Learn the skills and techniques to view the different perspectives across a conflict zone, including those of the enemy.

Understanding Enemies
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    5 hours
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Discover how to use alt-lenses to make sense of the enemy’s motivations

Unless you understand how the ‘other side’ understands the conflict, you’re bound to make costly mistakes, and possibly even worsen the conflict unintentionally.

On this course, Dr Aisha Ahmad will teach you how to look at a conflict through the lens of other groups on the ground, especially the enemy. Through ‘alt-lens’ exercises, you’ll be able to make sense of the actors on the ground, including the most nefarious of them.

Develop your alt-lens and view conflicts from other perspectives

We seek to understand the enemy as real people, not cartoon villains. To do this, we need to begin by looking at how we have perceived ourselves in these environments.

The first week of this course will guide you through how to access your alt-lens in a conflict theatre. This tool will help you develop the ability to see other people’s worldviews, including those that are oppositional to your own.

Explore human behaviour in a conflict environment

The unpredictability of war can lead to some pretty predictable human behaviours. Regardless of cultural or ideological worldview, there are some key patterns of human behaviour and decision-making that repeat during conflict.

You’ll delve into how human behaviour is affected by violent conflict, and how that behaviour can, in turn, lead to conflict escalation.

Use the Malian conflict to apply your new tools to real-world examples

Building on your conflict map from the first course, you’ll connect the tools and techniques from both courses to better analyse the Malian conflict theatre.

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to formulate the stories, histories, and worldviews of different groups on the conflict map and explore who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are in their stories.

Syllabus

  • Week 1

    Understanding Enemy Perspectives

    • Welcome to the Course

      We start our learning journey by reflecting on the origins and content of our own worldviews, and then challenge ourselves to consider the perspectives of other actors, especially ones we consider to be “enemies”

    • Accessing Your Alt-lens

      In this activity, we will critically reflect on our own worldviews and our ideas about “bad guys”. We will then challenge ourselves to consider the views of our “enemies”, as a tool to improve our situational awareness.

    • Accessing Enemy Perspectives

      In this activity we will learn how to correctly interpret and analyse primary sources released by NSAGs, such as speeches, statements, and videos.

    • Security Dilemmas in Civil Wars

      In this activity, we will start to use theoretical tools to explain NSAG behaviour. These tools can uncover important insights about how NSAGs may think, behave, and react, even when there is no primary source material available.

    • Analysing Primary Sources

      In this task, we would like you to analyze various examples of insurgent statements and messages, in order to determine who the intended target audiences are and what the primary objective of each message is.

    • Weekly wrap-up

      This week we challenged ourselves to see conflict theatres from the perspective of “enemy” actors, developing our “alt-lens” tool to improve our situational awareness. Let’s recap what we covered.

  • Week 2

    Beyond 'Bad Guys': Human Behaviour in Conflict Zones

    • Welcome

      This week we will examine theoretical tools from the security literature, to gain insights into how all people - including our enemies - might think, feel, and react under conditions of violent conflict.

    • The Rational Actor

      In this activity, we will examine how rational choice theory (a versatile theoretical tool) can be applied to conflict settings, and how it may help us decipher the strategic rationale behind NSAG violence.

    • The Fearful Actor

      In this activity, we will draw on the security literature to explore how two powerful emotions - fear and anger - can affect rational decision-making in a conflict theatre.

    • The Biased Actor

      In this activity, we will examine a range of cognitive psychological biases that are known to affect individual and group decision-making, and which are particularly dangerous in a conflict zone.

    • Weekly wrap-up

      This week we explored why human beings behave the way they do in conflict settings, drawing from both the rationalist and the cognitive psychology literature in security studies. Let’s recap what we have covered.

  • Week 3

    Know The Enemy: Applying your alt-lens tool to project planning

    • Welcome

      This week we will practice using our alt-lens tool on a fictitious intervention scenario, but which draws on our real-world knowledge of the Mali case study.

    • Applying an Alt-Lens

      In this activity, you will learn about the history and evolution of the conflict in the Mopti region of Mali, in order to provide background and set up the scenario we will critique.

    • Interventions Amid Conflict

      In this activity, you will practice using your alt-lens tool to critically evaluate a fictitious intervention scenario in the Mopti region. You will also reflect on how to use this tool in other contexts.

    • Positionality and Planning

      In this activity, you’ll examine how your own projects might be perceived by rival groups in a conflict theatre, and will explore how assessing your “positionality” can improve your planning process.

    • Wrap-up

      This week we practiced using your “alt-lens” to assess how different armed actors might perceive an intervention into their war theatre. Now let’s wrap-up and consolidate everything we have learnt in this course.

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Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Access the perspectives and worldviews of “enemy” actors in a conflict zone, to improve situational awareness and mitigate risk.
  • Correctly interpret and analyse insurgent primary source materials, such as official statements, videos, and other messages.
  • Effectively apply conceptual tools from the security studies literature to interpret and analyse armed group behaviour.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone working or volunteering for an organisation engaged in a conflict-affected environment.

It will also be useful if you’re studying a related subject such as political science, public policy, or international business studies.

Who will you learn with?

I'm an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, specializing in International Security. I research civil war economies and jihadist insurgencies around the world.

Who developed the course?

FutureLearn

FutureLearn is jointly owned by The Open University and The SEEK Group and has been providing online courses for learners around the world over the last eight years.

About this ExpertTrack

Learn how to best approach working in a complex conflict zone, with International Security expert Dr Aisha Ahmad.

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