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History of terrorism studies

In this video dr. De Roy van Zuijdewijn discusses the history of Terrorism studies.
Hi there. Good to see you again. Last week, we discussed, among other things, the definition of terrorism and the nature of the phenomenon. What are we going to do this week? Well, this week we’re going to discuss the history of terrorism studies, and the different academic disciplines and approaches. We will focus on key scholars and academic centers that have produced reports and studies on terrorism and counterterrorism in the last couple of decades. Next, we will look at some of the challenges and dilemmas of conducting research in the field of terrorism. Finally, we’ll discuss the current state of the art. So what can be said about the quantity and the quality of what has been produced in recent years?
In this video, we’re going to look at the history of terrorism and counterterrorism studies.
Well, terrorism is not new, and the same holds for the study of this phenomenon. We will focus on modern day terrorism, meaning the terrorism that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s. What did scholars focus on in those days? Were they focused on, for instance, conflict theory? Why do people fight each other? Why do they use violence? Most of these scholars had a background in political science. They had a research interest in the problems and issues of their time, being decolonization in Africa and Asia, but also rise of violence in Western European and North American cities. Political violence in general was studied, either under the name terrorism studies or political violence studies.
The groups they looked at were anti-imperialists and revolutionary terrorists groups. One of them was an organization called the Weather Underground, that started on a university campus in North America. A group that can be labelled as Marxist or Leninist, or as a left-wing terrorist group. In those days, I don’t think many people used that particular term. But the acts of this group were certainly something that we would label as terrorism today. The political violence of the 1960s, is generally considered to mark the start of the new left wave, as well as an increase in scholarly attention, aiming to understand the deeper causes of the people, and the groups behind this violence.
The 1970s and 1980s, some much more attention to the modus operandi of the New Left terrorist groups, meaning that techniques, the methods or weapons they use, and their target selection. This included many hijackings and hostage takings. Well, here are just a few examples of organizations with a Marxist- Leninist background, that were active in those days. Here you see the logo of the Rote Armee Fraktion, which was active in Germany. If you want to know more about this group, I can recommend a number of books. But I think my best recommendation would be to watch the movie, The Baader-Meinhof Complex. A very interesting movie that shows you the societal contexts in which a group was operating in those days.
Also, the motivations of some of the individual members that joined that struggle, and of course, a lot of violence that was connected to that group. Well, here you see another example of a red terrorist group, the Japanese Red Army. The Japanese Red Army, yes, an active group, not only in Japan, but actually just here 200 meters from our office, where the French embassy was located. This group storm that embassy in 1974, trying to press a release of one of their fighters. Actually, they managed to do so, and managed to get away with it on the plane. In the end, they managed to escape to Syria with a lot of money.
The international connection was also something of great interest to researchers in those days. Think of the combination of the Japanese Red Army, and Palestinian groups attacking in Europe or in Asia. Terrorism was already a very international affair in those days. Of course, researchers were very much interested in trying to understand how these groups operated.
In the 1990s, as in previous decades, scholars focus mainly on the topics of those days, the groups that were active, the way that terrorists stage it’s acts, and the way that governments responded to that. In the same decade, more attention was spared to nationalist- separatist groups. Of course, these groups were active in the decades before. But there were a lot of publications about the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, that was fighting in the UK, as well as research into ETA, the Basque separatist group in Spain, but also groups in India and Sri Lanka, think of the Tamil Tigers. Another type of terrorism that scholars were studying is what we call Islamist groups.
Well, it’s a difficult term, but let me label it as Islamist groups as most scholars did in those days. They were looking at organizations, such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the reaction of the Israeli and other authorities to their attacks. In particular, the new type of suicide attacks. Well, in the second half of the 1990s, there was attention for one particular new group. Here you see a quote by the CIA. A quote that also appears in the report of the commission that looks into the attacks on 9/11. It says that the CIA ‘noticed a recent stream of reports about Bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda’. Well, that was in 1995.
A few years later there was a lot more attention to this group called Al-Qaeda, especially after it’s attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998.
Well, we couldn’t have known in the late 1990s that Al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State, and other groups and types of terrorism, would receive so much attention in the first decades of the 21st century. But in those days, there was a decline in interests. Fewer and fewer scholars were focusing on terrorism as an interesting subject to study. This changed very drastically after the biggest terrorist attacks in history. The ones on 11 September 2001, where almost 3,000 people were killed. That was the starting points of a rapid and enormous growth in the field of terrorism and counterterrorism studies, a growth in terms of the number of scholars and experts who were looking into this phenomenon.
Many of them, actually, most of them today are post- 9/11 researchers, including ourselves. Now, you saw that a number of new research center for being established, the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, and it’s terrorism and political violence research group at Leiden University, is one of them. You saw an enormous increase in training, policy advice, and consultancy as governments, wanted, of course, answers to all questions. Who was threatening us? Why? What can we do about it? How do we make sure that we don’t do the wrong things and we actually do the right things to prevent terrorism or to react to terrorist attacks? All kinds of questions popped up after 9/11.
Scholars and research centers tried to answer them, and to provide their findings and advice to professionals in the field, as well as to policy-makers. This resulted in an enormous growth of reports, books, articles, and other types of publications.
What have we learned? We looked into the development of terrorism and counterterrorism studies, starting in the early 1960s with just a handful of scholars. Then, there was a growth in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a decline in the 1990s. Afterwards, there was an enormous increase, after the attacks on 9/11. We saw a second rise in publications occurring after the rise of IS in 2014. In the next video, we’re going to look at the various disciplines and approaches of research into terrorism and counterterrorism.
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Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

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