Chapter 9 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 9 – What are the Root Causes of Terrorism?

Nick Brooke

  1. Are there some root causes that are common to all (or most) forms of terrorism?
  2. A good place to start in terms of answering this question is to think about the different ‘forms’ of terrorism that have you are aware of. This term is deliberately ambiguous to allow you to think about this question in a variety of ways. Then try to identify potential causes of these particular forms of terrorism. You might find you can come up with a substantial number.

    Having done both, consider the overlap between the different lists – how many of these causes are relevant to the variety of different forms you have considered. With those causes that you can find across multiple ‘forms’ of terrorism – what can we learn from their appearance across different lists? Does this appearance make it more or less relevant to our understanding of the causes of a particular form of terrorism, or terrorism more generally? Similarly, with the causes that are relevant only to one form of terrorism, consider what this tells us about the importance of this factor.

  3. Can we identify a single ‘root cause’ of a specific terrorist movement?
  4. In many ways, this question picks up where the first question left off. Consider a range of different terrorist movements, groups, or organizations and try to identify the causes behind their violent campaigns. Having done this, focus on those with only a few potential causes or factors: are there any movements or groups that can only be explained by one cause? If there are, consider what this tells us about the ‘causes of terrorism’ generally.

    However, if you cannot find any groups or movements with only a single cause of terrorism, consider what we can learn from this. Think about how these findings overlap with the findings from the first question in our understanding and knowledge of the causes of terrorism.

    For a different approach that arose in opposition to the search for Root Causes, take a look at Chapter 6 on Processual Approaches to study how political violence arises from the complex inter-play of different forces and relationships.

  5. Do specific types of terrorist violence, such as suicide terrorism, have unique causes?
  6. For this type of question, it is important to access resources that will provide detail on the groups or individuals behind specific types of terrorism (suicide terrorism or lone actor terrorism are examples). Answering this question will help us to understand how different terrorist actors consider strategy and tactics. It will also allow us to consider how the causes of a terrorist campaign impact upon the weaponry and tactics that the individual or group adopts. You can refer back to the lists you made for earlier questions in approaching this.

    Additionally, it could be useful to consider whether some causes cannot explain specific types of terrorism. Knowing what is not relevant can be important as knowing what is.

  7. What impact might our understanding of root causes have on counterterrorism?
  8. A vital question, and one that allows us to turn our focus to how states respond to terrorist campaigns or violent acts. Both scholars and policymakers have highlighted the importance of understanding what causes a campaign in shaping how a state responds to it. Consider the range of different responses to terrorism, and what they are intended to address or achieve.

    Referring again to the lists that you made previously, consider whether any particular responses to terrorism would address, or aggravate, these causes. For example: armed campaigns inspired by territorial demands might be brought to an end with a response that provided a measure of territorial autonomy.

    Alternatively, consider how you would advise a state to respond to a terrorist campaign where the causes were unknown or unclear. What would guide your judgement on identifying an adequate response?

  9. How has technological innovation impacted upon the root causes of terrorism?
  10. This question asks us to look back and learn from the history of terrorism. You might find it is worth looking at Chapter 18 on Social Media and Terrorism for a survey of how profoundly the internet revolution has changed the nature of terrorism and political violence. Throughout the 20th century, key technological innovations shaped the form that terrorism took, and the way terrorist actors tried to communicate with a variety of audiences.

    When addressing this question, it is important to consider how the causes of terrorism have changed over time (if they have at all). Refer back to the lists that you made for earlier questions and try to group the different campaigns chronologically.

    Do specific causes appear more in specific time periods? This is the contention of scholars such as David Rapoport in his ‘Four Waves’ model of terrorism. In doing so, consider what could have brought about the change in the causes of terrorism? What, if any, role could new technological innovations have had in the changing causes of terrorism.