The Branding of Terrorism: Consumers, Markets & Innovation

By Misha Munim, J.D./M.A. Candidate at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

In this Ted talks video, Jason McCue (internationally recognized human rights lawyer and senior partner at McCue & Partners in the UK) brings an interesting perspective to the table:  terrorism is a ‘brand’. While I don’t necessarily agree with all his points, he presents a unique lens through which to view and understand terrorism. In order to thrive in a capitalist market, McCue says, the brand needs consumers to buy into it (which he calls the terrorist constituency) and substantial market share to remain lucrative.

This is precisely where counter-terrorism efforts come in. In order to reduce the attractiveness of the ‘terrorism’ brand, its market share needs to be reduced. How can counter-terrorism efforts do this?  He argues that instead of fighting fire with fire, by endorsing the continuation of facilities like Guantanamo Bay, counter-terrorism experts should look at things like poverty, injustice, and other criteria that ‘feed’ terrorism. He mentions that 9/11 was Al-Qaeda’s ‘big marketing day’ to ship the terrorism brand across the world. He argues that counter-terrorism measures must cut the supply of the terrorism brand by addressing its producers – through interacting with them, educating them, and having dialogue. Ultimately, think, how are we going to reduce this market? To hit that market, he says we should ‘use our heads, rather than our might’ by fostering innovation – an inherently capitalistic notion.

I think he makes some compelling points through the use of  this analogy. But the solutions to cutting terrorism’s ‘market share’ are not so clear-cut. In the Canadian context, poverty and injustice have not always fueled terrorism at home. Also, the point of ‘educating’ a potential terrorist constituency does not apply in Canada. For instance, CSIS’ studies on individuals radicalized by the Al Qaeda/Islamic extremist narrative reveal that these individuals come from various socioeconomic backgrounds and tend to be well-educated with high levels of academic achievement. They do not tend to be marginalized in Canadian society. So, there is no one-size-fits-all, universal solution here to diminish terrorism’s ‘market share’.

However, a key point that should be extracted here, since we are using a capitalistic marketplace ideology, is the power of innovation. Counter-terrorism efforts must continue to be innovative, resilient, and flexible. They should be weary of what factors contribute to the growth of terrorism’s ‘market share’, be wise to what trends that the potential ‘terrorist consumer base’ might be buying into, and be creative in ways to address these challenges. There may not be a universal solution to reduce the potency of the terrorism ‘brand’, but innovation, backed with adequate research and resources, will prove to be an incredibly useful tool.

Photo by  jsouthorn via Flickr.

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