The ‘new home front’ and the war on terror: ethical and political reframing of national and international politics

Gillian Youngs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article uses the concept of the ‘new home front’ to address the ethical and political reframing of national and international politics in the ‘war on terror’. It examines the links between ethics and politics in the context of links between ‘home’ and the ‘front’. The first thing to make clear is that the ‘new home front’ in the war on terror has multiple dimensions to it. Just as it refers to links between ‘home’ (as in national or domestic) and the ‘front’ (as in the military spheres of action in Iraq and Afghanistan), it also refers literally to the home front, with terrorist attacks and continuing threats of them in the UK, importantly from home-grown as well as internationally networked terrorists. So there is a complex spatiality involved in the ethical contexts of policies and politics related to the war on terror that binds security issues at home to military action overseas in ways that are overt or not. I aim to unpack some of the less obvious dimensions of that complexity in three areas. All three relate to the problematic nature of assumed separations between domestic and foreign policy, between what is considered to be ‘out there’ (overseas, foreign) and what is ‘in here’ (home, domestic). The first area concerns the varied impacts of new media connections as part of everyday life. The new media (the internet and diverse mobile devices linked to it) have disrupted traditional national vertical (top-down) linkages between political agents, the mass media and the public through a myriad horizontal real-time online connections. This means that it is far harder for governments to control the ethical content of information distributed about war, as demonstrated, for example, by the dissemination of pictures of prisoners being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison. The second area of spatial complexity relates to the pervasiveness of security concerns as integrative of domestic and foreign influences, in contrast to the predominant traditional view of security threats as external. The significance of home-grown terrorism, and intelligence and policing efforts to detect, prevent and punish it, have led to new ethical dilemmas for liberal democracies. The winning of hearts and minds is as much about persuading citizens of the legitimacy of the security imperatives that limit their liberal freedoms—the very freedoms such imperatives are ultimately intended to protect—as it is about encouraging them to be vigilant and report on any suspicions they may have about potential threats. The third area of spatial complexity is probably the least overtly recognized in terms of the ethics and politics of the war on terror. It relates to everyday citizenship and multiculturalism and gender. Here the collective and individual arenas are touched on in ways that demonstrate some of the deeper politics of the war on terror, including identity politics. Multiculturalism has been substantially in the foreground of this war and a new reflexivity about liberalism within and beyond the UK. Women and gender relations have been central to ethical tensions in the war on terror. They have frequently featured in links between foreign and domestic policy, including in the contexts of multicultural politics and religious issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-937
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2010


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