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Importance of monitoring and looking ahead

In this video dr. De Roy van Zuijdewijn will explore the importance of monitoring and looking ahead to a future research agenda.
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Hi, there. Last week we looked into the impact of terrorism and counterterrorism and how to limit that impact on societies and our daily lives. This week we will reflect on what we know and what we do not yet know about terrorism and counterterrorism. In the past weeks in various different videos, we observed a need for further study on certain topics, the lack of consensus about certain assumptions and persisting challenges for policy-makers. In this final week, we are stressing the need for research into these domains, and we look into un- and under-researched topics in terrorism studies, and we end with a suggestion for a future research agenda.
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When thinking of the future, it is important to fully grasp what is going on today and to try to see possible trends and developments. That is why we start this week by focusing on the importance of monitoring developments and analyzing trends in an attempt to forecast what might be coming towards us.
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Why is it important to investigate developments and trends and to look ahead? On the first week of this course, we have mentioned that terrorism is a constantly changing phenomenon. One of the goals of studying terrorism and counterterrorism is to provide answers to questions of the general public, questions of policy-makers and politicians, because they want to know what is happening today, but also what might happen tomorrow. As we mentioned in the videos on counterterrorism, prevention is one of the key elements of such policies, and that requires insight not only into current developments, but also into possible future ones.
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The track record of scholars and experts to prevent surprises or develop proactive policies to mitigate future threats is not that great. According to Monica Czwarno, and I quote her here, “Academia failed to predict or warn government, policy-makers and the public of the possibility that events of 9/11 magnitudes could take place on the United States homeland”. Scholars and experts have not been very successful in forecasting terrorism, and this is particularly true for major changes in the modus operandi of terrorism, and 9/11 is a case in point here. According to Czwarno, methodological and conceptual problems created a gap in knowledge about Islamic terrorism and groups like Al-Qaeda.
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In fact, the attacks on 9/11 and the capabilities of Al-Qaeda caught most members of the academic community by surprise.
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Unfortunately, the same can also be set for the intelligence community. Although the 9/11 Commission Report speaks of a shock and not a surprise, there were apparent analytical failures on the part of those who were supposed to keep the US safe from terrorism. The report of the commission partly focus on operational failures. Opportunities that were not or could not be exploited by the organizations and systems of that time. However, in the chapter foresight and hindsight, the commission argues that the failure of imagination was the most important one, so no one seriously considered the possibility that terrorists would use planes, not just as a tool to conduct hijackings, but as weapons in a suicide attack.
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Efforts after 9/11 to look ahead were not very fruitful either. In 2014, the quick rise of IS and the proclamation of the caliphates came as a surprise to many. The main conclusion in a study by Bakker on terrorism forecasts, that were published between 2000 and 2012, was that there is no general consensus on the future of terrorism. You also know that there’s a lot of room for improvement in the methodologies. The vagueness or absence of methodologies and the lack of theoretical foundations also leads to limited insights about the causes of changes in terrorism. Most forecasts seem to say more about the present state of terrorism and terrorism research, than about the future.
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In most cases, current threats and latest incidents dominate terrorism foresights. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As in general, tomorrow looks very much like today, and today is very similar to yesterday. But what about the day after tomorrow?
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Unfortunately, from time to time, terrorists manage to surprise us and to strike us where we least expect it, or in ways we could hardly imagine. Therefore, it doesn’t suffice to expect future terrorism to be more or less the same as today. If we want to avoid unpleasant surprises, we cannot permit another failure of imagination. We need to be able to look beyond today, or at least have some idea of what we can expect in the years to come. What type of terrorist groups or type of attacks we will be confronted with in let’s say 5 or 10 years from now? Well, of course, we do not have a crystal ball and it is impossible to predict the future.
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But we can look at patterns, trends, and developments, that give us a little bit more insight into possible futures of terrorism.
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To understand patterns and trends, we need to systematically monitor and analyze key aspects of terrorism that might shape the future. With even this, it’s easier said than done. In the first week of this course, we have stressed the complexity of the phenomenon of terrorism. So what do we need to look at, if we want to study trends and developments in terrorism and understand patterns in how terrorism evolves? Of course, there are various ways to look at the phenomenon. One can look at the structural factors or the underlying factors that shape terrorism. Think of geopolitical, sociological, demographical, or technical factors.
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This might help to answer some of the more abstract questions about the terrorism of today and tomorrow, such as what type of circumstances might lead people to turn to this type of violence. If we want to know more about the concrete forms and manifestations of terrorism, perhaps we should look more also at the concrete aspects of the phenomenon, such as the characteristics of the perpetrators, their ideology and modus operandi, or the impact of terrorism on societies, or simply the facts and figures regarding terrorist attacks. This will also be the approach in the next video on monitoring and analyzing trends and developments in terrorism and counterterrorism.
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To sum up, in this video, we explained the importance of monitoring developments and analyzing trends in terrorism and counterterrorism, and we also discussed the need to look ahead. In the next video, we will explore what aspects of terrorism to look at and how we can do this.

In this video dr. De Roy van Zuijdewijn will explore the importance of monitoring and looking ahead to a future research agenda.

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

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