This book represents the Proceedings from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) 2005 Advanced Research Workshop on Social and Psychological Factors in the Genesis of Terrorism. The meeting that gave birth to these chapters was remarkable. The assemblage of expertise was unprecedented. Most of the chapters will stand as important, and some as major, contributions to the field. Taken as a unified whole – with its themes outlined in the introduction and its implications for the current global “war against terrorism” summarized in the Part 5– it will provide the general reader with a vivid and accessible account of what we really know about terrorism. And – without wishing to overstate the value of any one contribution to the huge task ahead – I fervently hope these Proceedings will help jumpstart the dialogue on this vital subject beyond the simplistic rhetoric of us-versus-them and into the realm of effective transnational efforts to address the underlying causes of these dangerous conflicts. I am honored and proud to have edited this book.
At the behest of the NATO, in September of 2005, a select group of world authorities on the psychology of terrorism met in the mountain village of Castelvecchio Pascoli, Italy. The participants in this meeting included experts in psychology, psychiatry, political science, public policy, international law, criminology and political philosophy. Our charge was nothing less than to brainstorm toward a comprehensive statement of the real causes of terrorism, and to attempt to craft a meaningful plan by which NATO and all concerned nations may reduce that threat.
One must be humble in the face of such a task. Terrorism is as old as humanity. Some peoples in the world have faced terrorist threats for decades, receiving a scant gurgle of attention from the scholarly community. However—probably because of the unipolarity of the post-Cold War world and the posture of the United States as the only indisputable superpower—since the terrible events of September 11, 2001 a torrent of attention has been lavished on the subject of terrorism. Innumerable meetings, seminars, conferences and colloquia have been conducted addressing the topic. Thinkers of every disciplinary orientation, political stripe, and level of expertise have published thousands of thought pieces intending to explain the phenomenon of terrorism.
Yet there is a problem. Only a tiny proportion of this great outpouring of opinion has been based on legitimate empirical study. For example, of 1535 scholarly papers published on the subject of terrorism between 2000 and 2004, only 121 had the word “data” in their abstracts and a careful review reveals that genuine new data was reported in less than 10% of that subgroup. Rigorous methods of social science research have been largely neglected in the rush to punditry. As a result, the war against violent extremism is being conducted like a war on cancer that ignores the availability of the microscope.
One afternoon in Los Angeles, I spoke with Sarnoff Mednick—Director of the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Southern California. Dr. Mednick has been contributing to advances in international social science for at least four decades. He is a world-renowned authority on criminal behavior and its roots. We agreed that (1) terrorism represents a grave threat to the modern world and (2) the response to vi terrorism is largely flying blind. Absent serious study by social scientists, those threatened by terrorism have been crafting policies based upon highly unscientific and sometimes grossly biased best guesses about what causes the problem and what will work to reduce the problem. Dr. Mednick has worked with NATO before. He has experience with and faith in their open-mindedness. He deserves the credit for an inspiration that day: let's ask NATO to support a different kind of meeting, a meeting to examine what we really know about the causes of terrorism, what we need to know, and how that knowledge might guide policy to reduce the threat. We asked, and NATO's Security Through Science Programme generously granted our request. They supported our extraordinary Advanced Research Workshop on Social and Psychological Factors in the Genesis of Terrorism. These Proceedings are the result.
The book is organized to assist readers in finding the topics that interest them the most. What do we really know about the contributing causes of terrorism? Are all forms of terrorism created equal, or are there important differences in terrorisms that one must know about to customize effective counter-strategies? Does poverty cause terrorism? Are terrorists typically crazy, vengeful, misled, or simply making an entirely sensible choice? Why would people blow themselves (and others) up? Is the “war on terrorism” even a useful idea? Is it being fought wisely, or are much better ideas staring policy makers in the face? Do leaders of targeted nations willfully neglect the best solutions?
We truly hoped to address terrorism, broadly considered. But the historical context of this meeting (and perhaps a semi-conscious concern about a possible impending clash of civilizations) led to a disproportionate attention to substate terrorism in general and to Islamist extremist terrorism in particular. This should not be taken to imply any position regarding Islamist movements–far less a critique of any religion. It is simply that, at long last, an explosion of serious empirical terrorism research has occurred, chiefly provoked by the explosions of 9/11. So, just as Marxist/anarchist terrorism dominated the news and the scholarship of the 1970s, Islamist-related violence is the terrorism de jour.
Yet most of lessons in this book concern the basic human ingredients that combust to produce violent extremism. Thus–regardless of the mutations that occur in substate terrorism–the timeless scholarship here will hopefully be somewhat helpful even to our grandchildren. We might as well become expert at managing it, in all its protean manifestations, for terrorism is here to stay.
Jeff Victoroff, Los Angeles, 2006