Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Control of Violence-Explanatory Patterns and Controllability of Terrorist Violence

Date: April 10 - 12, 2008

Organizers: Wilhelm Heitmeyer (Bielefeld) and Heinz-Gerhard Haupt (Bielefeld, Florenz)

Analyses of terrorist acts after 11 September 2001 include a widespread assumption that these actions are decreasingly foreseeable and controllable. Hence, the central question is whether the threat by terrorist groups after this date is different from threats in previous eras and whether the forms of violence used are increasingly eluding the controlling grasp of state, supra-state and non-state institutions and 'regimes of control'. Therefore, the workshop on 'Explanatory Patterns and Controllability of Terrorist Violence' supported by the German foundation for peace research (DSF) aimed to locate current terrorism, its goals, actors and manifestations, within a broader temporal and political context. This challenge was addressed first by Jochen Hippler, (Institute for Development and Peace, Duisburg University) who gave the opening keynote talk on the topic 'Beyond "New Terrorism"-Local Roots and Transnationalization of "Islamist" Violence'. Hippler began by presenting common definitions and terminology on terrorism, from which he distilled his own understanding of the term, which was then critically debated afterwards. After dealing with definitions and terminology, Hippler focussed on questions about the importance of 'Islamist terrorism' and asked whether terrorism after 11 September 2001 can really be called 'new'. He concluded that it cannot. Hippler also looked into the subject of the extent to which 'Islamist terrorism' is influenced by religious and political aspects, and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to make a clear cut distinction between the two. He ended his talk by focussing on local, transnational and global dimensions of Islamist terrorism.
Next, Ekaterina Stepanova (International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm) dealt with 'Transnationalization and Nationalization of Violent Islamism in Asymmetrical Conflict: Ideological Dimension'. She emphasized the advantages for the weaker non-state actors of being able to rely on certain ideologies. Her talk was commented on by Peter Waldmann (Augsburg University) who highlighted-amongst other things-the role of control that can be exerted through denial of support by the community in which terrorist groups are located. Pénélope Larziellière, who was to give a talk on 'Palestinian Suicide Bombers-"Martyrdom" vs. Social and Political Deadlock', was unable to attend due to illness, but the workshop participants still got the opportunity to discuss her ideas, as Peter Imbusch (Marburg University) agreed to give an overview of them. He presented Larziellière's main thesis, that reference to nationalist martyrdom functions as an escape from Palestinians' self-images as passive victims in situations where they perceive themselves as unable to achieve private life goals. Both the discussion and the comment given by Fabian Lemmes (European University Institute, Florence) contained the question of the extent to which these findings are connected to the ability to control terrorist action. The relevance of knowing the terrorist's motives was central to this discussion, with the participants far from agreement on whether it is possible to get to know the real motives or whether the terrorists are aware of these themselves.
Then Babak Rahimi (University of California, San Diego) gave his talk on 'The Grotesque Body and Mystical Conquest: The Case of Shi'i Cult of Martyrdom'. His argument and the following comment given by Bernd Weisbrod (Department of Medieval and Modern History, Göttingen University) highlighted the assumption that from the presented point of view there seems to be hardly any possibility to control terrorist violence. Rahimi based this opinion on the observation that the motives for exerting terrorist violence are mostly less essential-and thus, less controllable-than is often thought, and strengthened it by pointing out that suicide bombings are not-as usually argued-a tactical form of violence.
Rahimi's talk was followed by a presentation on 'Suicide Bombers: Motivation and Characteristics and Israel's Preparedness for Response' given by Revital Sela-Shayovitz (Institute of Criminology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) that was commented on by Hans Kippenberg (Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, Erfurt University). In the first part of her talk, Sela-Shayovitz presented the results of a quantitative study on the motives (religious vs. nationalist) and socio-demographic characteristics of Palestinian suicide bombers, before moving on in the second part to focus on the effectiveness of Israel's counter terrorism measures, presenting 'Operation Defensive Shield', the positioning of guards to heighten public security and the building of the 'security fence' between Israel and the West Bank as effective measures to prevent terrorist attacks. As those seem to be highly repressive forms of control, the following discussion predominantly focused on the moral tenability of such measures.
After that, Paul Gill (School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin) gave insights into 'A Multi-dimensional Approach to Suicide Bombings', which were commented on by Peter Imbusch. Gill argued that understanding-and thus, controlling-suicide bombing entails studying the phenomenon in three different dimensions, namely: the suicide bomber, the terrorist organization and the community from which suicide bombings emerge. The ability to exert control on terrorism depends on understanding the reciprocal relationships that underpin the exchanges between the three dimensions.
The second keynote talk was given by Tore Bjørgo (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo) who directly addressed the aspect of control when discussing the topic 'Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement'. On the basis of findings about disengagement from right-wing extremist groups, Bjørgo presented aspects that are of particular relevance for, on the one hand, the individual's decision to leave an extremist group (e.g. marriage) and on the other hand, for the vanishing of the group itself (e.g. incarceration of most of the group's members or leaders), and shed light on repressive and non-repressive measures for exerting control over terrorist violence, measures which predominantly aim to reintegrate of members of terrorist organizations in society.
Bjørgo's talk was followed by a presentation on the topic 'Creating, Controlling and Challenging National Consensus: The Roles of Socialization' given by Stephen Vertigans (School of Applied Social Studies, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen) that was commented on by Jörg Requate (Faculty of History, Bielefeld University). Vertigans discussed difficulties in exerting control, illuminating the unforeseen and contradictory nature of social and political outcomes by applying the concept of 'unintended consequences' to nation-state policies and international relations. A central point of the following discussion was the question of the usefulness of such an approach, as political action without unintended consequences would seem to be impossible.
The last presentation was given by Khaled Al Hashimi (Centre for Research on Anti-Semitism, Berlin Technical University), who dealt with the question 'Out of Control? Explaining Terrorist Violence from a Jihadi Perspective'. This talk was commented on by P. J. Henry (Department of Psychology, dePaul University, Chicago). Like several other speakers, Al Hashimi emphasized that if we are to control terrorist violence we must first of all understand the ideologies, thoughts and literature of the respective militant groups. Consequently, in his research work on Gamaa Islamia and Egyptian Jihad he interviewed group members and analysed materials published by the groups. He presented the results of this research in his talk, in order to explain what pushed the groups to use violence, how and why they became radicalized, and how and why they eventually gave up violence. By exploring interviews and jihadi literature he presented the arguments for violence from the jihadi perspective, emphasizing on the one hand the way an intellectual argumentation within a theological framework is used to communicate fundamentalist ideas to potential sympathizers, and on the other highlighting how ideological revisions drove fundamentalists to violence in the first place, how their strategies were constituted and why they gave up violence in the end.
If we review the overall results of the workshop concerning the concept of control, we find that the issue has been considered from a range of very different points of view: control measures that can by exerted by the state and its control institutions, the relevance of a supporting/non-supporting community and the individual motives and goals of the perpetrator. In terms of the role of the state, mainly repressive forms of control were mentioned: positioning guards, arresting potential perpetrators, building physical barriers and putting financial pressure either on terrorist groups or on the supporting community. It was pointed out that aspects of social control also are extremely relevant with respect to terrorist violence, in other words strengthening the community impact. Furthermore, knowledge of the individuals' motives and their quality-of-life deficits suggests control strategies that focus on changing disintegrated life conditions that may function as preconditions for using terrorist violence.
With respect to the question of circumstances that make it more difficult to exert control, the role of religion came up. The discussions seem to have shown that religious ideas and ideologies are powerful instruments that can be used to recruit sympathizers, become a script for violent action, legitimize the use of violence and offer a way to maintain dignity by dying for 'the greater good'. Thus, by potentially increasing the likelihood that violence is used they may decrease the ability to control. Another point that seems to be relevant when focussing on the construct of control is that the potential to exploit a religious idea grows if on the individual level those who are to be recruited perceive a loss of control over their own lives. On the macro-societal level the impact of religious ideologies seems to be amplified by a weak state that fails to offer positive life perspectives or as a stable source of identification.

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