This analysis suggests a number of areas in which systematic theoretical and empirical research—some ongoing, some new—can create, confirm, refine, and reject understandings about terrorism as a social and political phenomenon, thereby improving the knowledge base for efforts to contend with it. As is the case throughout this report, we highlight Islamic-based terrorism, but many of the research recommendations cover a wider range of terrorist activities. We present these suggested areas in the form of a numbered list.
To develop individual-level background profiles of terrorists, using as many samples of terrorists as can be made available. Entries in these profiles could include data on family background (parents’ occupations or economic circumstances, size of family, place in sibling order), education, job history, political history, circumstances of recruitment and indoctrination into terrorism, and career history as a terrorist. Such research must rely on multiple unrepresentative samples, including populations of detainees, terrorist suspects garnered from intelligence sources, and writings of terrorists themselves if available. Comparisons with like populations—persons engaged in illegal international drug trafficking, members of religious cults and extremist movements—might also prove of some use.
To assess the motivational dynamics of terrorists and the characteristics of their value systems. Extremely difficult to
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences 4 Recommendations for Research This analysis suggests a number of areas in which systematic theoretical and empirical research—some ongoing, some new—can create, confirm, refine, and reject understandings about terrorism as a social and political phenomenon, thereby improving the knowledge base for efforts to contend with it. As is the case throughout this report, we highlight Islamic-based terrorism, but many of the research recommendations cover a wider range of terrorist activities. We present these suggested areas in the form of a numbered list. ORIGINS, CHARACTERISTICS, AND DYNAMICS OF TERRORISM To develop individual-level background profiles of terrorists, using as many samples of terrorists as can be made available. Entries in these profiles could include data on family background (parents’ occupations or economic circumstances, size of family, place in sibling order), education, job history, political history, circumstances of recruitment and indoctrination into terrorism, and career history as a terrorist. Such research must rely on multiple unrepresentative samples, including populations of detainees, terrorist suspects garnered from intelligence sources, and writings of terrorists themselves if available. Comparisons with like populations—persons engaged in illegal international drug trafficking, members of religious cults and extremist movements—might also prove of some use. To assess the motivational dynamics of terrorists and the characteristics of their value systems. Extremely difficult to
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences conduct, this kind of research could tap data dealing with past psychological histories of terrorists, attitudes toward authority, religiosity, and history of mental disturbance, as well as psychological measures of narcissism, ambivalence, and different types and levels of psychological commitment to terrorist activities. Information could come from some of the same samples that would yield individual-level background profiles. Also useful would be applications of cognitive analysis in the field of computer science and facets of artificial intelligence to untangle and structure the constituent elements of value structures. To examine the evidence regarding impacts of values on actions, in order to derive knowledge about factors that serve as critical drivers to transform potential or latent terrorists into overt terrorists. To determine the types and range of structures, processes, and organizational careers of terrorist organizations. With respect to structure, comparative studies could yield structural typologies of terrorist organizations—hierarchical or flat structure, religious or secular, types of sanctions holding them together, and types of leaders, including level of internal differentiation of leadership. Estimates of organizational effectiveness and vulnerability according to type could also be generated. With respect to group processes, empirical study could reveal typical communication processes and breakdowns, bases of internal conflict, competition among leaders, breakdown and restoration of social control, formation of subcliques, coordination of attacks and other operations, conduct of relations with other groups and networks, and modes of contending with pressures from outside, including states in their host societies. With respect to the careers of organizations, study could yield knowledge about conditions facilitating the formation of groups; patterns of recruitment; the role of religious and nonreligious leaders; the impact of terrorist success, failure, and inaction on organizational morale and momentum; tendencies to transform into lobbies or political parties; schismatic tendencies and their consequences; and conditions contributing to the stagnation and extinction of terrorist organizations. With respect to the power base, it is important to determine the resources available to terrorist organizations as a way of understanding their capabilities in terms of funding, training, information, and refuge.
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences To develop estimates of the probability of selection of different patterns of action and different types of targets by terrorist groups. Factors to be taken into account in generating such estimates include symbolic resonance with the ideological emphases of terrorist organizations (in the Middle East, anti-Christian, anti-Israel, extreme Jewish fundamentalist, antiglobal capitalism, antisecular), terrorists’ own thinking about what kinds of events induce terror, their own strategic assessments about what kinds of events are maximally disruptive, the hopedfor political and military effects of attacks, and the degree to which different attacks are spectacular and news-generating. These kinds of estimates will be facilitated by gaining access to and systematizing work on the communication patterns, language, and idioms used by terrorists themselves. To develop through comparative research knowledge about the relevant audiences for terrorism and modes of communicating with these audiences as a way of determining the impacts of audience on the content of communication. To elucidate the effects of host states harboring or giving rise to terrorists, in terms of the impact of type of state (according to wealth, poverty, and political culture) and state policies (support, benign neglect, attempts to domesticate or coopt, political repression) on the sources of terrorist groups, their potential for recruitment, and the careers and effectiveness of terrorist organizations To survey and monitor demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and nuptiality in societies likely to develop terrorist activity; to draw out implications of these patterns for their potential to generate economic and educational development and to produce classes of idle, poverty-stricken, and frustrated youth. To develop further work on the cultural and social backgrounds to terrorism, especially different types of Islamic revivalism. This could be broken down into subtopics, such as transnational or global Islamic movements; linguistic, cultural, and contextual factors; local or regional movements; conditions that promote different types of revivalism; implications for Muslim communities in the United States; and case studies of religious-based terrorism in particular countries (Islamic as well as non-Islamic). To conduct historical and comparative research on the effects of Western economic, political, cultural, military, and
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences foreign policy activities on less developed countries—by categories of countries and types of activities—as well as the short-term impact on the patterns of terrorist activities. Such research is difficult to conduct with reliability and objectivity, first, because of the limited theoretical foundations to guide such work; second, because it is difficult to isolate and trace these consequences through the fabric of the affected societies; and third, because the research topics themselves are ideologically loaded and lie at the basis of debates and political divisions in American society. It is also important to examine the current influences across developing countries—shaped by common historical experiences with the West—that may be used to encourage the diffusion of terrorism. Cutting across all the above types of research is the methodological need to systematize and allow ease of access to different types of data and databases—such as these exist—that may be related to different facets of terrorism. These tasks are formidable because many of these data appear in different languages, are gathered for a great diversity of purposes, and are not immediately comparable with one another. RESPONSES TO TERRORISM To evaluate warning systems. Comparative empirical studies of past disaster and terrorist situations should attempt to evaluate the respective consequences of effective warnings, failures to warn, miswarnings (false alarms), and overwarning. To monitor immediate responses to disasters. Most disasters are both sudden and ephemeral, and immediate responses give way quickly to a wide variety of recovery and rebuilding activities. Relevant research agencies (universities, think tanks, government) should establish the capacity to move quickly to the scene and study immediate responses while they are occurring. Most research on short-term disaster responses relies on hastily assembled journalistic reports and after-the-fact accounts based of recollections by participants. Both sources are subject to selectivity and distortion. Teams of behavioral and social science researchers, collecting data on the spot and analyzing them in the context of established knowledge about disaster situations, would supplement and probably improve
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences on existing ways of generating information and understanding. Some universities have a tradition of fire brigade research; efforts should be made to expand and systematize it. To track group differences in response to crises. Most thinking about preparedness, warning, and response rests on the assumption of an undifferentiated community or public. Research on disasters, however, has revealed that individuals and groups differ both in readiness and response according to previous disaster experience, ethnic and minority status, knowledge of the language, level of education, level of economic resources, and gender (Tierney et al., 2001). Research on these and other differences should be extended and deepened and taken into account when designing systems of preparedness, warning, and response to terrorist attacks and other disaster situations. To evaluate the behavior of agencies of response to crisis. There should be a deepening of research—basic, comparative, and applied—on the structure of agencies designated as responsible for dealing with attacks and other disasters, on the optimal patterns of information dissemination and communication among them, and on the most effective strategies of coordination and self-correcting of coordination under extreme conditions. Research should also focus on the origins and consequences of organizational failure, miscommunication, lack of coordination, and jurisdictional conflict and squabbling. To evaluate the practice of ethnic profiling. Advocated as both a necessary and effective method of identifying and apprehending terrorist suspects, ethnic profiling raises both methodological and policy issues. A scientific review should be made of its methodological underpinnings, including implied statistical assumptions and possible fallacies. In addition, the practice of profiling raises many questions about intrusiveness on civil rights and possible boomerang political effects in affected groups. A starting point for research might be an examination of scientific issues and political effects in affected groups. Such a study group could consult not only the literature on terrorism but also that in other areas (e.g., police arrest practices, housing discrimination) in which the issue has emerged. To assess both short-term and long-term group responses to terrorism and terrorist attacks in terms of attitudes and opinions. Questions would include the attitudinal consequences of living in prolonged situations of heightened anxiety, as well as
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Terrorism: Perspectives from the Behavioral and Social Sciences the dynamics of the balance between tendency toward national and community solidarity (tending to diminish group difference and conflict) and the tendency for fault lines dividing groups along ethnic, religious, and political dimensions to become more salient. In the current atmosphere, special attention should be given to the situation of Muslim Americans—blacks, Asians, and Arabs—who consider themselves part of the nation’s demographic, cultural, and political fabric but who have experienced considerable stress in the context of national reactions to terrorist activities emanating from the states of origin of some of these citizens. This last line of research could be supplemented by comparative work on ethnic, especially Muslim, minorities in European countries, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, where the forces shaping the national and ethnic loyalties differ from those in the United States. To develop sequential and cumulative analyses of terrorist events. Because terrorist attacks tend to be sudden, surprising, and of short duration, they are usually regarded as discrete events. In reality, however, they build on one another, and any new attack or attacks is read, variably by different groups, in the context of the past history of such events. One of the interpretative frames of reacting to the attack on the World Trade Center, for example, was the memory of the unsuccessful effort to destroy it by bombing in 1993. Reactions to anthrax episodes were strongly conditioned—and exaggerated—because they occurred so soon in the wake of September 11. The whole history of mutual terrorism between Palestine and Israel is a history of stored memories of many past occurrences, evoked when new attacks occur and referred to continuously by both sides. Historical research on the interrelated sequencing of reactions, interpretations, and memories of terrorist events would deepen theoretical and empirical understanding of those phenomena. Conceptual models, such as path dependency (employed in economics, political science, and other fields) and the logic of “value added,” would offer guidelines to framing and conducting this kind of research. Formal modeling of these kinds of sequences should also be explored.
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