As the year begins and the temptation to predict is upon journalists and others, it is judicious to reflect on what we do not know and what may blur clear thinking and prescient analysis. Duyvesteyn has stated that, ‘We know little about the history of terrorism, and what we think we know is not really the subject of debate’ (Duyvesteyn 2007:52). Tony Judt in “Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century” echoes this when he writes about ‘The danger of abstracting “terrorism” from its different contexts, setting it upon a pedestal as the greatest threat to Western civilization, or democracy, or “our way of life” and targeting it for an indefinite war is that we neglect the many challenges of the age. On this, too, the illusions and errors of the cold war years might have something to teach us about ideological tunnel vision. Hannah Arendt, once again: “The greatest danger of recognizing totalitarianism as the curse of the century would be an obsession with it to the extent of becoming blind to the numerous small and not so small evils with which the road to hell is paved.” But of all our contemporary illusions, the most dangerous is the one that underpins and accounts for all the others. And that is the idea that we live in a time without precedent: that what is happening to us is new and irreversible and that the past has nothing to teach us…except when it comes to ransacking it for serviceable precedents’ (Judt 2008:19).
Asides from the admonition to learn from the past rather than to pay it scant attention, Judt also alludes to the fact that terrorism is complex, that there is no simple explanation; madness or sheer evil will not do. There is more than either of these to why violence occurs. On this subject Hayden has written a thought provoking article, “The complexity of terrorism: social and behavioral understanding – trends for the future”. It is available in the Ranstrop edited “Mapping Terrorism Research: State of the art, gaps and future direction” and an earlier version is available here.
Will 2012 be, a year of learning from history (or should that be learning history) and recognizing complexity?
Judt, T. (2008). “Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century”. Penguin: London
Duyvesteyn, I. (2007). ‘The Role of History and Continuity in Terrorism Research’ in Ranstorp, M. (ed). “Mapping Terrorism Research: State of the art, gaps and future direction.” Routledge: Oxford. pp.51-75
Hayden, N.K. (2007). ‘The complexity of terrorism: social and behavioral understanding – trends for the future’ in Ranstorp, M. (ed). “Mapping Terrorism Research: State of the art, gaps and future direction.” Routledge: Oxford. pp.292-315.