• Lack of evidence-based terrorism research hobbles counterterrorism strategies

    The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland estimates that groups connected with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State committed almost 200 attacks per year between 2007 and 2010. That number has increased to about 600 attacks in 2013. As terrorism becomes more prevalent, the study of terrorism has also increased, which, in theory, should lead to more effective antiterrorism policies, and thus to less terrorism. The opposite is happening, however, and this could be partly due to the sort of studies which are being conducted. The problem: few of these studies are rooted in empirical analysis, and there is an “almost complete absence of evaluation research” concerning anti-terrorism strategies, in the words of a review of such studies.

  • Islamic fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon in Europe

    A comprehensive new comparative study of religious dispositions among European Muslims and Christians finds that between 40 percent and 45 percent of European Muslims have fundamentalist religious ideas. The percentage goes down among the young and among individuals with higher social and economic status. A PEW Research Center study, using the same criteria for fundamentalism, found that Islamic fundamentalists make up slightly more than 30 percent of U.S. Muslims. Only 4 percent of European Christians are fundamentalists. Fundamentalist beliefs among both Muslims and Christians are closely associated with hostility toward other out-groups, including homosexuals, Jews, and Westerners (in the case of Muslims) or Muslims (in the case of Christians) – but violence does not necessarily form part of a fundamentalist ideology (thus, the Jewish Neturei Karta of the Christian Amish are at the same time among the most fundamentalist religiously and the most violence-averse). The research quotes other studies which found that between 10 percent and 15 percent of European Muslims are prepared to use violence to defend their faith, but that the increase in the propensity for violence among Muslim fundamentalists is a relatively recent phenomenon — of the last two or three decades.

  • Many violent criminals driven by a desire to do the right thing: Researchers

    To the extent that their heinous behavior can be understood, murders, wife beaters, gang bangers, and other violent criminals are acting out of a breakdown of morals, right? Not so fast, say two social scientists say. In a new book, they ascribe most acts of violence to a truly surprising impulse: the desire to do the right thing. “When someone does something to hurt themselves or other people, or to kill somebody, they usually do so because they think they have to,” explained one of the researchers. “They think they should do it, that it’s the right thing to do, that they ought to do it and that it’s morally necessary.”

  • About 40 percent of lone-wolf terrorists are driven by mental illness, not ideology: Researchers

    Researchers have long studied the relationship between mental illness and terrorism, particularly lone-wolf terrorists. One study examined ninety-eight lone wolf attackers in the United States, and found that 40 percent of them had identifiable mental health problems, compared with 1.5 percent of the general population.Another study reviewed 119 lone wolf attackers and a similar number of members of violent extremist groups in the United States and Europe, and found that nearly 32 percent of lone wolves had been diagnosed with a mental illness, while only 3.4 percent of terrorist group members were mentally ill.The researchers say that there is a significant link between mental problems and the making of a lone-wolf terrorist, leading to cautious hope that future attacks may be avoided. “It’s never an either-or in terms of ideology versus mental illness,” one researcher said. “It’s a dangerous cocktail.”

  • Could the Sydney siege have been predicted and prevented?

    It’s the question everyone is asking — could the Sydney siege have been predicted and therefore prevented based on the past behavior of gunman Man Haron Monis. Monis’s troubled history was well known to media and the police, but can we predict if and when such a person is likely to commit any further crimes? Further, we need to be very careful about stereotyping the mentally ill as potentially “dangerous.” It is simply not the case that all people with serious mental illnesses are prone to violence. There are very specific factors that govern the complex relationship between mental illness and violence. We need to understand and prevent people from experiencing them.

  • Radicalization and the lone wolf: what we do and don’t know

    Even with the growing body of empirical research contributing to understanding radicalization, cases such as that of Man Haron Monis raise questions about whether individual actors, known as “lone wolves,” are terrorists, violent extremists, radicals, or simply lone gun men. Contrary to popular belief, ideology and religion play a less important role in radicalization. Current research indicates that the emotional appeal to personal identity and group solidarity are far more significant factors in radicalization. What recent lone-wolf cases — Man Haron Monis in Sydney, Canadian Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Anders Breivik in Norway, and Mohammed Merah in France — tell us is that, unlike the strategic model of terrorism as a rational choice to carry out acts of violence in the name of a cause, these modern-day lone-wolf terrorists may be more like lone gunmen than terrorists.

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  • Public support for torture declines as people learn the explicit details of torture techniques

    Does the American public condone torture when the goal is to prevent terrorist attacks? News headlines reporting the results of a Pew Research Center poll released on 9 December indicate more than half of Americans do. That finding, however, is not necessarily valid, says Tufts University’s Richard Eichenberg, who argues that the poll is flawed because it is based on a faulty premise. A more accurate picture of the nation’s attitude can be found in responses to polls conducted by Pew, Gallup, and other news organizations and analyzed in a 2010 report. These surveys explained in graphic detail what interrogation techniques were being judged. So while response to more general questions on the use of torture may continue to produce mixed reactions, Eichenberg says public support for torture will decline as more people become aware of the explicit details of torture techniques contained in the Senate report.

  • Ethnic diversity among traders makes markets less likely to suffer bubbles: Study

    Stock market bubbles have led to economic catastrophes from the Great Depression through the dot-com boom of the 1990s and up to the recent housing financial crisis. Although these episodes cause widespread financial havoc, the reasons behind economic bubbles remain unclear. A new study proposes a cause: Bubbles happen when people mindlessly trust the behavior of others, particularly when surrounded by ethnic peers. The researchers found that markets of ethnically diverse traders are much less likely to suffer bubbles. These findings could have a lasting impact on economics — and ethnic diversity.

  • Brainwashing and radicalization don’t explain why young people join violent causes

    Why do young people from Western societies join ISIS? Terms such as “brainwashing” and “radicalization” are typically and casually invoked to explain the phenomenon. Suggestions of brainwashing or radicalization imply that the object of such efforts has been profoundly diverted from their usual, reasonable way of thinking. The instigators of this mental trickery are implicitly credited with considerable psychological skill, while the target is simultaneously assumed to have some mental insufficiency or vulnerability. The young are commonly deemed to be easy prey for those seeking to enlist them for a “radical” cause. The problem is, it’s just not that simple. Arguing that a 15 or 16-year-old is able to make a reasoned choice about engagement in hostilities risks exposing that young person to the full force of the law – but using loose, inadequate concepts such as brainwashing and radicalization to explain young people’s engagement in political violence carries its own risks. It severely limits our ability to understand why young people are mobilized in support of a group such as Islamic State, and hinders intelligent debate about the wider changes needed to prevent them doing so. Moreover our efforts to reintegrate them once they come back are likely to prove desperately inadequate.

  • Global warming skeptics unmoved by extreme weather

    What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods, and heat waves will begin to change minds. A new study throws cold water on that theory. Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895. Researchers found, however, that when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures. This study and past research shows that political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.

  • Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East?

    For at least a decade, attempts to understand why some young Muslims living in Western countries turn to violence in the name of religion have raised questions about Western foreign policy in the Middle East. Many blame the United States’ foreign policy. The Islamic State uses anger and grievance against Western intervention as a powerful recruiting tool. There is some truth to the argument that anger at foreign policy and the West’s engagement with the Arab world is at the heart of Muslim anger, as well as a driver of radicalization among Muslim youth, but the current state of affairs in the Middle East is not simply an outcome of Western intervention and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Western foreign policy in the region has no doubt influenced the current situation, but the conditions for the spread of militant Islamism have come from attempts to deal with the crisis within: a crisis that is as much political in nature as it is religious.

  • Cultural Muslims, like cultural Christians, are a silent majority

    Not all Muslims are religious. An increasingly recognized body of non-practicing Muslims living in the West are identified (or openly self-identify) as cultural. The “cultural Muslim” refers to members of the Muslim community who are non-practicing but retain an attachment to elements of Islamic culture. The history of the Muslim world entails the story of numerous civilizations spanning from Spain in the West to Pakistan in the East. And not much has changed today. The vast cultural diversity means distinctness and variety in practice and customs. Communities of faithful across the globe express a multiplicity of interpretations across the globe. More intriguingly, the category of the “cultural Muslim” is not only a testament to the cultural diversity associated with the faith, but further defined by a process of disenchantment with its religious institution. The cultural Muslim appears to be the case of an unaccounted majority.

  • U.S. launches campaign to combat recruitment of young Americans by militant groups

    The White House, Justice Department (DOJ), DHS, and the National Counterterrorism Center have formed an alliance to combat the recruitment of young Americans to join militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Somali-based al-Shabaab.Officials have not released details on the network of community partnerships but local law enforcement officials, religious leaders, teachers, mental health professionals, and parents are expected to help monitor at-risk youths.

  • Muslim-majority countries can become liberal democracies

    A new study suggests that Islam is not as much of an impediment to liberal democracy as is often thought. The researchers used data from the World Values Survey — a global research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, how they change over time, and what social and political impact they have. They found that people living in Muslim-majority countries are on average less tolerant than people living in the West – but that a significant part of the reason for this difference is that Muslim-majority countries tend to be less economically developed and more economically unequal than Western countries.

  • Islam’s silent majority: moderate voices drowned out by extremists

    Stretching from North Africa to east Asia, many Muslims are engaged in a life-and-death tussle with extremists who are bent on extinguishing the diversity of opinions within the Muslim community. The reality, however, is that there exists more than one Islamic faith. Islam is an umbrella term, which covers multiple differences within the religion. Diversity of opinion is not a recent feature of Islam; evidence of broad shades of opinion can be traced back to its origins. But today the global Salafist movement, funded greatly by the Saudi regime and other sources, publicly occupies most of the Muslim world and parts of Muslim communities in the West. Islam should not be considered from the perspective of fundamentalism as, in the end, this will strengthen the extremists’ position. Rather, it should be understood by opening a dialogue, supporting, and co-operating with the moderates who offer a different understanding of Islam.