State terrorism is a contentious topic in the field of terrorism studies. Some scholars argue that the concept of terrorism should only be applied to the behavior of nonstate actors. Others argue that certain government behaviors may be understood as terrorism if the intent of state violence and threats is to stoke fear and influence the behavior of a wider audience. Three possible conceptualizations of state terrorism are worth exploring: government sponsorship of nonstate actors’ terrorism, terrorism perpetrated by government agents outside a legal framework, and “inherent” state terrorism—acts perpetrated by the state in the everyday enforcement of law and order that, if perpetrated by nonstate actors, would clearly qualify as terrorism. Each of these conceptualizations yields insight about state behavior, highlighting particular uses of violence and threats as instruments of state policy. Depending on one’s conceptualization of state terrorism, common policies and functions of government possess an underlying terroristic logic. Analytical tools developed in the field of terrorism studies may be useful in helping us understand state behavior, when violence and threats appear to have a broader communicative function in influencing an audience beyond the immediate target.
Joseph M. Brown
Mia Bloom and Kristian Kastner Warpinski
While the use of child soldiers has declined in recent years, it has not ended entirely. Children remain front-line participants in a variety of conflicts throughout the world and are actively recruited by armed groups and terrorist organizations. Reports of children involved in terrorism have become all too common. Boko Haram has repeatedly selected women and girls as their primary suicide attackers, and, in Somalia, the United Nations reported that al-Shabaab was responsible for recruiting over 1,800 children in 2019. In Iraq and Syria, children were routinely featured in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) propaganda, and the group mobilized children as “cubs” to fight for the so-called Caliphate. Unfortunately there is a myriad of reasons why terrorist organizations actively include children within their ranks: children can be proficient fighters, and they are easy to train, cheaper to feed, and harder to detect. Thus, recruiting and deploying children is often rooted in “strategy” and not necessarily the result of shrinking numbers of adult recruits. Drawing from the robust literature on child soldiers, there are areas of convergence (and divergence) that explain the pathways children take in and out of terrorist organizations and the roles they play. Focusing on two cases, al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, we argue that there are three distinct but overlapping processes of child recruitment, including forced conscription (i.e., kidnapping), subtle manipulation and coercion (i.e., cultures of martyrdom), and a process of seemingly “voluntary recruitment,” which is almost always the result of intimidation and pressure given the children’s age and their (in)ability to provide consent. The concepts of consent and agency are key, especially when weighing the ethical and legal questions of what to do with these children once rescued or detained. Nonetheless, the children are first and foremost victims and should be awarded special protected status in any domestic or international court. In 2020, countries were seeking to balance human rights, legal responsibility, and national security around the challenge of repatriating the thousands of children affiliated with ISIS and still languishing in the al-Hol and Al Roj camps.