know your enemy

know your enemy

“Whatever social scientists might desire, there are some social phenomena whose impact is immediate and profound, even decisive, but whose significance cannot effectively be assessed until well after their occurrence; and one of these is surely the eruption of great domestic violence.” (Geertz; 1973, p.323)

Does distance from events as Geertz suggests allow for better research and analysis particularly of political violence and the use of terrorism. Four recent reports; two from RAND, one from the Combating Terrorism Center at Westpoint and one from New America Foundation suggest that he may in part be correct. Two of the reports – Cruickshank; 2011, Vidino; 2011 – dealing with current events  do not reach the same level of analysis or methodological innovation that the two remaining reports achieve; Brown & Rassler; 2011, Clutterbuck & Warnes 2011. Brown and Rassler offer a revisionist history of the beginnings of the Afghan Arabs as they assemble the history of the Haqqani organization. Their study puts an Afghan entity back into the centre of the arrival and development of the Afghan Arab or early jihadist foreign fighter phenomenoen. Clutterbuck and Warnes offer an in-depth analysis of a terrorist plots in the United Kingdom over a limited timeframe seeking to compare and contrast these events by examining the key participants. The report deals with plots between 2004 and 2007. They offer a number of ways of examining individual and group involvement in hostile terrorist activity.

The four reports share one commonality, all of them deal to a certain extent with jihadist and foreign fighter interaction with Pakistan. Two of the reports –  Brown & Rassler and Clutterbuck & Warnes – offer some interesting methodogical insights into researching terrorism and political violence. Brown and Rassler use a ‘multiple network’ model adapted from sociology (Padgett & McLean; 2006) to explain the multiple roles and levels of influence the Haqqani network has been able to leverage during its existence. This model could well be used to analyse foreign fighter networks and their mobilisation. Clutterbuck and Warnes mention their use of ‘grounded theory’, another tool developed in sociology to develop new analytical concepts and frameworks from collected data. Their approach could also have valuable lessons for future researchers and analysts. Both reports also list or make available to varying extents original source material or analytical resources; Brown and Rassler on the CTC website and Clutterback and Warnes in an annex to their report. This allows for other scholars to make use of their material for future study and continues the academic principle of allowing others to use the data to attempt to replicate the findings in other contexts.


Brown, V. & Rassler, D. (2011). The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qa’ida, Harmony Program, Combating Terrorism Center at Westpoint.

Clutterbuck, L. & Warnes, R. (2011). Exploring Patterns of Behaviour in Jihadist Terrorists: An analysis of six significant terrorist conspiracies in the UK. Technical Report TR923, RAND Europe.

Cruickshank, P. (2011). The Militant Pipeline: Between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West. National Security Studies Program Policy Paper, The New America Foundation. Second Edition

Vidino, L. (2011). Radicalization, Linkage, and Diversity: Current Trends in Terrorism in Europe. Occasional Paper 333, RAND.

Padgett, J. F., & McLean, P. D. (2006). Organizational Invention and Elite Transformation: The Birth of Partnership Systems in Renaissance Florence. American Journal of Sociology, 111(5), 1463 – 1568.

Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books; New York

Glaser, Barney G. and Strauss, Anselm L. (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.