts not to deny his son to join the fight, but to distract him with delaying tactics. Several mothers expressed this same concern, too. One mother said that boys now want to run back to Syria and fight the Russians given the recent air strikes. Parents and community leaders struggle to support their spirits while protecting their futures.”[6]

Women’s civil society groups around the world have noticed similar trends of the rise of hyper-masculinity in their families and communities. In response they have established innovative programs to address counter radicalization by countering the ideology of hyper-masculinity in several ways. For example, in Pakistan, the PAIMAN Alumni Trust works with Talib youth and their mothers to address psychosocial and economic needs, and to provide an alternative narrative and moderate interpretations of Islam. Globally, Mother Schools, created by the Sisters Against Violent Extremist Network (SAVE) work with mothers to help them identify early warning signs of radicalization, and empower them to counter recruitment efforts. Founder, Edit Schafer notes, “Hyper-masculinity is an attraction behind violent extremism and not only for the male foot soldiers but, increasingly, for young women who are caught in fantasies of romantic engagement and even direct participation.”[7] The connection between exploiting masculine identity and violent extremist recruiting tactics is a gender-blind spot for CVE that requires further examination. UNSCR 1325 can help fill this gap.





To be sure, a gender perspective will not remedy all strategic blindspots in CVE. The CVE practitioner and policymaker are often confronted with a blur of challenges in addressing extremist violence that go beyond addressing gender inequality.


However, security stakeholders should reconsider restricting the examination of gender identities to the roles of women. They would benefit from the use of more analytic tools to help them develop effective, people-centered solutions.  Promoting an increased understanding of the roles of men and women, boys and girls, and the inequalities that they each experience on a daily basis, illuminates the opportunities and constraints that might be available to us to transform society. These opportunities and constraints might otherwise be missed without a gender perspective.


Fortunately, UNSCR 1325 requires both the participation of women and a gender perspective in policies and programs related to international security and peace. It allows security actors to ask more questions about how identity—masculinity and femininity—can be used to promote radicalization, and how identity can be used to promote peace. In short, it is possible to avoid strategic blindness in some measure: implement the tenets of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

[1] “Charting A New Course: Women Preventing Violent Extremism, Thought for Action Kit.” United States Institute for Peace, 2015, pp. 20. Accessed on November 13, 2015,

[2] Laurel Stone, “Can Women Make the World More Peaceful?” The Guardian, August 11, 2014, Accessed October 13, 2015.

[3] See for example, Olsson, Louise and Johan Tejpar (eds). 2009. “Operational Effectiveness and UN Resolution 1325: Practices and Lessons from Afghanistan.” Swedish Defense Research Agency. pgs. 115- 128, and United Nations. “Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Operations.” UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Lessons Learned Unit, New York, July 2000, The UN DPKO study examined five multi-dimensional operations, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, El Salvador, and South Africa.

[4] Bloom, Mia. 2015. “When Women are the Problem.” in “Charting A New Course: Women Preventing Violent Extremism, Thought for Action Kit.” United States Institute for Peace. pp. 20,

[5] Huber, Jessica. 2015. “Crisis in Syria: Now Is the Time to Seek Male Allies for Leadership Equality.” International Foundation for Electoral Systems and USAID This report is based on field study focus groups with Syrian women and men on promoting male allies for women’s equality.

[6] Huber, Jessica. 2015. “Crisis in Syria: Now Is the Time to Seek Male Allies for Leadership Equality.” International Foundation for Electoral Systems and USAID. pp. 10.

[7] “Charting A New Course: Women Preventing Violent Extremism, Thought for Action Kit.” United States Institute for Peace, 2015,

Sahana Dharmapuri  


Sahana Dharmapuri is an independent gender advisor with fifteen years of experience providing policy advice and training on gender, peace, and security issues to USAID, NATO, The Swedish Armed Forces, the United States Institute for Peace, International Peace Institute, development consulting firms, and a number of NGOs.  She has lectured and led trainings on gender and security issues at a wide variety of institutions including, The Swedish Armed Forces International Training Center for work in Peace Support Operations in Stockholm, USAID Missions, Harvard University, Tufts University, the United States Institute for Peace, the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, and at three of the major U.S. combat and command centers.


Her field experience includes Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, India, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. She received a Masters Degree in Middle East Studies and a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the University of Chicago in 1997, and her BA from The University of Chicago in Anthropology in 1992. She has published book chapters, articles, and monographs on women, peace and security issues.

Paris 2015: 

Terrorism, Climate Change, and the Politics of Securitization

Wilfrid Greaves
(Mark Dixon/Blue Lens, LLC)

In the closing months of 2015, two separate events thrust the city of Paris into the epicentre of global security politics. On November 13th, the French capital was the site of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks. At least nine individuals claiming allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) used suicide vests and assault weapons to target citizens and symbols of the Republic. The attacks, which took place in cafés, restaurants, the national soccer stadium, and a crowded music venue, killed more than 130 people and precipitated the largest state of emergency across France since the Second World War. Just two weeks later, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened in Paris. The conference, known as COP21, was a pivotal moment in the global effort to reach a multilateral agreement on global climate change. The juxtaposition of terrorism and climate change, two of the most pressing security issues of our time, encapsulate the complex and intertwined nature of contemporary threats to global security.


The political and normative implications of the November events in Paris demonstrate the intricacies of securitization theory, a “radically constructivist” approach to understanding the nature of security threats.[1]  This theory provides a framework for understanding the process through which political issues are transformed into security issues, while offering a series of cautionary warnings about the adverse consequences of security discourse and practices within democratic societies. The application of securitization theory lends a unique understanding to both the terrorist attacks and popular engagement in the climate summit. This framework also clarifies the resulting trade-off between renewed securitization of terrorism and democratic mobilization at COP21.



Securitization: Constructing Threats


Securitization refers to the process through which a phenomenon is constructed as a threat to the survival of a valued referent object through the shared agreement of social actors.  It is a discursive theory which, rather than claiming to provide an objective analysis of security in a given context, explains how power operates through discourse, and subsequently transforms political issues into security issues.  This process is initiated by a securitizing move, when an actor articulates a specific threat-referent object relationship and argues it should be elevated to the highest level of political priority. This security claim must then be accepted by an authoritative audience who holds the power to respond to the threat.[2] The final phase of securitization enables actors to legitimately impose extraordinary measures in order to combat the specified threat. Such measures often include the violation of existing values, norms, and procedures. Through this process, security issues transcend the ‘rules of the game’ and make it possible to “[justify] actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure.”[3] Whereas political actors are typically restrained by standards of conduct within their specific social context, the process of securitization allows those actors to take exceptional measures in defence of the state, its populace, or its core national interests.


Securitization can therefore involve a radical realignment of political and popular priorities, and engender notable changes in the relative importance assigned to a particular phenomenon.[4] Threats and challenges to states and societies resulting in securitization also enable the mobilization of political and material resources, which would not be available otherwise, in defence of the identified referent object. The immediate and dramatic identification of transnational terrorism as a threat to the national security of Western states in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 demonstrates the power of securitization to set the political agenda and alter public perception; within this framework, there is no greater signal of political gravity than the designation of something as a security threat. Securitization is, therefore, akin to stating that all other issues will be irrelevant if the political community fails to tackle the specified problem.[5]


The central proponents of securitization theory, Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver, provide an important corollary, cautioning against the designation of issues as security threats. For these two leading members of the ‘Copenhagen School’ of security studies, securitization represents “a failure to deal with issues [through] normal politics.”[6]  They note the advantages of resolving issues through political dialogue and negotiation, rather than triggering the emergency connotations of designating something a security issue. Wæver, in particular, insists that when a new security issue is discursively constructed, the possibilities for political debate and compromise are foreclosed.[7]  While the Copenhagen School’s approach acknowledges that securitization is sometimes necessary, it emphasizes how political institutions, rule of law, and the protection of civil and political rights are often compromised in the process.


The issues of terrorism and climate change, arguably the most important security issues of the 21st century, can also be understood through this framework. Buzan and Wæver describe these two threats as “macro-securitizations,” where each functions as a broad ordering framework for an array of specific security threats to different referent objects.[8]  The implications of securitization for the operation of normal democratic politics, and the specific consequences of the securitization of terrorism on efforts to combat climate change, are exemplified in the multiple threat-referent relationships affected by the events in Paris.



Paris, States of Emergency, and Securitization


The imposition of emergency measures by the French government in response to the Paris terrorist attacks – and consequent limitations on freedom of assembly, public gatherings, and civil society activities related to COP21 – demonstrates many of the adverse political consequences suggested by securitization theory. The renewed prioritization of domestic terrorism has undermined multilateral responses to the threat of climate change, curtailed public activism and involvement at COP21, and resulted in emphatic (re)production of Muslim immigrants as a hostile Other threatening the security of Western societies. The nexus between terrorist violence and global action on climate change thus demonstrates the priority-setting function of securitization and its anti-democratic tendencies within liberal democracies.


On the evening of November 13th – as the violence in Paris was still unfolding, and the organizational scope and human toll of the attacks remained unclear – French President François Hollande addressed the public about the attacks.  Hollande described the violence as a threat to the safety of French citizens and as “un acte de guerre,” promising a “merciless” struggle against ISIS.[9]  President Hollande promised the attacks would be treated with the highest urgency, reassuring the French public that all he had “mobilised all forces possible,” [10] including the military, to assist in securing sites around Paris.  He also alluded to the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and other sites in Paris, that occurred less than a year prior. A similar rhetoric of war was echoed by opposition politicians, public intellectuals, media commentators, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who declared the next day that, “nous sommes en guerre.”[11] Reflecting the gravity of the situation, Hollande announced two exceptional security measures as a result of the attacks: a “state of emergency […] throughout the territory [of France],” and the order “to close the borders [of the country].”[12] The designation of terrorist violence targeting civilians as an urgent national security threat effectively vaulted the issue to the apex of political priority.


Several exceptional policy measures were immediately implemented as a result of this securitization by the French President. In accordance with Law no. 55-385, once the President declared a state of emergency (l’état d’urgence) the executive branch was authorized to restrict public gatherings, impose curfews, order house arrest and administrative detention without trial, confiscate weapons, conduct warrantless search and seizures, and censor the press. Citing findings by Le Monde, Human Rights Watch reported that “French authorities conducted 1,072 searches without judicial warrants and placed 253 people under house arrest.[13]


Following the attacks, France also experienced a dramatic militarization of public security. In addition to the 7,000 French troops deployed as part of Operation Sentinelle following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, over 10,000 additional soldiers were dispatched to protect public spaces nation-wide.[14] While the domestic deployment of military forces was criticized for their ability to prevent the domestic terror events,[15] the French military also expanded its role in anti-ISIS military operations in the Middle East. Only two days after the attacks, France launched its most extensive airstrikes to date against ISIS in northern Syria, with the Foreign Minister citing “self-defence” as justification for the retaliatory escalation of combat.[16]


The transnational nature of securitization is further demonstrated by President Hollande’s decision to close France’s borders and reinstate identity checks at major crossings. Despite the European Union’s Schengen Agreement, which stipulates that temporary border closures may be implemented during extraordinary security circumstances, Hollande’s decision to institute new mobility controls within the Schengen Area sent ripples throughout the European community.[17] While not unprecedented under such circumstances, France’s decision to close its borders compounded the immense pressure on the Schengen Area as a result of the ongoing Middle Eastern migrant crisis.


The securitization of terrorism and declaration of the state of emergency had immediate implications for COP21. Initially, the major concern was to ensure that the conference took place; in light of the attacks, there were obvious fears with regard to ensuring the security of over 40,000 attendees and 150 global heads of state and government. However, the French government quickly rejected any claim that the conference might be unsafe or cancelled,[18] dispatching 30,000 police officers as reassurance and enforcing the ban on public gatherings.


The new public safety measures adopted as part of the state of emergency also threatened the ability of environmental activists to effectively organize in tandem with the official program of COP21. It was expected that hundreds of thousands of people from around the world would participate in marches, protests, and other events during the conference. While negotiations between civil society organizers and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius did take place after the attacks, participants were unwilling to settle for a small and tightly controlled public rally, while “French security forces [favoured] a blanket ban on public demonstration.”[19] Consequently, citing the need “to avoid additional risks,” the French government announced that it would not authorize any of the planned public events relating to COP21.[20] While disappointed activists had no reservations expressing their concern that curbing civil liberties and restricting democratic participation was tantamount to ‘letting the terrorists win,’ many appeared to accept the validity of authorities’ concerns over large public gatherings. Indeed, “French campaigners report[ed] that many organisations [were] no longer prepared to mobilise on the street ahead of the summit.”[21]  Fears over the threat posed by terrorism, it seemed, had effectively overshadowed the rights and willingness of individuals to mobilize publicly in opposition to the threat of climate change.


As COP21 began, a more sinister link emerged between the state of emergency and the efforts of activists to remain engaged in pressuring a meaningful outcome to the conference. Large numbers of individuals defied the prohibition on public gatherings and assembled in specific public spaces; in response, French authorities initiated a crackdown on protestors and activist leaders that made liberal use of the emergency powers granted to police and the executive branch. On November 22, some 500 demonstrators marching in support of immigrant rights – including many from Syria fleeing a civil conflict catalyzed by climate change[22] – turned their scheduled demonstration into a protest against the state of emergency itself. Chanting “état d’urgence, état policier!” – “state of emergency, police state!” – they appear to have been the first to violate the ban on public gatherings, and to experience legal penalties; 58 members face prosecution for violating the new state of emergency law.[23] In the following week, prior to the start of COP21, at least 24 environmental activists were placed under house arrest under the new law, accused of continuing to plan public demonstrations in spite of their prohibition. Police seized computers, documents, and personal effects belonging to activists in raids throughout Paris.[24] On November 29, at least 10,000 people gathered at the symbolic Place de la République, where a peaceful demonstration turned into a confrontation involving hundreds of police. Officers in riot gear used pepper spray, sound bombs, and tear gas after people in the crowd threw objects at them, leading to the eventual arrest of 174 people.[25] During the standoff, police also trampled flowers, candles, and other memorials laid at the base of a statue of Marianne, the embodiment of the French Republic, to honour those killed earlier in the month. On December 4, undercover officers arrested protestors, attendees, and members of the media at an exhibition of corporate climate change solutions.[26]


French authorities were increasingly criticized over the emergency security measures, particularly by those who viewed their actions as a direct attack on democratic participation in the climate negotiations. Prior to the start of COP21, Human Rights Watch cautioned that the expanded emergency powers “interfere with the rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, privacy, and freedoms of association and expression,” and that the “use of such powers in a context of intense political and public pressure enhances the risk of abuse.”[27] As COP21 began, such concerns appeared to materialize, with many speaking out against what The New York Times described as a “clamp down on any possible disruption to the two-week global climate conference.”[28] Noting the French government had granted permission for large public events such as soccer matches, professional trade fairs, and Christmas markets, organizers and environmentalists decried what they perceived to be state led efforts to stifle dissent pertaining to the climate negotiations.[29]


Several people interviewed by media voiced their concern over the use of the state of emergency to target those advocating for stronger greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. One demonstrator at the November 29 rally at Place de la République expressed shock that the French government had made a “switch from fight against terrorism to fight against citizens,” while another said: “I protest against the state of emergency, which is a parody of protection for the citizens, and it’s transformed into repression against the citizens.”[30] A third denounced the state’s use of the Paris attacks to mobilize fear of public assemblies, and as justification to silence dissent: “The government shouldn’t be using fear to stop us to protest what we believe in […], I’m here to fight fear and the use of fear.”[31] Civil society representatives echoed these sentiments, with organizers of COP related protests including Coalition Climat 21 and the French chapter of condemning government efforts to “unnecessarily clamp down on civil liberties and prevent the types of demonstrations that are at the heart of any democracy and climate progress.”[32]


Here securitization becomes even more complex. While protestors and activists opposed security claims by the French state relate to terrorism that restricted their democratic participation in COP21, many made their own securitizing moves constructing climate change as a threat to other valued referent objects. For decades, human-caused alteration of the natural environment has been depicted as threatening the “ultimate security” of humanity.[33] The cumulative impacts of human-caused environmental changes are widely understood to present states and individuals with immense local, national, regional, and global level challenges.[34] Many also view the UNFCCC as incapable of delivering a comprehensive, legally binding agreement capable of effectively addressing global climate change,[35] a concern demonstrated by the non-binding nature of the accord reached in Paris despite its relatively ambitious target to keep average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.


It appears that normal political mechanisms for confronting the full magnitude of the challenges posed by climate change have failed. While the need to radically curb overall GHG emissions has now been recognized at the highest levels of global politics – from the United Nations Security Council to the White House – the failure of successive COPs to actually do so has allowed climate change to be perceived as an increasing threat to the security and survival of people, communities, and states around the world. As a result, individuals, civil society groups, and sub-state actors are more active than ever, pressuring their governments to make policy choices that demonstrate a serious commitment to addressing the threat of climate change.[36] While securitization may be a sub-optimal strategy for mobilizing political action, proponents of more robust environmental action continue to make counter-securitizing moves in order to elevate climate change to greater political priority. In these efforts, the democratic rights to organize, assemble publicly, and pressure public representatives are central to the prospect of constructing climate change as an existential threat for long-term human prosperity and survival.





The events in Paris reflect three key elements of the securitization theoretical framework. First, the French government’s response to the November 13th terrorist attacks demonstrates how security issues can indeed, “emerge and dissolve” in response to new political developments and unanticipated events.[37] As the Copenhagen School argue, what are considered security threats at any given time is socially constructed by collective agreement within a given political community, therefore “it is neither politically nor analytically helpful to try to define ‘real security’ outside the world of politics.”[38] Second, the intersection of issues of terrorist violence and climate change in Paris illustrates the agenda setting power of security politics. When successful, securitizing moves command greater public and policy attention, require reallocation of finite state resources, and function as a means of reordering state priorities. In addition to the relative importance of securitized issues over non-securitized issues, Paris demonstrates how security issues also jockey with one another for primacy on the political agenda. Even an issue such as climate change that has been widely constructed as threatening a variety of important referent objects can be diminished in importance.


Finally, the events in Paris demonstrate the negative consequences of securitization for democracy. Securitization transfers issues from the realm of normal politics, where diverse perspectives can be incorporated into debate, negotiation, and compromise, into the realm of security, where extraordinary decision-making powers are afforded to small groups of political elites.[39] In addition to signalling government priorities for action, securitization legitimates the violation of norms and rules that would otherwise structure, and constrain, political behaviour. In the case of liberal democracies, these norms include basic principles of freedom of expression and assembly, habeas corpus, and protection of civil and political rights. Thus, the declaration of the state of emergency in France, the exceptional powers granted to the executive branch as a result, and the use of those powers against citizens and civil society, appear to validate the concern that securitization is detrimental to democracy. In this case, violation of these norms have particular security implications because public mobilization is being prevented from contributing to the construction of an alternative security threat from the one used to justify the violation of democratic norms in the first place. In effect, the confluence of terrorism and climate change in Paris exemplifies a securitization paradox, whereby construction of the terrorist threat directly undercuts the ability of political actors to successfully elevate climate change to a similar level of political priority.

[1] Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1998, 35.

[2] Buzan et al. 1998.

[3] Buzan et al. 1998, 23-24.

[4] Michael Sheehan, International Security: An Analytical Survey (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005), 52.

[5] Buzan et al. 1998, 24.

[6] Buzan et al. 1998, 29.

[7] Ole Wæver, “Securitization and Desecuritization,” in Ronnie D. Lipschutz, ed, On Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 46-85.

[8] Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver, “Macrosecuritisation and Security Constellations: Reconsidering Scale in Securitisation Theory,” Review of International Studies 35, no. 2 (2009): 253-276.

[9] John Henry and Angelique Chrisafis, “Paris terror attacks: Hollande says ISIS atrocity was ‘act of war’,” The Guardian (November 14, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[10] Paul Colgan, “TRANSCRIPT: Francois Hollande’s televised speech on the terror attacks in Paris,” Business Insider Australia (November 13, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[11] Grey Anderson, “The French Emergency,” Jacobin Magazine (November 24, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[12] Paul Colgan, “TRANSCRIPT: Francois Hollande’s televised speech on the terror attacks in Paris,” Business Insider Australia (November 13, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[13] Human Rights Watch, “France: New Emergency Powers Threaten Rights,” (November 24, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[14] “10,000 troops to be deployed across France following Paris attacks,” Middle East Eye (November 15, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[15] Jean-Dominique Merchet, “Ligne Maginot: le Bataclan est le Sedan de l’opération Sentinelle,” L’Opinion (November 16, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[16] Matthew Dalton and Adam Entous, “France Launches Airstrikes Against Islamic State Stronghold in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal (November 15, 2015). Accessed at on December21, 2015.

[17] Peter Foster and Matthew Holehouse, “Paris attacks: France to call for effective suspension of Schengen open borders,” The Telegraph (November 16, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[18] “Depuis Vienne, Laurent Fabius s’est exprimé au sujet des attentats perpétrés à Paris,” France Diplomatie (November 14, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[19] Arthur Neslen and Fiona Harvey, “Paris climate summit march in doubt after talks deadlock,” The Guardian (November 17, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[20] Ben Quinn, “COP21 climate marches in Paris not authorised following attacks,” The Guardian (November 19, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[21] Neslen and Harvey, “Paris climate summit march in doubt”.

[22] Peter H. Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria,” Weather, Climate, and Society 6, no. 3 (2014): 331-340.

[23] Maryline Baumard, “A Paris, la manifestation pro-migrants se transforme en défilé contre l’état d’urgence,” Le Monde (November 22, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015; “État d’urgence: la police dénonce au parquet 58 personnes ayant bravé l’interdiction de manifester,” Le Nouvelle Observateur (November 23, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[24] Arthur Neslen, “Paris climate activists put under house arrest using emergency laws,” The Guardian (November 27, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[25] Sewell Chan, “France uses sweeping powers to curb climate protests, but clashes erupt,” The New York Times (November 29, 2015). Accessed at on December 21, 2015.

[26] “Undercover police crack down on freedom of speech in Paris,” New Internationalist Magazine (December 5, 2015). Accessed at on December 23, 2015.

[27] Human Rights Watch, “France: New Emergency Powers Threaten Rights”.

[28] Chan, “France uses sweeping powers to curb climate protests”.

[29] Neslen, “Paris climate activists put under house arrest using emergency laws”.

[30] “Thousands defy Paris state of emergency, protest ban to sound the alarm on global climate crisis,” Democracy Now (November 30, 2015). Accessed at on December 23, 2015.

[31] “Thousands defy Paris state of emergency”.

[32] Quoted in Chan, “France uses sweeping powers to curb climate protests”.

[33] Norman Myers, Ultimate Security: The Environmental Basis of Political Security (New York: Norton, 1993).

[34] See Felix Dodds and Tim Pippard, eds, Human and Environmental Security: An Agenda for Change (Sterling: Earthscan, 2005); CNA Corporation, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (Alexandria: CNA Corporation, 2007); Robin Leichenko and Karen L. O’Brien, Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Felix Dodds, Andrew Higham, and Richard Sherman, eds, Climate Change and Energy Insecurity: The Challenge for Peace, Security and Development (London: Earthscan, 2009); Richard A. Mathew, Jon Barnett, Bryan McDonald, and Karen L. O’Brien, eds, Global Environmental Change and Human Security (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 2010).

[35] Remi Moncel and Harro Asselt, “All Hands on Deck! Mobilizing Climate Action Beyond the UNFCCC,” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 21, no. 3 (2012): 163-176; Jon Hovi, Tora Skodvin, and Stine Aakre, “Can Climate Change Negotiations Succeed?” Politics and Governance 1, no. 2 (2013): 138-150.

[36] Wilfrid Greaves, “Risking Rupture: Integral Accidents and In/Security in Canada’s Bitumen Sands,” Journal of Canadian Studies 47, no. 3 (2013): 169-199.

[37] Thierry Balzacq, ed, Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve (New York: Routledge, 2011).

[38] Buzan et al. 1998, 31.

[39] Buzan et al. 1998, 26.

Wilfrid Greaves  


Wilfrid (Will) Greaves is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. His doctoral research examines how in/security and environmental change have been conceptualized by states and Indigenous peoples in the circumpolar Arctic region. An Ontario Graduate Scholar, SSHRC Doctoral Scholar and DFAIT Graduate Student Fellow, he is author of multiple peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and working papers. He has also taught undergraduate courses in International Relations, global security, peace and conflict studies, and Canadian foreign policy at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto. A graduate of the University of Calgary and Bishop’s University, his research interests include security theory, human and environmental security, natural resource extraction and climate change, Arctic and Indigenous politics, Canadian foreign policy, and complex peacebuilding operations.

A Parochial Ne...

A Parochial Nexus? 

Crime and Terror in Europe

Colin Clarke
(Duncan Hull/Flickr)

On November 5, 2015, authorities in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium shut down Café del Beguines. The bar was frequently host to drug deals and other illicit activities, known to “[compromise] public security and tranquillity.”[1] The bar manager, Ibrahim Abdesalam, was one of the attackers involved in the Paris terror events in mid-November 2015. The attacks shook France and shocked the world, and at the year end, investigation of the events still posed many unanswered questions.


French and international investigators have focused their efforts on exposing the source of funding for the attacks.  Although an important part of any investigation, it must be understood that the funds necessary to plan and conduct attacks like these are minimal, often requiring less than $10,000[2]


Unfortunately, terrorists have learned that small sums of money collected over time through the use of somewhat banal criminal activities can be effective, and even reliable, sources of funding.


For example, funding through fraud (mortgage, credit card, value added tax, or VAT), petty theft, low-level criminality and defaulting on loans have provided monetary support for similar terrorist plots elsewhere in Europe.[3]  One report, analysing the sources of funding for 40 different jihadi cells involved in planning attacks against European targets, found that the second most common method of funding was illicit trade (which included drugs, cars, forged documents and weapons).[4]  It is also suspected that proceeds from drug trafficking were used to fund various attacks across the European continent, including the Madrid train bombing (2004), Mohammed Merah’s rampage (2012), an attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris (2012), and various attacks  planned by the Madrid National Court (2004), the Hofstad Group in Holland (2004), and a Swedish cell (2010).[5]


Therefore, investigators should place a greater emphasis on investigating the nexus between terrorism and organized crime.[6]


In addition to funding, organized crime and terrorism are linked through the provision of foreign fighters. The Soufan Group, a strategic intelligence research group, recently reported that foreign fighters from European countries account for a significant percentage of Islamic State recruits (see Table 1 below). Perhaps even more troubling, roughly 74 percent of European foreign fighters arriving in the Middle East come from just four countries—France (1700), Germany (760), the United Kingdom (760), and Belgium (470).[7]


Table 1: Estimated Number of Foreign Fighters from European Countries[8]
Table 1: Estimated Number of Foreign Fighters from European Countries


Funding and manning are only a part of the problem, as the connection between terrorism and criminal organizations also provides fertile ground for the spread of extremism. Here, the nexus is most pronounced in cases where drug traffickers are imprisoned. During this time, the environment can act as an incubator for religious radicalization and violent extremism. As criminals become radicalized, this potentially increases involvement in the plotting and execution of terrorist attacks.[9] It also provides them with a worldwide network of connections and further develops their understanding of tactics, techniques and procedures to fund and conduct such attacks.


It is in this environment that the transformation from small-time crook to terrorist occurs, creating an emerging profile of jihadists like Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Salah Abdesalam, two of the ringleaders of the Paris terror attacks. These men, labelled terrorists in the Paris attacks, have prior convictions for their involvement in a series of armed robberies taking place in 2011 in Belgium.[10]


Figure 1: Relationship between Nexus Components


Figure 1: Relationship between Nexus Components

Determining the extent to which there is a nexus between transnational crime and insurgency is difficult not only because of the inaccessible nature of the actors, but also due to lack of data to support the correlation.  Unlike political violence which traditionally pits politico-military groups against the state in a battle for the control of territory, criminal violence prioritizes the pursuit of profit.[11] Still, traditional distinctions between criminal violence and political violence are increasingly muddled, particularly in failed states.  In conflict zones, a range of violent non-state actors fight for control over power and resources in an attempt to maximize the opportunities afforded by the war economy. Consequentially, the distinction between criminal violence and political violence becomes important. For a state, it is only possible to effectively address criminal violence and illicit economic activity after the legitimate government has regained monopoly over the use of force and established a modicum of stability, resulting in comprehensive implementation of the  rule of law.


Tamara Makarenko, an independent consultant from West Sands Advisory , has written extensively on the relationship between criminal groups and terrorist organizations, as well as the respective activities each group engages in to achieve their objectives. Makarendo’s “model of terrorist-criminal relationships” suggests that the continuum between transnational organized crime and terrorism does not flow in one direction, rather, the intermediary is a sliding scale over which groups traverse between extremes of crime and ideological insurgency, occupying any number of intermediaries along the way.[12] Scholar Svante Cornell, from Johns Hopkins University, asserts, that while some terrorist and insurgent organizations grow more intimately involved in the narcotics trade, this process can attenuate ideological zeal and alter a group’s motivation to focus less on politics and more on profit.[13]


Beyond the financial connection between criminal activity and terrorist extremism, organizational structure and logistical mechanisms provide further insight into the commonalities between the two spheres of illegal activity. Hutchinson and O’Malley downplay the notion of a nexus, although they do concede that under certain conditions, terrorists and criminals cooperate if circumstances offer mutual benefits.[14] Indeed, this coordination is facilitated by the evolving structure and organization of these groups, which have increasingly become decentralized networks, rather than top-down vertical hierarchies.[15] From a logistical standpoint, it is even evident that terrorists and criminals shift to in-sourcing their activities,[16] creating, what Phil Williams has called, “do-it-yourself (DIY) organized crime.”[17] This includes developing an appreciation for the value of corruption and bribery, another facilitating factor in the convergence between crime and terrorism.


The debate over the degree of convergence between terrorism and insurgency on the one hand, and transnational organized crime on the other, requires additional focus on the parochial element—petty crime, low-level theft, and small time drug dealing. While authorities do not often associate selling hash and “apple picking” (pickpocketing iPhones) with terrorism, it is important to realize that over time, what appears to be banal criminality or poor fiscal management could actually be deliberate attempts to finance soft target attacks in the West.


The culmination of the above factors suggest a very significant and grave challenge for law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies. These entities, already stretched thin on time and resources, are tasked with addressing and preventing threats posed by groups that operate in the shadows and do not follow international norms. The work of these agencies have increasingly focused on addressing the return of foreign fighters from Iraq, Syria and other jihadist hotspots throughout the globe. Where these fighters are part of an extensive network of criminals and radicals with roots in places like Molenbeek, Belgium, the Liselby district of Fredrikstad in Norway, or the banlieues of Paris, the transnational threat becomes a lot closer to home.

[1] Andrew Higgins, et. al., “In Suspects’ Brussels Neighborhood, a History of Petty Crimes and Missed Chances,” New York Times, November 16, 2015.

[2] Emilie Oftedal, “The Financing of Jihadi Terrorist Cells in Europe,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), January 2015, pp.3-7 (finding that the majority (roughly three quarters) of the plots planned between 1993 and 2013 cost less than $10,000 to plan).

[3] Elisabeth Braw, “Foreign Fighters Financing,” Foreign Affairs, October 25, 2015. See also, Colin P. Clarke, Terrorism, Inc.: The Financing of Terrorism, Insurgency and Irregular Warfare, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2015.

[4] Emilie Oftedal, “The Financing of Jihadi Terrorist Cells in Europe,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), January 2015, pp.16.

[5] Emilie Oftedal, “The Financing of Jihadi Terrorist Cells in Europe,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), January 2015.

[6] Rukmini Callimachi, et. al., “How the Paris Attackers Honed Their Assault Through Trial and Error,” New York Times, November 30, 2015.

[7] The Soufan Group, “Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq,” December 2015, p.12.

[8] The Soufan Group, “Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq,” December 2015, pp.7-10.

[9] The radicalization process, although in some instances take place while a person is incarcerated, is more complex.

[10] Jean-Charles Brisard, “The Paris Attacks and the Evolving Islamic State Threat to France,” CTC Sentinel, December 14, 2015.

[11] Ekaterina Stepanova, “Armed Conflict, Crime and Criminal Violence,” SIPRI Yearbook 2010: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security.

[12] Tamara Makarenko, “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism,” Global Crime, 6(1) (2004): 129-145.

[13] Svante Cornell, “Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30(2) (2007): 207-227.

[14] Steve Hutchinson and Pat O’Malley, “A Crime-Terror Nexus? Thinking on Some of the Links Between Terrorism and Criminality,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30(12) (2007):1095-1107.

[15] Chris Dishman, “The Leaderless Nexus: When Crime and Terror Converge,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 28(3) (2005): .237-252.

[16] Chris Dishman, “Terrorism, Crime and Transformation,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 24(1) (2001): 43-58.

[17] Phil Williams, “Terrorist Financing and Organized Crime: Nexus, Appropriation or Transformation?” in Thomas Biersteker and Susan Eckert, eds., Countering the Financing of Terrorism, (London: Routledge, 2008): 126-149.

Colin P. Clarke   


Colin P. Clarke is a Lecturer at the Institute for Politics & Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. 

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