Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism – John A. Tures, professor of political science at LaGrange College, wrote in an article that Terrorism is deadly, but failed as tactic
He wrote, The United Kingdom is understandably on edge after a series of terror attacks, assassinations and threats. The United States appears to be preparing for similar attacks, as evidenced by beefed up security to protect shopping centers from foreign terror organizations, as well as surveillance of white supremacists who might try to trigger a new civil war.
Terrorism is definitely a threat.
Perhaps one reason why it seems there are so many terror groups is because there’s the relatively unchallenged assumption that terrorism “works.” People, politicians and even scholars presume terrorism “wins” because the bomb goes off, or the shot hits its target, or that everyone seems to know the names of the terror groups, and some of the terrorists themselves.
This semester, my students have been analyzing terrorism, researching in-depth more than 40 groups from a State Department list. I had them look specifically at the terror group’s stated goals and whether these terrorists were successful at achieving them.
Like many groups, these lawbreakers were able to set off bombs and shoot people. But did they achieve their goals? One-third sought to change government policy, while a similar number hoped to overthrow a government’s regime. About 20% hoped to gain territory or a separate homeland, while the remainder hoped to kill a different group of individuals (7%) and then there’s the goal category of “other.” (4.65%).
Only 2 of the 43 (less than 5%) accomplished their goals. One did so by joining an existing insurgency, and that group won largely through negotiations, not at the barrel of a gun. The other “won” by preserving a status quo, achieved earlier by diplomacy, not force.
They also found that only a third of this rogue’s gallery of radical terrorists had more than a thousand followers. “How are you going to overthrow a government with so few followers?” one student wrote. Most groups were unable to recruit a large following to the cause.
Even when it came to publicity and media reactions to their shocking crimes, there were limits to the success of terrorists. My students found membership seemed to be uncorrelated with the number of Google hits that would otherwise show people paying attention to the name of a particular terror organization. The best publicists seemed to have the fewest members.
Additionally interesting was the finding by students that nearly half of the groups were in Asia (from the Middle East to the Pacific) while European groups constituted just under 30% of the terror organizations. Africa was 14%, enough for third place in terms of group location. Luckily for Americans, only 2% were based close to home, in North America.
One of my researchers may have found the true motivations behind such terror attacks. Citing from a psychology study on terrorism, she found no shortage of reasons why people might be drawn to violent crime, from juvenile delinquency to family violence to anti-social behavior to being single, just to name a few. Perhaps the terrorists’ cause is really about someone’s personal anger and dissatisfaction with life, not so much about having a separate homeland or new government. And there’s no evidence that killing others and narcissistic self-worship from publicity will solve those problems.
But one policy to implement might be showing terrorists and those wishing to join them just how poor their odds of true success are from such inhumane crimes, and how nonviolence is far more effective at getting your goal achieved, the true reason for getting organized.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.