Terrorism and Diaspora


Terrorism and Diaspora

A lot of recent research activity has focused on the link between terrorism and diaspora (including “Diasporas and Security” a workshop at the University of Kent (2013),  “Diasporas and International Relations” workshop at the University of Warwick; “The Radicalization of Diasporas and Terrorism” A Joint Conference by the RAND Corporation and the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich (2007); “Transnational Diaspora Mobilization in Europe and its Impact on Political Processes in the Balkans”, the Caucasus, and the Middle East , ERC Project at University of Warwick (2012- 2017) ; “Measuring Political Radicalization: Diaspora Support for Terrorism among Ottawa's Lebanese Muslim Community” , National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism ( 2008- 2010 ); and “Diaspora Mobilisation and International Security” ERC project, SOAS (2007-2009)). If Diasporas are “the exemplary communities of the transnational moment” (Tölöyan 1991:3) then the concept of a unified ethno-political identity enables networks of affiliation to develop political strategies of activism across state borders. Although the role of diaspora communities acting as lobbyists for homeland politics abroad has historical precedence, it has been argued that there is now evidence of “a new phenomenon of Diaspora communities turning against their adopted homelands” (Hoffman 2007: 1).  Some scholars have argued that this irrevocably changes the nature of political participation on several fronts, as:

“Today’s ‘warriors’ in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka do not all wear military outfits and linger in the jungles of the war-ravaged South Asian island. Among them are thousands of people with placards outside the UN complex in Geneva advocating Tamil rights to self-determination” (Ourjuela 2008: 436)

The notion of diaspora as a forum for the development of radical separatism and strategies of proto-nationalism  (Tokić 2009) is endorsed to such an extent that ‘unsettling’ the diaspora has itself become a key counter-insurgency strategy (Sentas 2012: 108), with the intention of  disrupting transnational sub-state (or anti-state) political networks . Hoffman et al attribute the rise in terrorist activity across the diaspora to the following categories: “second-generation failed assimilations, and first-generation migrants who do not fit into their new society” (as well as recent converts to the ideological imperative/goals of the homeland or diaspora) (2007: vii); whilst Marina Koinova identifies four categories of diaspora mobilisation ranging from moderate political advocacy to radical violence (2013). Diaspora can be regarded, in this sense, as a form of long-distance nationalism (Skrbis 1999). Diaspora communities have been effective in most cases at instigating fundraising and lobbying activities (Hoffman 2007; Berkowitz and Mugge 2014); hence,  in the context of security and surveillance frameworks, counter-terrorism units might typically regard the diaspora as an “international lobby” (Sentas  2012: 101  in regard to the Tamil LTTE separatist movement). Indeed, funds raised through the Irish Diaspora (primarily in the USA) during the 1970s and 1980s represented a substantial source of financial income for the IRA (Jonsson and Cornell 2007: 69-70) . The nature of remittances from organizations overseas can be used for multiple purposes,  demonstrating the proliferation of transnational networks in the progress of numerous programs and activities in the homeland.  The nature of attachment and a sense of virtual connectivity are enhanced through the availability of technology. Cultural objects (film, TV, music) and media produced abroad in a dialogic relation to visual representations from the homeland can have a key role in influencing discourse on conflict as well as to challenge dominant narratives by bringing unheard voices and information to the diaspora space. The ease of communication and mobility ensures these transnational networks have greater possibility of growth and promote dynamic interaction between distinct groups (Demmers 2011: 86). The increased use of social media networks to communicate across borders enhances the construction of this imagined community along ideological lines, instituting a virtual community and a novel means of participation from afar (Palmer 2012). Diaspora agents engage in a complex process of political participation in exile, from activities relating to the foreign policy or socio-cultural environment of the hostland, and/or as advocates or opponents to socio-political conditions within the homeland (Lithman 2003) reflecting self-determination against proximal or remote political oppression. In this way, diaspora agents can demonstrate multiple roles : from spreading ideological propaganda for political aims  (Shain 2002) to either/simultaneously taking an active role in fighting against oppression as distant lobbyists or advocates for reconciliation and reconstruction (Mohamoud 2005) through the creation of “transnational landscapes within which diaspora operates” (Tokić 2009: 10).

The connection between diaspora and terrorism cannot be divorced from the wider context of colonialism and contemporary foreign policy; in the recent case of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, the dominant narrative attempted to distance the events from “the looming arc of French/Western imperialism, the poverty and racism contaminating working class lives in the colonies and elsewhere, a State ready to pounce upon the figure of the migrant and the marginal and incarcerate him/her” (Bhattacharya and Mullen 2015). From this perspective connectivity is born through an anti-imperial struggle, representing a “coming together as fellow members of a structurally oppressed and marginalised community regularly subjected to violence, poverty, harassment and hatred” (Keenan and El-Nany 2015). This, it can be argued, is the form of terrorism propagated by the postcolonial state (Wilson 2012: 2) in the homeland states, in conjunction with the ongoing failure of assimilationist/integration policies in the hostland. Indeed, the notion of such connectivity across the diaspora can raise awareness and generate a “cross-ethnic mobilization for peace, as well as to challenge hard-line nationalist positions” (Orjuela 2008: 450)

The focus of much recent research has been the increase in political participation through radical politicisation. Indeed it is suggested that in some cases success within the diaspora may depend on expressing explicit sympathy – if not support – with the more radical positions of terrorist groups in the homeland (Orjuela 2008: 446). However, it must be acknowledged that “the narrative of terrorism is defined by narratives of counter-terrorism” (Wilson 2012: 4): in other words, definitions of what constitutes ‘terrorism’ are dependent on the ideological system within which it is constructed (Forest 2012). It is important to note that “the vocabulary of terror has in recent years become the bass note to Western government rhetoric” (Boehmer and Morton 2010: 6) – within this discourse of securitization, it is the potential violence of disturbing the boundary/border (Sentas 2012: 103) highlighted rather than a focus on what motivates political mobilization within the diaspora (Al Raffie 2013) or questioning the spaces of citizenship which may have effectively “ghettoized immigrant communities” (Zimmerman and Rosenau 2009: 9); spaces of those diasporic subjects created “citizens in name but not culturally or socially” (Leiken 2005). In this way, there is a need to acknowledge disenfranchisement just as much as there is a need to be “careful not to link immigration and terrorism” (Kerchove 2011: 87) which builds a narrative of the diasporic network as an expanding extremist threat of immigrant communities set against their adopted state.

Linking terrorism to diaspora in this way risks reinforcing an essentialist perspective on identity and negating the diversity of a diasporic group, collapsing multiple identities (and the multiple and complex socio-political concerns experienced within that group) into a homogenous entity (Singh and Singh 2014) which is both fiercely nationalistic and violently anti-state.



Al Raffie, Dina. "Social Identity Theory for Investigating Islamic Extremism in the Diaspora." Journal of Strategic Security 6, no. 4 (2013): 67-91

Berkowitz, L., & Mügge, L. M. (2014). Transnational diaspora lobbying: Europeanization and the Kurdish question. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 35(1), 74-90.

Bhattacharya, T.  And Mullen, B. 2015. Rewinding the Battle of Algiers in the Shadow of the Attack on Charlie Hebdo. Critical Legal Thinking. http://criticallegalthinking.com/2015/01/14/rewinding-battle-algiers-sha...


Boehmer, E and Morton, S. (2010). Terror and the Postcolonial: A Concise Companion. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

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 Skrbis, Z. (1999) Long-distance Nationalism: Diasporas, Homelands and Identities, Research in Migration and Ethnic Relations Series, Brookfield, VT: Ashgate.

 Tokić, M. (2009). “Diaspora Politics and Transnational Terrorism: An Historical Case Study”. Florence: EUI Working Paper RSCAS. 2009/42 Tölölyan, K. (1991).“The Nation State and Others: In Lieu of a Preface”, Diaspora, 1, 1 : 3-7 Wilson, J. M. (2012). “Future directions of postcolonial studies”. Seminar Presentation presented to Centre for Teaching and Research in Postcolonial Studies (CEREP) Research Group Seminar, University of Liege, Belgium, 12 October 2012. Zimmerman, D. and Rosenau, W. (2009). (eds). The Radicalisation of Diasporas and Terrorism. Zurich: ETH Zurich, Centre for Security Studies.