After the unfortunate bombings in Boston, the media accounts often highlight increasing religiosity of the terrorists before their attacks. Here is a quote from NY Times, investigating Tamerlan’s path to radicalization:
He flew in to the airport here in Makhachkala, where the plate-glass windows of the arrival hall frame a mosque with twin minarets stretching skyward. He had already given up drinking alcohol, grown a close beard and become more devout, praying five times a day. (full story)
Similar descriptions could be found in many other outlets in these days. Does personal piety correlate with radical views? Continue reading
Citizenship Initiative, led by David Jacobson and his colleagues at the University of South Florida, offers global Tribalism Index- a quantitative measure of tribal culture that can gauge degree of tribalism- to study development of radical movements and terrorist networks around the world. Their database will be ready for public soon.
In their recent article in New Global Studies, Jacobson and Deckard utilize this new Index and come to interesting conclusions such as the following:
Regression models that include both Muslim population percentage and level of tribalism demonstrate that, in the absence of a clear tribal culture, adherence to Islam does not make for susceptibility to extremism. Furthermore, these models show that it is within tribal environments that Islamist movements are best nurtured. The Tribalism Index proves of greater utility than the Failed States Index for eliciting the dynamics of violence in tribal societies, while illuminating the inaccuracy of seeing militancy as a function of Islam as such. Continue reading
As we are involved in a heated debate about Obama’s kill list and controversial drone attacks in Pakistan, it is timely to ask whether American public sufficiently comprehends seriousness of the issue of civilian deaths, which poses a great danger in fighting against terrorist networks and radical movements. In his new book, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (Oxford University Press, 2011), John Tirman presents a compelling argument to explain why a culture of public “indifference” still dominates.
According to Tirman, there are three major reasons behind this lack of public attention: racism (i.e. Americans’ lives are more important than some other people’s lives), frontier myth (i.e. a strong belief in USA’s mission in world politics), and psychological aversion (i.e. just too much burden for someone to think about these disturbing issues). Examining Korean War, Vietnam War, and recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tirman also indicates how American public were made in dark, and thus, were deceived about number of civilian deaths. At the outset of the Iraqi war, only 73 of 18000 news stories on the major networks mentioned Iraqi casualties. By 2008, during the time American public supported to pull out of the country, any coverage of the Iraq war went down to 3 per cent Continue reading
Political violence and terrorism (violence against noncombatants) have received considerable attention from scholars of social movements and contentious politics since the events of 9/11. Several important books and dozens of articles have been published by such scholars on these topics. I recently had the privilege of editing a special issue of the journal Mobilization (March 2012) on political violence, and the recent essay dialogue on terrorism at the Mobilizing Ideas website continues this important conversation.
At the same time, we should not forget, scholars have also devoted growing attention to nonviolent civil resistance, exemplified by recent studies by Sharon Erickson Nepstad (2011) and Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan (2011). In fact, strategies and tactics of various types have received renewed attention from scholars of contentious politics in recent years in an effort to understand better their causes and efficacy (e.g., Jasper 2004, Amenta 2006, Ganz 2009, Maney et al. 2012). The recent scholarship on violent and nonviolent strategies promises to enrich this more general discussion of strategy (although strategies may of course be differentiated on many other analytic dimensions). Continue reading
Is terrorism linked to social movements? In answering the question, I think a caveat is in order. In all my work, I have tried to avoid the term terrorism altogether, as I have doubts about its value as a social scientific concept. Heavily loaded from the ethical and political point of view, the term has been used to refer to a variety of phenomena. As Tilly (2004: 8) reminded us with specific reference to political violence, in the social sciences the value of a concept is linked to its capacity to point to detectable phenomena that exhibit some degree of causal coherence. Tilly therefore—I think wisely–refused to use the term terrorist to describe actors that in fact are characterized by complex repertoires of action – highlighting the need to investigate types of events that can in fact be included in the same social science category. Terrorism is a generalized construct derived from our concepts of morality, law, and the rules of war, whereas actual terrorists are shaped by culture, ideology and politics – specific, inchoate factors and notions that motivate diverse actions” (2003: 117). Most fundamentally, there is a risk of reifying terrorism (and terrorists) based on the use of some forms of collective action. Even when means are easily definable as terrorist, it is tricky to talk of a terrorist organization, as this would hypostatize the use of one means over others that that organization will very likely be using as well. Continue reading
By Victor Asal
As any student can tell you the advantage of being called on in class to discuss an issue after many of your fellow students have been called on is that you are often more prepared to answer the question because you have listened to your colleagues. The great disadvantage of course is that there may be nothing new or interesting left to say. That has not stopped me as a student and it will not stop me now. I found it very interesting reading the prior contributions to this discussion and I found it particularly interesting that as far as I could tell across a wide spectrum of perspectives, everyone agreed that terrorist tactics are not a distinct animal separated by some theoretical line from social movements. While there was disagreement about the definition of terrorism itself and the political implications of the term, everyone agreed that terrorism is a tactic that can be employed by social movements and a behavior that those who examine collective action should be studying. Even something as unpleasant as suicide terrorism is described by Brym as a social movement tactic. Miller and LaFree are so confident of the social movement nature of terrorism that they focus very quickly on the “…complex relationships between various groups, organizations, and individuals…” I wish I could be controversial and disagree with my colleagues about the relationship between terrorism and social movements Continue reading
Is terrorism the domain of a group of specialists in violence? Or is terrorism a tactic (or strategy)[i] that any group or individual may select from a menu of many other tactics? For some social movement scholars, such as the late Charles Tilly, the answer is simple:
[S]ocial scientists who attempt to explain sudden attacks on civilian targets should doubt the existence of a distinct, coherent class of actors (terrorists) who specialize in a unitary form of political action (terror) and thus should establish a separate variety of politics (terrorism).[ii] Continue reading
Social movements using terrorism or terrorism driving social movements?
The relationship between social movements and terrorism has emerged as an important analytical dimension of our research on terrorist activity. Our approach to this issue has been largely inductive rather than deductive, and stems directly from our work on the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The GTD includes data on nearly 100,000 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide between 1970 and 2010, including when, where, and how they happened, as well as information on the perpetrators of the attack. Rather than questioning whether or not social movements use terrorism as tactic, we frequently find ourselves focused on how we can and should organize the information we have on perpetrators of terrorism in a way that accounts for the complex relationships between various groups, organizations, and individuals that share political, social, economic, or religious goals. In essence, this indicates to us that empirically terrorism is in fact a tool of social movements aimed at achieving a common goal. To illustrate this, we discuss the methodological and substantive implications of studying perpetrators of terrorism. Continue reading
Consider the African National Congress (ANC), a national South African organization founded in 1912 to unite Africans in their struggle against European oppression. In the 1950s it organized a Defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws that produced mass mobilization. In 1961 the ANC abandoned its reliance upon solely non-violent tactics and formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), an underground cell that embraced terror tactics and planned and executed a series of bombings. Nelson Mandela led Umkhonto and was imprisoned for his leading role in Umkhonto’s terror campaign.
Consider the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the youth branch of a US socialist organization formed originally in 1905 (it adopted the name SDS in 1960). Continue reading
Many people resist recognizing groups engaged in terrorism as social movement organizations. This is perhaps because social movement research is so often conducted by scholars personally sympathetic to the movements they study – and most scholars aren’t sympathetic to terrorist activity. But sympathetic or no, most terrorism is conducted by groups that fit any common definition of a social movement organization. Suicide bombings, airplane hijackings, and butyric acid attacks are used by groups oriented toward social and political change in much the same way as protest marches, boycotts, letter-writing campaigns, and civil disobedience.
Recognizing terrorist activity as social movement activity can help us better understand it. Continue reading