What impact do acts of terror have on cities in the global South? This paper examines the largely negative implications of terrorist activities for development and the potential of cities for propelling reconstruction and peacebuilding. While specific challenges faced by cities in the global South cannot be under-estimated, urban terrorism is breaking down any sense of a rigid binary between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds. The ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude is misleading and damaging to both development cooperation and global security.
The geography of terror has moved on to the global stage largely by way of cities and specific urban symbols. Cities are targets of attacks and primary recipients of the economic and social side effects from which it is difficult to recover. Vulnerability is worst in urban areas, especially in developing countries. However, the effect of terrorist acts on cities of the southern hemisphere is not well understood.
Terrorist acts not only attack the urban environment and political economy, but also attack cities as social institutions and urbanism itself. Extreme differentials of wealth in cities of developed countries parallel those in the cities of the South, as does the way the increasing incidence of urban violence has entrenched social divisions and distance. Other findings are that:
- Cities of the South are particularly vulnerable because poverty, urbanisation and the rapid and unplanned expansion of cities exacerbate the impact of terrorism.
- The vulnerabilities of urban populations of developing societies result in differences (between North and South) in the ultimate outcomes.
- Episodes of terror that have had the most devastating impact on cities have usually been state-led. Many have been backed by the United States.
- Urban acts of terror destroy what development has built (in relation to both the physical and social fabric) and divert resources away from investment, causing cities to regress.
- Acts of urban terror undermine the capacity of cities and urban citizens to contribute to recovery, restitution and state-making.
While vulnerability is more blatantly evident in the South, international terrorism has levelled the risk of exposure to political violence. Cities of the North and South are afflicted by many of the same problems. Views based on rigid binaries are problematic and often serve to sustain political violence.
- As urban populations grow and become more differentiated, social distance is often magnified.
- Notions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ fuel ever-intensifying cycles of violence born of ‘terrorism’ and ‘counter-terrorism’, levelling risk across cities of the world, while leaving the vulnerabilities of urban dwellers highly unequal.
- Policies designed to assist marginalised or disaffected communities can signal lack of parity in the treatment of citizens and reinforce inter-communal distrust, especially in tight urban spaces.
- Some of the properties of urban life – diversity, cosmopolitanism and creativity – can contribute to a defiant resilience and progress towards peace.
- Urban terrorism is an international problem requiring local and global resolution. Resolution cannot be bought at the expense of development.