Suicide terrorism has captured considerable attention since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Governments offered unprecedented support for scholars who were willing to research the phenomenon. One result has been a tremendous growth in the volume of research on terrorism. The research has also become more diverse. Until 2001, 84% of the articles appeared within the disciplines of political science and international relations. Since 2002, though, only 53% of articles belonged to these disciplines. Meanwhile, other areas (most notably economics) increased in prominence. Despite the growth in the volume and diversity of the research, important aspects of the phenomenon remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident when it comes to studies of suicide terrorism. Two areas requiring further attention include the “theater of terrorism” and the role of culture. The case of ISIS demonstrates the significant roles of the mass media and culture in explaining contemporary suicide terrorism.
Suicide Terrorism Theories
Susanne Martin and Ami Pedahzur
Changing Patterns of Political Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
Kate M. Carter and Scott Straus
Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa have declined in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare. African civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s are less common compared to the mid-1990s. The character of warfare has also changed. Contemporary wars are generally small-scale, fought on state peripheries and increasingly across multiple states, and involve factionalized insurgents who typically cannot hold significant territory or capture state capitals. Episodes of large-scale mass killing of civilians are also on the decline. That said, other forms of political violence that receive less attention in the academic literature are increasing or persistent. These include electoral violence and violence over access to livelihood resources, such as land and water. Geopolitical shifts since the end of the Cold War are a leading candidate to explain the changing frequency and character of warfare in sub-Saharan Africa. New global priorities, including changes in external state funding opportunities for insurgents, an emphasis on change through elections, investments in conflict mediation strategies, and the rise of China are hypothesized as critical factors shaping the new patterns of warfare.
Terrorism and Religion: Boko Haram
Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention. First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis? Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.
Terrorism and Religion: An Overview
The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect. Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression. After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated. This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.
How Gender Intersects With Political Violence and Terrorism
Candice Ortbals and Lori Poloni-Staudinger
Gender influences political violence, which includes, for example, terrorism, genocide, and war. Gender uncovers how women, men, and nonbinary persons act according to feminine, masculine, or fluid expectations of men and women. A gendered interpretation of political violence recognizes that politics and states project masculine power and privilege, with the result that men occupy the dominant social position in politics and women and marginalized men are subordinate. As such, men (associated with masculinity) are typically understood as perpetrators of political violence with power and agency and women (associated with femininity) are seen as passive and as victims of violence. For example, women killed by drone attacks in the U.S. War on Terrorism are seen as the innocent, who, along with children, are collateral damage. Many historical and current examples, however, demonstrate that women have agency, namely that they are active in social groups and state institutions responding to and initiating political violence. Women are victims of political violence in many instances, yet some are also political and social actors who fight for change. Gendercide, which can occur alongside genocide, targets a specific gender, with the result that men, women, or those who identify with a non-heteronormative sexuality are subject to discriminatory killing. Rape in wartime situations is also gendered; often it is an expression of men’s power over women and over men who are feminized and marginalized. Because war is typically seen as a masculine domain, wartime violence is not associated with women, who are viewed as life givers and not life takers. Similarly, few expect women to be terrorists, and when they are, women’s motivations often are assumed to be different from those of men. Whereas some scholars argue that women pursue terrorism for personal (and feminine) reasons, for example to redeem themselves from the reputation of rape or for the loss of a male loved one, other scholars maintain that women act on account of political or religious motivations. Although many cases of women’s involvement in war and terrorism can be documented throughout history, wartime leadership and prominent social positions following political violence have been reserved for men. Leaders with feminine traits seem undesirable during and after political violence, because military leadership and negotiations to end military conflict are associated with men and masculinity. Nevertheless, women’s groups and individual women respond to situations of violence by protesting against violence, testifying at tribunals and truth commissions, and constructing the political memory of violence.
Crisis Memorials: Balancing Renewal and Resilience
Shari R. Veil, Chelsea L. Woods, and Ryan Crace
The development and maintenance plans of the three 9/11 memorials and museums are examined to explore how crisis memorials and museums strategically communicate to maintain collective crisis memory. Memorial professionals accept that the location of the memorial is nonnegotiable, engage community partners in the design and development of crisis memorial features, maintain focus on the mission to ensure long-term viability of the memorial, solicit and archive shared stories of remembrance to foster a prospective vision, and concentrate on learning to foster healing and adaptive capacity.
Crisis Agenda-Setting and Aviation Security Policy After the September 11 Attacks
Zachary R. Lewis, Kathryn L. Schwaeble, and Thomas A. Birkland
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were a focusing event that greatly increased attention to particularly large acts of terrorism as a threat to the United States and to particular interests. One of these interests is the aviation industry. The September 11 attacks exploited features of the aviation industry that made it prone to attack and that made an attack on this industry particularly vivid and attention-grabbing. The September 11 attacks led to policy changes in the United States and around the world with respect to aviation security, but those changes were not made in a vacuum. The changes that followed the September 11 attacks were made possible by efforts to learn from the range of aviation security incidents and challenges that have faced commercial aviation throughout its history. While the September 11 attacks were shocking and seemed novel, prior experience with aviation security crises provided those working in the aviation security policy realm with potential responses. The responses were drawn from a set of politically feasible responses that addressed the lapses in security demonstrated by terrorist attacks. The history of policy changes related to terrorism in aviation parallel the changes to policies that were made across the board in response to the elevation of terrorism on the agenda.
Terrorism and Religion: Christian Fundamentalism
Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is by no means the sole province of religious fundamentalism although it can be (and sometimes is) the end result of an ideological trajectory identified as “fundamentalist.” Following a “higher dictate” or a “divine command” may obviate otherwise normal attributions of culpability. Thus, Christian extremism can issue in terrorism, where an otherwise negatively valued destructive act can be transformed and rendered acceptable, even laudable. Such acts may qualify as terrorist, at least in some respects. An analysis of the ideology of religious fundamentalism reveals that an extreme perspective can originate as simply a passive viewpoint, manifest as an assertive identity orientation, and emerge to be a fanatically imposed program of aggressive behaviors and actions. Christian fundamentalism is a specific variant of religious fundamentalism and, indeed, it is from within modern Christian history that the term “fundamentalism” arose. Its use today is much broader, denoting a generic phenomenon with wide application, even beyond religion. The motif of exclusivism, which is inherent to fundamentalist ideologies and values, is an important dimension to be taken account of. It is critical to understanding the specifics of Christian extremism and terrorism. Similarly, the issue of theological justification for Christian extremism and violence, together with biblical motifs and references for violence and extremism, are important dimensions for critical study. Christian extremism rests on select biblical models and references, such as that of Phineas (Num. 25) and proffers self-justifying theological support. In short, Christian fundamentalism manifests an ideological sequence of factors whose cumulative impact once (or if) the final factor of enacting violence is reached, can be devastating. There is historical evidence for this as well as contemporary examples. The ideological and behavioral trajectory of 21st-century fundamentalist Christians can—and in some situations does—result in deadly terrorist behavior. And as with any religion, such ideology leading to terrorism is necessarily extreme: a deviance from the norm of religious values and behaviors.
The Military in African Politics
Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism. One defining feature of African militaries’ involvement in politics is the coup d’état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.
Terrorism and Religion: Palestine
In its early stages the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was dominated by two secular nationalist movements, which marginalized religious practices and institutions. However, since the early 1980s, it has gradually become a struggle that includes, and some may argue also is led by, fundamentalist parties that justify their national aspirations via religious texts, principles, and practices. It is no wonder then that a conciliation seems less and less of a realistic endeavor. On the Palestinian side, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are the main forces that dominant the violent Palestinian struggle, while aspiring to establish a Palestinian state that will operate as a theocracy. In Israel, Religious Zionist militant organizations engaged in violent campaigns to solidify Israel’s control over the West Bank as part of a theological framework that sees such a control as a crucial phase in the re-creation of a Jewish kingdom. Moreover, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties, which in the past refrained from engaging with the conflict with the Palestinians, in the last couple of decades became strong opposition to any conciliation efforts which will include territorial concessions by Israel.
France: Civil-Military Relations in the Antiterrorist Frame
French civil–military relations are usually described as an example of subordination of the military command to political authorities. This subordination is the legacy of the mutual distrust inherited from the “events” in Algeria and, more specifically, the coups in Algiers in 1958 and 1961 that gave birth to the current Fifth Republic. With the end of the Cold War, civil–military relations have rebalanced to the benefit of general officers because of the increasingly technical nature of external interventions and the consolidation of interprofessional relations with diplomats and industrial networks, facilitating the return of some officers into decision-making circuits. After this functional reintegration, the antiterrorist framing, both outside of the country (Opération Serval in January 2013 in Mali) and within France’s borders (Opération Sentinelle , which followed the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris), seems to recast the military as the forge of the national community. The evolution of the political uses of the military forces in France shows how ambivalent the antiterrorist resources are in the contemporary civil–military game.
The Maldives: The Changing Dynamics of Civil-Military Relations
Prashant Hosur Suhas and Vasabjit Banerjee
The Maldives’ strategic location in the Indian Ocean has elicited interest in its politics. While it is the smallest state in South Asia and a classic example of a microstate, with a population of less than 400,000, its strategic location in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and large EEZ allow it to play an outsize role in the region. When it comes to civil‒military relations, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has traditionally accepted a subordinate role to the civilian leadership. However, there has been intermittent political turmoil and instability as civilian leaders—many of whom have been autocratic—resist democratic changes. There are three components that require attention in assessing the nature of the Maldives’ civil‒military relations. The first component is the great power rivalry between China and India operating in the region. While India has considered the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to be within its sphere of influence, it has been challenged by recent Chinese activities in the IOR. The second component is the stability and turmoil in the domestic political structures in the Maldives as the country seeks to democratize. Finally, although it is the largest contributor to the Maldives’ GDP, a section of fundamentalist Muslims identify the tourism industry with a “decadent lifestyle” being promoted by the state solely for economic growth . Given that tourism is the primary economic sector in the Maldives, such opposition can pose both a security and an economic threat. Whether the growing radicalism has affected the military is unclear, but the possibility poses new threats to a country on the path of democratization.
Terrorism and Foreign Policy
The effect of foreign policy on terrorism is an important area of research that bridges work on international relations and intrastate conflict by highlighting how an outside country can influence attacks from a nonstate actor in another country. Research in this area is important for understanding how countries like the United States can best deal with the threat of international terrorism. Research has generally demonstrated that states with active foreign policies are more likely to experience international terrorism, particularly democracies and the United States. This has been hypothesized to occur because active foreign policies create blowback, or negative feelings toward a state, leading to greater acts of terrorism against that state. Beyond the effects of a state’s general foreign policy, others have looked at more specific policies, such as military occupation and intervention. This body of research argues that international terrorism is often a response to perceived occupation of an area. Groups see terrorism as a method to dislodge the occupying force. This argument has been refined by other scholars, who have presented conditions or extensions of this argument. Others have focused on military intervention, arguing that the presence of troops, the negative sentiment that they evoke, and their effect on strengthening the government all create incentives for groups to attack the foreign power that has deployed troops. Foreign aid has been seen as a policy that can address the threat of terrorism. Aid has been argued to be able to improve local conditions and incentivize and reward local states for engaging in counterterrorism. Others have presented conditions under which aid is more or less likely to be effective, including the idea that military aid might actually increase the amount of terrorism, for reasons similar to military intervention, and create an incentive for states to maintain a terrorist threat. Other foreign policy approaches have focused on legal attempts to stop terrorists from financing their organizations. These policies have been driven by the United Nations, coalitions of states, and individual states. This article also focuses on the methodological issues that all these studies face, as well as future research directions.
Civil War and Terrorism: A Call for Further Theory Building
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, terrorism has gained increased prominence in both scholarship and the media. While international terrorist acts are quite visible and highly publicized, such attacks represent only one type of terrorism within the international system. In fact, a very large number of acts of terrorism take place within the context of civil wars. Given the great disparity in power in most civil wars, it is not surprising that terrorism might be seen as a tactic that is often used by insurgent groups, who may have few resources at their disposal to fight a much stronger opponent. There is a clear linkage between the concepts of terrorism and civil war, yet until recently scholars have largely approached civil war and terrorism separately. Recent literature has attempted to specifically map the intersection of terrorism and civil war, recognizing the extent to which the two overlap. As expected, the findings suggest that civil war and terrorism are highly linked. Other scholars have endeavoured to explain why rebel groups in some civil wars use terrorism, while others do not. Further research focuses on how governments respond to terrorism during civil war or on how the decisions of external actors to intervene in civil wars are affected by the use of terrorism by insurgent groups. These studies show that there is too little theorizing on the relationship between civil war and terrorism; while scholars are finally considering these concepts collectively, the full nature of their relationship remains unexplored. Additional research is needed to better understand the various ways that terrorism and civil war overlap, interact, and mutually affect other important international and domestic political processes.
Intrastate Conflict and Civilian Victimization
Reed M. Wood
Contemporary civil conflicts frequently impose disproportionate costs of civilian populations. By some estimates, roughly 90% of conflict causalities were combatants in the wars of the early 20th century, but by the end of the century nearly 90% of causalities were civilians. While scholars have spent decades examining phenomena such as genocide and terrorism, they have only recently begun to systematically examine the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to the more general occurrence of civilian victimization during intra-state armed conflict. What is civilian victimization, and how does it differ from other forms of political violence? Is it possible to differentiate between “collateral damage” and intentional civilian targeting during civil conflicts? While virtually all conflicts impose significant costs on civilians, those costs vary tremendously across armed conflicts. Moreover, while collateral damage is an unfortunately common feature of warfare, violence perpetrated against civilians often includes massacres, bombings of civilian targets with negligible military value, summary executions, ethnic cleansing, and other forms of intentional attacks on noncombatants. Yet, these practices are comparatively more common during some wars, in some areas, or by some groups. This variation suggests that while all internal conflicts are violent, certain characteristics of actors, the conflict spaces, and/or the patterns of interactions between rebels, the government they challenge, and civilians within the conflict zone explain why some conflicts produce greater levels of abuse against civilians than do others. Do similar factors explain both government-sponsored civilian victimization and violence committed by non-state actors during civil conflict? A cursory review of available data clearly demonstrates that both state and non-state forces often engage in high levels of civilian victimization. In general, the existing evidences suggest that the motives for state and non-state actor violence are similar. However, key differences in the nature of institutional and organizational arrangements suggest that rebels and governments experience different types of constraints on their ability to act on their motives. How can the international community effectively respond in order to reduce the severity of civilian victimization in ongoing conflicts? This important policy question has produced a range of conflicting answers; however, the most recent scholarship on the topic suggests that both United Nations peacekeeping operations—particularly when they include a strong mandate for civilian protection and a robust military force—and international condemnation (“naming and shaming”) can effectively reduce the magnitude of intentional violence against civilians.
Foreign Policy in Multicultural Societies
Scholarship on the domestic sources of foreign policy has focused on parties, interest groups, and a generalized notion of public opinion, but it has neglected the societal dimension. This is a mistake given the multiethnic and multinational makeup of many of the world’s states. The focus here is on those European states which imagined themselves settled in the aftermath of war, empire, and the Cold War, yet now find themselves surprised by the new challenges of migration and multiculturality—meaning the growth in ethnocultural diversity as a form of everyday life. These states have adopted varying strategies—or none—in order to address the problems which arise, but did not at first realize the extent to which the domestic realm had become inextricably entangled with external relations—whether through the transnational activities of diasporas or through blowback from their own foreign policies in regions of the world where some of their minority communities have intimate connections. The subject of foreign policy and multicultural societies is thus a new but important one, politically as well as intellectually. To approach it we need both a grounding in foreign policy analysis and an understanding of the debates in political theory and sociology about multiculturalism, given that practitioners have increasingly to face inwards as much as outwards and that the distinction between the external and “homeland” dimensions of security is now blurred. Although the world has not fallen into a simple “clash of civilizations,” the challenges of managing diversity certainly now present themselves in a set of interlinked levels, crossing national boundaries and therefore significantly changing the context of foreign policy and its making.
Forced Migration and Political Violence
There has been renewed academic interest in the security impacts of forced migration since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 generated more than 5 million refugees, most of whom fled to neighboring countries and to Europe. Researchers are, for instance, increasingly working to identify how the type, severity, and perpetrator of political violence affect patterns of displacement, such as whether forced migrants cross borders or remain in their home country. Though much of the discussion in the security studies context continues to center on forced migration flows as a conduit for civil war, international terrorism, and refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) as perpetrators, scholars also have begun to focus attention on the ways in which refugees and the internally displaced can become the targets of political violence in the receiving state. Following the path of earlier qualitative research recognizing that displaced populations rarely become militarized, studies of a more quantitative orientation are now working to isolate the conditions under which forced migration leads to varying forms of political violence. Another important and growing area of focus is on how resettlement of the displaced affects the dynamics of violence in the origin country, including the potential for conflict recurrence. Efforts to study security impacts of forced migration more systematically have increased alongside the availability of new data and more diverse analytical tools and methods. Still, many important dimensions of the forced migration–conflict connection remain to be explored, and innovative research as well as new data collection efforts are necessary. Integrating insights from other fields, including economics, psychology, and sociology, and returning to the task of theory-building based on case-study research offer a promising path forward.
The Diversification of Deterrence: New Data and Novel Realities
Shannon Carcelli and Erik A. Gartzke
Deterrence theory is slowly beginning to emerge from a long sleep after the Cold War, and from its theoretical origins over half a century ago. New realities have led to a diversification of deterrence in practice, as well as to new avenues for its study and empirical analysis. Three major categories of changes in the international system—new actors, new means of warfare, and new contexts—have led to corresponding changes in the way that deterrence is theorized and studied. First, the field of deterrence has broadened to include nonstate and nonnuclear actors, which has challenged scholars with new types of theories and tests. Second, cyberthreats, terrorism, and diverse nuclear force structures have led scholars to consider means in new ways. Third, the likelihood of an international crisis has shifted as a result of physical, economic, and normative changes in the costs of crisis, which had led scholars to more closely address the crisis context itself. The assumptions of classical deterrence are breaking down, in research as well as in reality. However, more work needs to be done in understanding these international changes and building successful deterrence policy. A better understanding of new modes of deterrence will aid policymakers in managing today’s threats and in preventing future deterrence failures, even as it prompts the so-called virtuous cycle of new theory and additional empirical testing.
Women and Terrorism
Women are playing an increasingly significant role in terrorism. As men are progressively targeted by security personnel, using female operatives provides terrorist organizations with a “win–win” scenario; if security forces avoid invasively searching women for fear of outraging the local conservative population (based on social norms of women’s modesty and the honor code), women are the ideal stealth operatives. If security personnel are too aggressive in searching women, they aid terrorist recruitment by outraging the men in that society and providing the terrorists with propaganda that “our women” are being violated. In most conflicts, women remain an untapped resource. Recruiting women allows terrorist organizations to access an additional 50% of the population. Attacks by females generate greater media attention than those conducted by men. This is especially relevant when media attention is one of the terrorists’ main objectives. Although women’s involvement in terrorist and extremist activities is not a recent development, their presence as frontline activists, propagandists, and recruiters is increasing around the globe.
Iran and European Union Politics
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union (EU) have not yet established formal diplomatic relations, but since 1979 the Union and its member states have had various strong if often conflictual interactions. The relationship has been marked by distinct phases that reflect the emerging character of the partners, a theocratic republic on the one hand and a Union of interdependent democratic states on the other. While mutual economic interests have formed the basis for substantial interactions, relations with member states and the EU itself have been colored by a long and sometimes hurtful history of European states’ role in Iranian politics, including the Russian and British imperial influence over Persia in the late 19th and early 20th century, the British (and American) involvement in the coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, and the French hosting of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an avowed critic of the Pahlavi dynasty, prior to the anti-authoritarian revolution in 1979. Over time, the relationship has substantially shaped the character and direction of the politics of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, resulting in more policy coherence between member states and the EU, more policy autonomy, particularly vis-á-vis the United States, and more proactive behavior, such as during the nuclear negotiations leading to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (in 2015). By engaging with a problematic member of the nonproliferation treaty, the EU not only specified and thus strengthened the treaty, but it also grew into an international nonproliferation actor to reckon with.