The ninth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the issue of terrorism. In particular, the talk discussed how terrorism works and why it fails. Is terrorism an effective means at achieving a stated objective?
Terrorism is almost entirely psychological; it is about changing people’s minds and perception. So terrorism always requires an audience.
How terrorism works
- “Propaganda of the Deed” – directed at supporters and potential supporters; action speak louder than words; this is the moment, join the revolution.
- “Provoking repression” – directed at governments, people will turn on their governments when the latter over-react.
- “Asset to liability shift” – directed at populations and governments; increase the perceived “price” (in financial but also political terms) of a policy.
There are two examples of terrorism being successful particularly because the conditions were “right” so to speak. The first is the anti-colonial movement in Algeria. The second is the creation of Israel, i.e., the terrorist activities against the British.
Why terrorism fails
- People are more resilient than terrorist assume. The longer a terrorism campaign goes on, the more people get used to it and become more resilient.
- People rarely blame the government. People do not turn on the government for not preventing the terrorism.
- All governments are not paper tigers. Government do not step down and readily give in to terrorist demands. Governments are not easily dislodged as terrorists sometimes assume.
Terrorists often face dilemmas, they can:
- Carry on but risk losing momentum, such as ETA.
- Escalate and risk turning the people against them, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq.
While this was an interesting presentation, I was hoping to learn more about concrete tactics/actions nonviolent movements can use to dissuade potential new recruits from joining terrorist groups. In any case, here are good reads I recommend on this general topic:
- “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours,” Ahmad, Eqbal and David Barsamian, in Howard and Sawyer, Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Ch. 1.
- “The Logic of Terrorism: Terrorist Behavior as a Product of Strategic Choice,” by Crenshaw, Martha, in Howard & Sawyer, Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Ch. 2.
- The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, by Robin Morgan
- Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juegensmeyer