Airbus 321: Using Tragedy to Create Effective Discourse on Modern Terrorism

aaaA tragic event occurred October 31, when a Russian Airbus A321 fatally crashed over Egypt, killing all 224 staff members and passengers. The airplane, which had been flying from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to St. Petersburg, Russia, is believed to have been taken down by a bomb. Reports all over the globe have been claiming that the incident is an act of terrorism. As such, officials and media outlets alike have been quick to point the finger at those whom they believe to be at fault, often condemning entire countries in the process.

Reports on who is believed to be behind the assumed bombing have been creating a frenzy on the Internet, with various sources making different claims. The U.S. has made headlines for its allegation that the culprits are Egyptians affiliated with terrorism. A piece for The Wall Street Journal explains, “U.S. officials say they suspect Islamic militants in the group’s Egyptian affiliate likely planted the bomb on the plane” (Entous et al, par. 3). While many deny Egypt’s involvement in the supposed bombing, the Egyptian affiliate of Daesh is said to have claimed responsibility for the crash on November 4, stating they would reveal further details within time (El-Ghobashy, par. 1).

Other publications have taken to pitting known terrorist organizations against each other, comparing them to see which is more likely to have committed the crime. produced a semi-offensive article that seemed to trivialize the whole situation, with its title asking “Is Islamic State Trying to One-Up Al-Qaeda?” The article talks about their assumption that Daesh carried a bomb onto the plan in an effort to mimic Al-Qaeda’s historic terrorist attacks, saying, “it would perhaps make sense with in the context of the group’s rivalry with al-Qaeda” (par. 10). The article references “terrorist expert” Greg Barton who is quoted as saying, “Al-Qaeda’s enduring claim to fame so far is 9/11 and a series of large scale terror attacks. […] It’s entirely possible that striking the Egyptians, doing something more of the scale of al-Qaeda style attacks, would be in line with IS’s ambition” (par. 11).

Image via Pixabay

These limited excerpts do not nearly exemplify the accusations and allegations being heard from around the world concerning the blame for this tragedy. However, this incident should not be used merely to point fingers at one another and to create more damage than has already been caused. This plane crash – assuming it was in fact caused by a bomb – was definitely an act of terrorism purported by a callous individual or group of individuals, no matter how large-scale that group may be. Nevertheless, it is not an excuse to pit entire countries against one another, or single out one nation as the cause, whether directly or indirectly. Instead, this tragedy has created an opportunity for constructive discourse on the modern threat of terrorism, and violent acts in general, which pose a threat to the entire global society.

There is a pressing need in our society to fully understand what constitutes a “terrorist group,” as the media is well known for it’s incessant, and rather careless use of the phrase. Furthermore, well-known terrorist groups have evolved throughout recent decades and recognizing such evolution is imperative for understanding the deeper context of terrorist-related activity. In “Say Terrorist, Think Insurgent: Labelling and Analyzing Contemporary Terrorist Actors,” authors Assaf Moghadem, Ronit Berger, and Polina Beliakova discuss the evolution of the modern terrorist group and suggest using the phrase “insurgent group” to better reflect their development. They argue that an accurate re-labeling will allow policy analysts and officials to better understand the multifaceted threat such groups pose and, likewise, better educate the public.

While the definition of a “terrorist act” does vary, the common factor is that these acts specifically target civilians and non-combatants. Of terrorism, Moghadem et al. explain that “the distinguishing features include such elements as the targeting of unarmed civilians, the use of extra-normal violence, the desire by the terrorists to instill fear in the target population, or the intent to influence a broader audience beyond the immediate victims” (4). A 2014 study conducted by the authors demonstrated that most groups officially classified as terrorist organizations do not fit this definition. Only one official group limited their attacks specifically to civilians or non-combatants between the years of 2002-2012 (Moghadem et al, 3). All other groups extended their attacks to include “government, police and military targets” (Moghadem et al, 3).

The authors explain that modern terrorist groups are better thought of as insurgent groups, as the traditional “terrorist” label fails to encompass the full scope of most of these groups’ actions. They define insurgency as “a struggle between a non-ruling group an a ruling government or authority, where the former uses a combination of political and military means to challenge government power and legitimacy” (4). A wider definitional scope can account for the other forms of political violence such groups utilize in today’s society, which include methods ranging from subversion, demonstrations, and guerrilla and conventional warfare (Moghadem et al, 3).

It’s no secret that terrorist groups have become dramatically more developed compared to what they were ten or twenty years ago. In “War on Error,” J.M. Berger looks at the evolution of Al-Qaeda, and emphasizes the need to focus on exactly what this group is becoming. Al-Qaeda has evolved from a single, central group in only Afghanistan, to having leaders in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria (Berger, par. 1). They have “morphed from a discreet terrorist group into a wide-ranging fighting movement that conducts insurgencies, recruits foreign fighters into conflicts, raises funds, and conducts terrorism on the side”(Berger, par. 14), only exemplifying the evolution of modern terrorist groups.

Placing the blame for terrorist attacks on countries is not the way to address the looming threat that terrorism and acts of political and social violence have on society. Instead, creating discourse on the subject in order to collectively work together at preventing such disasters is the only effective option. Using the tragedy of the Russian Airbus A321 to perpetuate resentment toward entire countries will not remedy this situation or work to prevent similar ones in the future.

Works Cited:

Entous, Adam, and Ben Leubsdorf. “U.S. Spy Agencies Believe Intelligence Indicates Terrorist Bomb Destroyed Plane.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 08 Nov. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015

El-Ghobashy, Tamer. “Islamic Group to West: ‘Prove It Wasn’t Us’” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 04 Nov. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

Burke, Liz. “Is IS Trying to One Up Al-Qaeda?” N.p., 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

Moghadem, Assaf, Ronit Berger, and Polina Beliakova “Say Terrorist, Think Insurgent: Labeling and Analyzing Contemporary Terrorist Actors,” Perspectives on Terrorism 8.5 (October 2014), 2-14

Berger, J.M. “War on Error.” Foreign Policy. N.p., 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.