demon days

demon days

As 2011 closes and in the tradition of an end of year stock-taking, a piece by the United Kingdom researcher, Andrew Silke, seems to provide a timely reminder of the pitfalls of dealing with terrorism and political violence. Silke in “Courage in Dark Places: Reflections on Terrorist Psychology” writes,

“Any given act of terrorist violence will defy simple explanation. While the temptation to view it wholly as a manifestation of evil is understandable, it is nonetheless ill-judged. Such a view provides no practical insight, no understanding of the circumstances and processes which produced the act, and no true perspective on the perpetrators and their supporters. Thus one is no better prepared or placed to prevent similar acts of violence in the future.

It is often extremely difficult to seek out the lessons the calm study of terrorism can reveal. In too many minds the only acceptable response to terrorism and terrorists is revulsion and condemnation. Those who appear to respond differently–such as arguing for a balanced understanding of the actors–can all too easily be labeled as sympathizers, apologists, and appeasers. Yet understanding is not about any of these things and never is. Understanding is simply about perceiving the nature of reality. Effective perception lays the groundwork for effective response.

Embracing the caricatures that often pass as explanations for the causes of terrorist violence facilitates the embracement of the caricatures that pass for competent responses. Military strategists throughout history have recognized from bitter insight that an open and cool understanding must always be part of the responsible and professional mind-set in confronting an adversary. Too often in the fight against terrorism, we see little acceptance and practice of this basic tenet of military acumen. Amid the carnage and rubble of atrocity we must not allow or encourage the luxury of a simple and demonized foe.”

It is therefore heartening to see that in line with Silke’s encouragement to seek ‘an open and cool understanding’ that the transcripts of the September 2011 conference, “Ten Years Later: Insights on al-Qaeda’s Past and Future through Captured Records”, are available. The transcripts provide a thought-provoking and diverse range of views from researchers as well as current and former practitioners.

Silke, A. (2004). “Courage in Dark Places: Reflections on Terrorist Psychology.” Social Research 71(1): 177-198

“Ten Years Later: Insights on al-Qaeda’s Past and Future through Captured Records”. The Conference transcript is available by following the link at the bottom of the page

For a list of publications by Andrew Silke see here and then click on “Research Archive”.