Summary Class notes - Understanding terrorism and the terrorist threat

- Understanding terrorism and the terrorist threat
- Garry laFree & Bill Braniff
- 2014 - 2015
- University of Maryland
- Understanding terrorism and the terrorist threat
252 Flashcards & Notes
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Summary - Class notes - Understanding terrorism and the terrorist threat

  • 1420671600 1.1 Introduction

  • National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
    Multidisciplinary and empirical based studies are important to study terrorism.
    In the first module two important themes:
    -the idea that terrorism is a complex and a nuanced topic that requires careful study and discussion.
    -the importance of empirical data.
  • 1420930800 Nine myths part 1

  • Global Terrorism Database (GTD)
    • Currently updated from 1970-2012
    • Information compiled on over 113.000 terrorist attack
    • Goal is to record information on all terrorist attacks throughout the world.
  • Essayist Nasim Taleb: Black Swan Event.
    • Outside the realm of regular predictions, has a high impact and defies expectations;
    • Based on historical assumption in Europe that all swans were white;
    • 9/11: Unexpected, huge impact, difficult to predict = Black Swan
    • Black Swans can have a big impact even though they don't match reality.
    • Applies to crimes other than terrorism - such as a publicized homicide;
    • Black Swan events can lead to legal changes even though they are not typical.
    • This lecture compares myths created by Black Swan events to the reality of terrorism.
  • Myth 1: Terrorist attacks were rapidly increasing in the years leading up to 9/11
    • Other countries have had their own 9/11
    • Terrorist attacks peaked after 9/11
    • Major increase was in 1992
    • Attacks in the years prior to 9/11 were at the lowest level in 20 years, around the same as in the mid-1970's.
  • Myth 2: Terrorist attacks reach every corner of the world.
    • Media gives us the impression that terrorism is everywhere; no place is safe
    • Attacks are actually highly concentrated
    • Top 10 countries for terrorism account for 50% of the world's terrorist activity
    • Top 10% of countries account for 75% of world's terrorist activity
    • See slide 11 (of 20) for the figures
  • Myth 3: The US is more frequently targeted than any other country.
    • See slide 13 (of 20) for the figures
    • GTD: US ranks about 14th in the world for total attacks and 16th for fatalities
    • Columbia ranks first in total attacks and Iraq ranks first for fatalities
    • 9/11 (1 event) accounts for the vast majority of the US fatalities to terrorism
    • Without 9/11 US fatalities would be similar to those in Canada or Greece
  • Myth 4: Most terrorist attacks involve disgruntled (ontevreden) from one country attacking civilians in another (international attacks)
    • Just recently databases began to distinguish between domestic and international attacks
    • Very large proportion of attacks were domestic
    • GTD study utilizing groups that had a special interest to attack US
    • Yet 90% of the 17.000 attacks in GTD study were domestic
    • See slide 17 (of 20) for the figures
  • Myth 5: Terrorism is unrelated to traditional political grievances
    • Often think of groups as being irrational with no goals
    • Many of the top 10 organizations have specific political agendas
    • Usually requesting land for some group
    • This could be homeland or taking over an entire country
    • See slide 20 (of 20) for the figures
  • 1421017200 Nine Myths part 2

  • Recap
    • Common myths about terrorism
    • Black Swan nature leads to stereotypes based on high profile attacks (like 9/11)
    • Stereotypes often don't hold up to fact
  • Myth 6: Most terrorist attacks are extremely lethal (dodelijk)
    • See slide 4 (of 2)0 for the figures
    • Most attacks that receive publicity are very lethal
    • However, GTD shows 50% of all attacks result in no fatalities
    • Why? (sometimes terrorist destroy property as a goal; some attacks fail; sometimes killing is not the aim - such as in warned attacks (ex. IRA)
    • Brian Jenkins: Terrorist want many watchers but not dead
    • GTD: 50% of attacks produced 1 fatality (according to the figures 0)
    • GTD: 2% (12.000) of attacks produced more than 25 fatalities
    • Jenkins revised statement to say: modern terrorist want many people watching and many dead.
  • Myth 7: Most terrorist attacks rely on sophisticated weaponry.
    • Most attacks rely on non-sophisticated, readily available weapons
    • 80% of attacks rely on mostly common explosives and firearms
    • Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons are rare
    • See slide 9 (of 20) for Weapons used in terrorist attacks 1970-2011 (n = 104.689)
  • Myth 8: Most terrorist organizations are long lasting and difficult to eradicate (uitroeiing)
    • Slide 11 (of 20): Longevity (levensduur) of terrorist groups, 1970-2011
    • GTD includes 2.000 terrorist groups that have operated from 1970-present
    • Often judge activity based off of how long ago the last attack was
    • GTD: 75% of terrorist organizations last less than a year
    • Like business startups they often fail early on
    • Psychological: Media coverage of longstanding groups makes it seem as if all terrorist last a long time
  • Myth 9: Terrorist groups are impervious (ongevoelig, imuun) to governmental counterterror policies and they rarely make mistakes
    • Myth of the 'superterrorist'
    • Events like Mumbai, Madrid, London, 9/11 give the feeling of groups being infallible (onfeilbaar)
    • However, many terrorist groups lead to their own destruction
    • Ample (ruim) evidence shows terrorist make frequent strategic errors
    • Case study: Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) see slide 16 (of 20) for the figures
    • Based in Turkey during the '70s and '80s; Why did it end?
    • Strategic error led to their end
    • Targeting went from Turks to unbiased (onpartijdig) killing
    • Loss of outside view of 'just cause'
    • Random violence created a polarized climate among former supporters and funders
    • Examples of Terrorist fallibility:
    • Oklahoma City Bombing culprit (dader) Timothy McVeigh was arrested for driving without a license plate
    • The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing terrorists were arrested after trying to collect a rental deposit on the van used as a car bomb
  • 1421103600 1.4 Challenges of studying terrorism

  • Previous lecture Recap
    • Myths associated with terrorism -->
    • Suggests there are challenges to studying the topic
  • Emotion & Terrorism
    • Terrorism is a highly emotive (gevoels) topic
    • First challenge: move past the emotions it evokes (oproepen)
  • Scientific Study of Terrorism
    • Terrorism is an ancient phenomenon (Social-scientific study is fairly [redelijk] new)
    • Great body of historical literature (lack of scientific foundation to draw upon)
  • Definitions(s) of Terrorism
    • Terrorism does not have one definition (There are many in use)
    • Inability to convey (overdragen) sophisticated & nuanced ideas - and event to agree on the definition itself
  • Data on Terrorism
    • Lack of a concrete definition has led to a lack of objective data about terrorism
  • Secret Activity
    • Terrorist activity usually clandestine (perpetrators do not share their secrets)
    • Shared information is dubious (meant to show perpetrators' action in a positive light)
    • Targets of terrorist activity do not want to share information (may demonstrate real/perceived threat / verify the terrorist's goal)
    • Absence of objective data filled with anecdotes or agenda-driven responses
  • Societal Effects of Terrorism
    • Terrorism is used to draw attention to emotional & divisive (tot verschil leidende) issues (Polarizing)
    • Rips at social fabric of society and at social contract between government & constituency (kiezers/achterban)
  • Pejorative (kleinerende/denigrerende) discussions
    • Conversations about terrorism often focus on 'right' or 'wrong' (ness of group's cause, belief or goals) does not focus on actual behaviors
  • Similar Beliefs?
    • "One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" ==>
    • Terrorists often claim to be fighting for beliefs similar to those of law-abiding citizens or activists
  • What makes someone a terrorist?
    • Not the stated world view
    • The reliance (vertrouwen) on illegal violence to advance beliefs
  • Terrorism & Academia
    • Terrorism does not fit neatly (zorgvuldig) into one discipline
    • -Criminology... but different motivations
    • -Political science... but doesn't help understand extremism
    • -Sociology... but also need Psychology
    • No single academic theory gives a holistic understanding of terrorism
    • No one methodology is robust enough
    • Must use multiple lenses
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