The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda; Denial of Sanctuary: Understanding Terrorist Safe Havens; Brave New World: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization; What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism
by Gerard Chaliand, Arnaud Blin, Michael A. Innes, John Robb, Allan B. Krueger Reviewed by Lawrence D. Freedman
Never in the history of human conflict have so few been studied by so many. The amount of published work now devoted to terrorism is quite disproportionate to its incidence. At this point, most general surveys can add little, and the more important work is addressing more specific questions. Although the edited volume by Chaliand and Blin is interesting because of its French perspective, it is hard to see how it will supplant other works. The best piece included is Ariel Merari's classic 1993 article on "terrorism as a strategy of insurgency," but unfortunately, it is republished here without updating. The contributors to the collection edited by Innes, in contrast, use one particular issue -- how terrorists find safe havens from which to conduct their operations -- as a means of illuminating the general phenomenon. As with all such collections, the result is uneven, but it does demonstrate the shortcomings of proposals to attack terrorism at its source when there are so many ways of hiding: in the ungovernable interiors of failed states, in the obscurity of urban London, on the Internet.
Robb insists that his is not just another "terrorism book" but an analysis of what he calls "open source warfare" and how it undermines established notions of security. The factors behind the benign processes of globalization also facilitate more malignant effects, by empowering loose collections of like-minded individuals to pull the whole system down by attacking critical infrastructure. This danger Robb deems so real that he is pushed toward a form of survivalism. Like many books of this genre, Robb's can be fascinating on the tactical opportunities for small groups to cause considerable disruption, but it never quite explains how this offers a strategy geared to actual political ends. By exaggerating the advantage of networks over more hierarchical forms of organization, there is a danger of becoming so fixated on the vulnerabilities of our societies that we fail to notice the vulnerabilities of the terrorists.
The best book of the current crop is Krueger's, based on three lectures delivered in London in 2006. Krueger is not the first person to challenge the widespread assumption of a link between terrorism and a lack of education; it is a commonplace in the field that terrorists are often from the middle classes and well educated. What makes this book so notable is its determined search for evidence, imaginative use of social science methodology, and elegance of presentation. In a compelling analysis, Krueger points out how a lack of legitimate political expression and civil liberties turns some individuals to terrorism. He also provides a pointed and witty account of the problems the U.S. administration has faced in its own attempts at empiricism -- notably the saga of the State Department's 2004 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, in which large conclusions were drawn from faulty data. This book is a model of how academics can contribute to major public policy debates.
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