I was coming to the end of the book Zero History by William Gibson, when I read this quote from one of the people involved in the story. It was during a discussion when Garreth says:
Terrorism was almost exclusively about branding.
First of all, let me say, Zero History is an excellent book. It has been considered the third and final book in the Bigend Cycle, which started with the book "Pattern Recognition". Let me say, there is, near the end of the book the introduction of a character that was important in the first book. I'll say no more because I don't want to spoil the story. In fact the purpose of this blog is not to review the book, except to say, it's an enjoyable read. So either buy it or borrow it from your local library.
The quote is what interested me, in fact I stopped reading to write it down. This way I could think about it. It has been in the mind of other readers as well; during my research for this blog I came across this interview with William Gibson. He is asked about the comment and gives this:
If you’re a terrorist (or a national hero, depending on who’s looking at you), there are relatively few of you and relatively a lot of the big guys you’re up against. Terrorism is about branding because a brand is most of what you have as a terrorist. Terrorists have virtually no resources. I don’t even like using the word terrorism. It’s not an accurate descriptor of what’s going on.
Terrorists are now, if you believe that quote and comment is more interested in developing brand awareness and branding rather then the overthrow of whatever government or interest the terrorist is attacking. If this is true, then this is quite a change, I remember years ago being involved in a discussion about terrorists. To give you the time, terrorists were groups such as the Red Brigade and the Baader-Meinhof Group. The story discussed was called, the Wasp. It dealt with a wasp that had flown into a car and was bothering the driver. The driver would react and attempt to swat the wasp, in doing so, brought about a car crash. This was the purpose of terrorism, to overthrow the state. It was involved in bombings, suicide as means to this end. Now with Mr. Gibson, terrorism is on the same level as Tommy Hilfiger, Old Navy or Nike. As I typed those names, I could see each of them being the template for modern day terrorism. It is all about getting into the public eye. Oddly enough, terrorists probably wear Nikes, Old Navy and Tommy Hilfiger shoes and clothing.
As we look at the major terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, it becomes fascinating to change the mindset. It seems no longer involved in directly overthrowing or destroying the enemy. In fact the article from Wikipedia gives the five strategies of the group:
1. Provoke the United States into invading a Muslim country.
2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries, and engage the U.S. in a long war of attrition.
4. Convert Al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against countries allied with the U.S. until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
5. The U.S. economy will finally collapse under the strain of too many engagements in too many places, similarly to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Arab regimes supported by the U.S. will collapse, and a Wahhabi Caliphate will be installed across the region.
Interesting how ideology does not enter the equation until step 4, prior ideology was the motivator for the terrorists. Terrorism was either extreme left or extreme right, all for overthrowing the government. Now it is more interested in developing franchises and regions, more like McDonald's then the successor to anarchists groups.
This brings to the thought, is all this a relevant for global events or a lot of spacious writing. This is the crux of the matter as well, by reading the strategy there is no attempt to turn the US or the West for that matter into a part a new and global Islamic Empire, they just want them out of their area. So all they have is the desire to keep the heat up and their names in the media.
If all this is the case, then terrorist acts are part of brand awareness and a suicide bomber is more a marketer or a cool brander.