So it has been a while since the blog has had any new content. My thought moving forward is that I will be more diligent and also post more writings by my students. This week my students had to submit a paper on “How do we end Terrorism?” The below paper is by Masters of Science in Emergency Management student Jessica Brangaccio.
Can Terrorism End?
Can Terrorism ever really end? That is a question that somewhat circular in that every argument for or against the ending of terrorism brings it back around to the root of why terrorism exists. Many people have written arguments for why the end of terrorism is near, or how it can be achieved through peace and common understanding but for each of these arguments is a carefully articulated argument that has counter-points for every one of these pathways to peace. Kruglanski et al. (2013) argues that while terrorism may never fully be stopped, by understanding the motivational forces that push the terroristic agenda, one could show ways that these terroristic actions could be refocused into a more positive direction. While I agree with this, as basic principle of human nature requires us to replace one need or desire with another, I feel that the imperative term in the statement made by Kruglanski et al. is “positive direction”. What is positive or negative is simply a matter of opinion and social construct. It is with almost absolute certainty that persons who are engaging in terroristic actions feel that this is a positive step or part of some type of positive action that will incite movement for their cause.
Kruglanski et al. (2013) also argue that we as a people know more about what terrorism “is not” rather than what it is or what causes it. They theorize that there is an underlying “quest for significance” that all humans innately have and that this is what drives or inspires a person to make a personal sacrifice for the good of a collective cause, such as in cases of suicide bombings. This “quest for significance” or more commonly known as being in search of notoriety, can often take over the natural need for self-preservation (Kruglanski et al., 2013) however it may not be just as simple as that. This idea of re-channeling the need for significance or notoriety could reduce some of the root causes of terrorism, but if it were that simple, doctors or scientists would have already created a program or way to do this. In some ways, what a terrorist is goes much deeper than this, and also can be more upfront than this as well.
As stated, we know more about what terrorism “is not” and one of these things is that it is not a psychopathology. There is no specific personality profile that exists that can label someone as a terrorist. While there are social indicators, these are not always reliable either and can often lead people in the wrong direction when attempting to detect the true intentions of people. Some of these indicators include situational factors such as poverty and oppression, however these are not “root causes” of the ideology that creates a terrorist, but rather contributing factors only (Kruglanski et al., 2013). When discussing how to work on ending terrorism and how to stop future actions from becoming more and more heinous, people often turn to what the goals of these terrorists or terrorist organizations are. Kruglanski et al. (2013) argue that terroristic behavior is not necessarily always a goal-driven action, but rather a means through which the individual or organization pursues their actual goal. This type of confusion in what terrorists want is not uncommon in what we have seen as we study their behavior, but what is common is the lack of understand and communication to determine what could have prevented this from occurring.
In an article written by Theriault, Krause & Young (2017) they urge people to “know thy enemy” and to educate ourselves about terrorist’s motives and their attitudes. They state that most terrorist groups “welcome our hatred” as a part of a successful strategy to show their followers or prospective followers the worst side of our culture, which is exactly the point. Theriault et al. (2017) also make a point that we are not using the term “terrorist” as a specific definition but as more of a moral judgment on the actions of the person or group receiving that label. This could also contribute to why we had such a hard time narrowing this definition down and why it is so open to interpretation between groups. Again, this is where communication could be crucial in working to reduce the amount of terrorism occurring in the world. If persons are deliberating upping the violence of their actions in order to make it as heinous as possible and earning themselves the label of “terrorist”, it may not be that they are seeking judgement from others, but rather affirmation that what they are doing is correct, due to the miscommunication of just this single term.
By working to educate ourselves and understand the existing prejudices we may be able to incorporate this into any work that is being done in the future to work on preventing terroristic actions as well as developing more conflict strategies that could open doors for additional creation of relationships (Theriault et al., 2017). Most authors are hesitant to state that there can be an ultimate end to terrorism, and there is a good reason for this. While some of the most successful counterterrorism strategies have been developed by utilizing breakthroughs in the areas of understanding what motivates the people that commit these acts, the organization of the groups that order these acts and the strategies that are employed by these groups (Theriault et al., 2017) the fact of the matter is that terrorism is rooted in humanity, which can change a motivation, organization plan or strategy at any given time, often without warning.
Other authors state that terrorism can simply be deterred with enough strategies and enough planning in place to address each issue as it arises. Trager and Zagorcheva (2005) discuss this in depth when writing about deterrence strategies and the case against the use of these strategies. In this article, it is stated that deterrence strategies have two elements aside from straight punishment of the individual or person: creation of a threat or action that has been designed to increase the cost (either real or perceived) of an enemy engaging in a particular behavior, or the creation of an offer to change the “state of affairs” if the enemy refrains from the particular behavior (Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005). Both of these sound as though they are reasonable ways to work to reduce and eventually end terroristic actions, but what happens when there is nothing that can be created to change someone’s mind? Or if there is not a cost that is too high, such as human life, like in cases of suicide bombers? These deterrent strategies do not work, which is why there is an argument against using them as well.
The arguments used against these strategies are also rooted in opinion which makes it difficult to determine if they are valid or simply thoughts of a group of persons who do not want to engage with terrorists or terror organization on any level. The three that were mentioned in this article are as follows: that terrorists are “irrational” and they cannot be responsive to any type of cost/benefit scenario so attempting to show them they have too much to lose will not work; that the level of motivation in terrorists is so high, that nothing will ever change their minds; or that there is no fear of punishment from the countries they are attacking, especially if they are not from that country as they are “not subject to our laws” (Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005). Again, while these may just be one opinion, it does seem as though it has been echoed through the media and our culture, as it does not seem out of the scope of what is real that these could be reasons not to deal with terrorists in a deterrence strategy model.
Ultimately, I am not sure that anything can be done to fully end terrorism. Even when there are acts committed by a “lone wolf”, the place they are from will denounce them or deny any affiliation with them, so by working to form alliances or at least an atmosphere of mutual agreement to not attack one another with larger organizations, there is still always the possibility of those “lone wolf” attackers. We as humans each have our own mind, and with that comes the ability to make our own choices in any situation. This includes the choice to plan, organize and execute a heinous act at any time. While we have gotten much better at detecting some potential threats and being able to neutralize them before they occur, we will never be able to catch them all. To try to do this would be like predicting and suppressing human nature itself. By continuing to educate ourselves and those around us, as well as keeping lines of communication open, we can only hope to slow down and stop some of the acts from occurring and harming those around us. I also feel that be de-sensationalizing the aftermath, it may help to reduce that spark of interest for some people that are “on the fence” about joining a terror group or organization.
Additionally, by pulling multiple professions into this counterterrorism planning, we can gain more insight into humanity and into how things may unfold in the future. As stated in the Kruglanski et al. (2013) article, there is no personality profile that is set for what a terrorist is, but perhaps with enough research and enough outside perspective, something could be created to determine who is most at risk dependent on situational factors. Education of factual definitions and terminology may help to take away some of the sensationalism or moral judgment that comes with learning only from the media or other social places and could help make counterterrorism something that can be understood across the board, rather than something that is purely opinion or morally based. The perspectives of the science and mathematics field, education field, social sciences field and emergency management can merge to create a well-rounded compass that can help guide the world in how to deal with identifying terror, preventing terror, and addressing the aftermath of when terror touches our lives.
Kruglanski, A.W., Belanger, J.J., Gelfana, M., Gunaratha, R., Hettiarachchi, M., Reinares, F.,Orchek, E., Sasota, J. & Sharvit, K. (2013). Terrorism- a (self) love story: redirecting the significance quest can end violence. American Psychologist, 68(7), 559-575.
Theriault, J., Krause, P. & Young, L. (2017). Know they enemy: education about terrorism improves social attitudes toward terrorists. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 146(3), 305-317.
Trager, R. F. & Zagorcheva, D. P. (2005). Deterring terrorism: it can be done. International Security, 30(3), 87-123.