Chapter 2 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 2 – What are Terrorism Studies?

Tim Wilson

  1. Evaluate the achievements and weaknesses of the academic literature on terrorism since 1970.
  2. Some attempts to gather data and information systematically about terrorism have clearly been enormously impressive. We know far more about terrorism than we did 50 years ago. There has been no consensus about how to define this phenomenon precisely – but a lot of very insightful work has been conducted on understanding forms of political violence that were once wrongly seen as inherently irrational and meaningless. Many remain frustrated that we cannot predict more precisely who might get involved in terrorism; and how. The question is really whether that is even a realistic, or helpful, ambition.

  3. Has the policy-relevance of terrorism studies been a blessing or a curse?
  4. It is up to you to decide, of course. On the positive side, one could say that the fact that Terrorism Studies has often been of interest to policy makers and governments means that there has often been funding available to support research. On the other hand, that interest is fickle – it died away largely in the early 1990s. And as the Clare Sterling case study shows, at times governments appear to have gone looking for the ‘experts’ who would tell them what they wanted to believe anyway.

  5. Why has the field struggled to expand its focus beyond anti-state international terrorism?
  6. Terrorism Studies does not just reflect American interests and concerns, of course: but it is certainly true that in the 1970s, it was the targeting of American travellers that drove much of the interest in the phenomenon of anti-state international terrorism. The spectacular Munich Olympics hijacking should also be factored in here. One of the attractions of studying international terrorism is that it does not demand the same kind of in-depth knowledge of particular conflict contexts (such as Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine etc).

  7. Why was the study of counter-terrorism neglected for so long?
  8. Counter-terrorism has been far less studied than terrorism. It is worth thinking about how who funds research into terrorism: and what they want to find out. Putting it simply, governments have often been far more willing to focus upon anti-state terrorists as the problem that needs fixed, rather than evaluating whether their own counter-terrorism was actually working or not.

  9. ‘Radicalization is a useful concept for analysing the group process by which key US government officials came to devise a policy of waterboarding torture after 2001.’ Discuss.
  10. This is a question that challenges the traditional usage of ‘radicalization’ as a term used overwhelmingly to apply to non-state actors. It is asking you whether it is a term that might usefully be applied to state actors, too. Here it is important to recognize that the American government’s embrace of practices such as water-boarding and extraordinary rendition during the early years of the Global War on Terror seemed deeply shocking to many commentators at the time. How had officials come to support what had previously been unthinkable?