CIVIL LIBERTIES, JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS
Policy Department C
Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs
PREVENTING VIOLENT RADICALISATION
AND TERRORIST RECRUITMENT IN THE EU
THE THREAT TO EUROPE BY RADICAL
ISLAMIC TERRORIST GROUPS
CIVIL LIBERTIES, JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS
JANUARY 2004 EN
Directorate-General Internal Policies
Policy Department C
Citizens Rights and Constitutional Affairs
PREVENTING VIOLENT RADICALISATION
AND TERRORIST RECRUITMENT IN THE EU
THE THREAT TO EUROPE BY RADICAL
ISLAMIC TERRORIST GROUPS
The ad hoc briefing paper “Preventing violent radicalisation and terrorist recruitment in the
EU - The threat to Europe by radical Islamic terrorist groups” provides an original analysis
and evaluation of the different strategies that are meant to deal with such phenomena, as well
as their effectiveness. This perspective takes into account the dynamics of actions/reactions
between the various parts involved in violence and its repression, thus going beyond
recommendations mainly aiming at controlling the networks through which individuals enter
the radicalizing dynamics, in a “worst-case scenario” perspective. The core point of the paper
is to transgress the different forms of self-censorship that exist in the field of the
counterterrorist public policies, by insisting upon the fact that some of the measures taken can
contribute to the radicalisation, or more accurately, to the dynamics of escalation. The priority
is then to move the focus, while widening the angle of the problem, to highlight the
interactions not only between clandestine organisations and reference fields but also public
authorities, journalists and others. The question of the radicalisation must be reconsidered and
redefined as a subsidiary of the questions on escalation and de-escalation dynamics of the
The ad hoc briefing paper is thus structured as follows: the first part aims at understanding the
radicalisation processes; the second part deals with the questions of clandestineness,
radicalisation and recruitment; the third part deals with the dilemma faced by authorities and
their policies, that can either lead to an escalation or a de-escalation, depending on whether
they tend to mimetic rivalry or distanciation. Finally, the paper provides certain policy
recommendations, mainly based on favouring distanciation, taking into account the pernicious
effects of intensified measures of control, repression or war on violent radicalisation, and
controlling and supervising counter radicalisation.
This note was requested by The European Parliament's committee on Civil Liberties,
Justice and Home Affairs.
This paper is published in the following languages: EN, FR.
Authors: Didier Bigo and Laurent Bonelli, Centre d'Etudes sur les Conflits, Paris
Manuscript completed in December 2007
Copies can be obtained through:
M. Alessandro Davoli
Tel: +32 2 2832207
Fax: +32 2 2832365
E-mail: [email protected]
Informations on DG Ipol publications:
Brussels, European Parliament
The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the author and
do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Understanding the radicalisation processes 8
II. Clandestinity, radicalisation and recruitment 14
1. The individuals: isolated actors or members of
an organisation? 14
2. Clandestine organisations and recruitment 16
3. Clandestinity and its various implications 24
4. Clandestine organisations and screen organisations 27
III. Mimetic rivalry or distanciation? 30
IV. Recommendations for the European Parliament 35
1. Favouring distanciation 35
2. Taking into account the pernicious effects of intensified
measures of control, repression or war on violent
3. Controlling and supervising counter radicalisation 37
AD HOC BRIEFING PAPER
Preventing violent radicalisation and terrorist recruitment in the EU.
The threat to Europe by radical Islamic terrorist groups
Didier BIGO and Laurent BONELLI, December 2007
European institutions and Member States feel more and more concerned by the question of the
violent radicalisation in our societies and the recruitment of potential “terrorists”. The Member
States started to get organized after the 9/11 events, but wanted to reinforce the means of the fight
against terrorism at the European scale after the bomb attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004. They
asked the European Commission to initiate a reflection on what can be gained from cooperation
and on the causes of such a phenomenon. The Communication, called “Fight against terrorism:
prevention, preparedness and response” was published in October 2004 and, for the first time,
refers to the notion of “violent radicalisation”, linking it to the problem of recruitment: “Opposing
violent radicalisation within our societies and disrupting the conditions facilitating the recruitment
of terrorists must be fundamental priorities in a strategy to prevent terrorism” 1 . The question of
recruitment is part of any major statement on the war against terrorism, especially since the London
bomb attacks that took place on July 7 and 21, 2005: they showed that the hermetic control of the
frontiers against foreign individuals was not only impossible but also effectless when the terrorists
come from within, when they are members of the targeted society (home grown terrorists). Thus, in
2005, the Council Declaration on Combating Terrorism dedicated one of its seven objectives to
“address[ing] the factors which contribute to support for, and recruitment into terrorism”. These
also include (1) identifying factors which “contribute to recruitment”, (2) investigating links
between “extreme religious or political beliefs, as well as socio-economic and other factors, and
support for terrorism”, (3) addressing good governance and the rule of law, and (4) implementing a
strategy for “cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding between Europe and the Islamic
European Commission (2004) (COM(2004) 698 final). Fight against terrorism: prevention, preparedness and
world” 2 . In December 2005, the Council adopted a strategy in which the concern for recruitment
and violent radicalisation holds a prominent position 3 . In September 2005, the Commission
adopted a Communication concerning "Terrorism recruitment: addressing the factors contributing
to violent radicalisation". An Action Plan on combating Radicalisation and Recruitment was
adopted by the European Council in December 2005. In 2006 and 2007, the European Commission
Vice-President, Franco Frattini, made multiple interventions on this subject, and a group of experts
was even set up in April 2006 4 .
A great number of reports and studies have been written in order to define the radicalisation and
its processes, revealing the interest of the European institutions for Islamic radicalisation,
considered as the “greatest threat to Europe”, as Gilles de Kerchove, the new Counterterrorism
Coordinator, declared 5 . Many specific studies were proposed by the Directorate-General for
Research and the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security, as well as by the major
research institutions in the various member states, especially the Economic and Social Research
Council (ESRC) in Great-Britain. Many of these studies are of great value and add to the
knowledge on individuals that became actors, on their systems of justification and sometimes on
their motives and links to external groups. Going further than the usual experts on “terrorism”, the
researchers on Islam, migrations and minorities living in Europe produced subtle and complex
views, but most of the time, these studies have been integrated into a larger, pre-established frame,
insisting – almost exclusively – upon the motivations and mechanisms of recruitment and thus
keeping their focus on the relation between the individuals and the clandestine organisations, which
are however but one part of the phenomenon we are trying to describe. All the studies that have
been criticising “terroristology” for being partial and slanted and that have assimilated the lessons
taught by the theories on collective actions, show indeed that though this relation should not been
undermined, the public authorities are nonetheless as much as important actors: their actions,
reactions and abilities to structure the context of political opportunities contribute to develop the
various forms of radicalism. Studies on terrorism, which started to form a specific sub-field in the
1970s, wanted to get differentiated from the studies on sociology and conflict resolution,
emphasizing their particularity and the constantly renewed newness of their subject. So to speak,
they have always tried to avoid the ethical and political questions in order to better serve the
Council of the European Union (2004), Declaration on Combating Terrorism.
Council of the European Union (2005) (14469/4/05), The European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
Commission Decision of 19 April 2006 setting up a group of experts to provide policy advice to the Commission on
fighting violent radicalisation (2006/299/CE).
decision-makers. But by refusing to have a look at the dynamics of actions/reactions between the
various actors involved in the violence and its repression, they have come to a deadlock in which
their diversity is nothing but semblance when one comes to consider the questions generally raised
by the sociology of conflict. Thus, our purpose here is not to produce recommendations aiming at
controlling more or less the socialising networks through which the individuals come to the
radicalising dynamics, especially in a context of the worst-case scenario which gives de facto the
priority to the enhancement of the possibilities of intervention for the police and intelligence
services, in the name of a new balance between liberties and security, and which restrains the
presumption of innocence and favours the discourse on “prevention” (even though we will come
back on this issue in our conclusion). The core point in our note is rather to transgress the different
forms of self-censorship that exist in the field of the counterterrorist public policies, by insisting
upon the fact that some of the measures taken can contribute to the radicalisation, or more
accurately, to the dynamics of escalation. Our priority is then to move the focus, while widening
the angle of the problem, to highlight the interactions not only between clandestine organisations
and reference fields but also public authorities, journalists and others. The question of the
radicalisation must be reconsidered and redefined as a subsidiary of the questions on escalation and
de-escalation dynamics of the conflicts.
The first question to be raised must define the referent object of the radicalising process: the
radicalisation of what? Do we refer to the radicalisation of individuals, or of ideologies, or of
networked clandestine organisations developing with or without the support from some states? On
this matter, one realizes that very often the texts in the calls for tenders and the answers proposed
by the academics are ambiguous, because they deal with the violent radicalisation at a general
level. Many reports issued by Member States hence call upon a “radical era”, especially when those
have been written by British think tanks in collaboration with their American peers. This “radical
era” then turns out to be the era when one particular religion became radical: Islamism. This is
exactly what we can see in the scenarios written by the CIA when they asked all the think tanks to
describe what the world would be in 2020 6 . For most of these texts or discourses, 9/11 is the key
turning-point from which we could distinguish an “ancient” form of terrorism from a “new” one.
But the following paradox springs up: the authors who were the most attached to the idea that
former terrorism was a sort of third world war are the very same who now assert that it was not that
important and that it could even be considered as a “moderate terrorism” comparatively to the
Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project
present situation. This is quite obvious when we take the example of the authors who formerly
worked on the cases of Northern Ireland and Spain (ETA) and are now working on Al Qaeda. We
can even add those who worked on India and the Sikh or on the Tamils from the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam. On the contrary, experts on the Middle-East question are the less prone to adopt
this differentiation and emphasize the continuities, related to the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, the Iranian revolution and its transformations, the situation in Lebanon and the relations to
Syria. The idea of a violent radicalisation in relation with a new form of terrorism must then be
balanced: if there are indeed some logics of intensified violence and capillarisation that have taken
place between the 1970s and nowadays 7 , we cannot say that there is a before and an after.
Another important issue is to redefine the radicalisation as a process: should we go back to the
origins and argue the radicalism of the ideas that would almost automatically radicalize the acts:
from the first speech acts, then the mobilisation, the support to the individuals who laud violence to
the final plunge into violence itself? Most of the studies that developed the terminology of violent
radicalisation seem to adopt this point of view 8 . Though very diverse, the thorough debates on
solutions to be provided presented by the various reports eventually adopt the same and unique
perspective: the one that analyses the deviant behaviours and the phenomenon of absolute and
relative frustration. These works have been initiated by Ted R. Gurr’s fundamental book, Why men
rebel, which he updated later on in Why minorities rebel 9 and in which he emphasized the
differences of hopes that individuals can have in a given society, their objective chances to have
their situation improve and the coercive structure of the states. Throughout the liberal periods,
offering freedom of thought and circulation, people feel less constrained by social norms in a given
society and express more easily their differences, oppositions and resentments. Several books and
articles, when studying the question of radicalisation, did apply these analyses to the post-9/11
situation, according to which deviance comes from relative frustrations and is considered as the
deviant behaviours of particular individuals 10 . Ted R. Gurr stays cautious when he considers the
On the capillarisation of violence, see Didier BIGO, “Guerres, conflits, transnational et territoire”, Cultures & Conflits
#21-22 (1996) pp. 397-418.
The European Commission has embraced a similar working definition, stating that radicalisation constitutes “the
phenomenon of people embracing opinions, views and ideas which could lead to terrorism”; quoted from European
Commission, “Commission Programme for the Prevention of and Response to Violent Radicalisation: Call for
Proposals 2007”; available at
Ted R. GURR, Why Men Rebel, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1970 et “Why Minorities Rebel: A Global
Analysis of Communal Mobilization and Conflict since 1945”, International Political Science Review, #14, 1993,
This is for instance Marc SAGEMAN’s presupposition, in Understanding Terrorist Networks, Philadelphia,
Philadelphia University Press 2004.
relation between radicalism of thought and the plunge into violence, and following Alex Schmid,
he often prefers to see political and religious ideologies as systems justifying a state of violence that
is already pre-existing 11 . However, many authors forget any restraint and consider that any hint of
radicalisation in ideas and opinions leads to actual violent acts 12 . It is more than obvious as the
recent measures proposed by the Commission or some governments to prevent terrorist acts tend to
follow too quickly the latter category of authors. In addition to ideology, all these analyses explain
the violent radicalisation by the opening of new possibilities provided by new technologies. During
the 1960s, many works on the violent radicalisation of American Black movements pointed out the
more intensive use of local radios, actions by the civil movement itself, or broadcast shows
criticising the government. Likewise, the technologies targeted today are quick communication
systems, for which it is hard to track back the origins of the communications and detect the actual
identities of the individuals: mobile phones of course, but also phone cards that allow the mixing of
networks and the possibility to inscribe and encrypt the communications at any level, and evidently,
Internet. Very often, these perspectives contemplate all the possibilities opened by technology and
consider that criminals or clandestine organisations will use them all because there is no moral or
legal constraint at stake, while on the other hand, the services that are trying to hunt them down
have limited means. As a consequence, these organisations would then be more favoured because
they would be more skilled than the democratic governments’ services in the mastering of these
technical tools. That is why we are witnessing the elaboration of many worst-case scenarios which
sole limits are the ones in the imagination of those who write them.
Taking the opposite direction, we would like to insist on the other branch of collective action’s
theories: denying strongly the idea that the radicalisation process comes from a single group’s
actions, it rather emphasizes the relations between the different actors and the idea that
radicalisation leads to counter-radicalisation manifestations, which, depending on how they are
approached, sometimes contribute to reinforce, and not to eradicate, the initial radicalisation. The
plunge into violence is then the result of dynamics of involvement between actors. This is what is
called the “spiral” process and it is significant that the radicalisation terminology used in the reports
on terrorism is nothing else but the same terminology that has been well-known by any expert on
violence: the terminology of escalation.
See for instance Alex SCHMID, Political terrorism: a new guide to actors, authors, concepts, data bases, theories,
and literature, Transaction Books, Amsterdam, 1988.
Either by calling upon the contamination via image impact, which meets with the belief of organisations in the
propaganda by the facts; or by calling upon the gateway organisations who would “prepare” the radicals to become
violent without analysing the tensions related to the plunge into action and without analysing its dynamics, which
actually are quite far from this hypothetic linearity.
If we consider this approach, which stresses the actions and reactions of the actors, the relations
between the clandestine organisations’ actions, the various forms of fight against these
organisations or the relation to either the rule of law or to the rule of exception, then we can see a
more global analysis on radicalisation emerging: it shows not only some phenomena of mimetic
rivalry between the actors who use violence and the ones who try to repress it, but it also reveals
problematical mechanisms of distance from the populations that are but third parties and get more
and more despaired by the inability to put an end to erratic violent acts performed by clandestine
organisations and by the intrusive – and nonetheless inefficient – forms of control introduced by the
governments. This generalised distance does not however prevent – quite contrarily, it seems to
encourage – some small groups to get even more involved in radicalisation, by some mimetic
effect. Through violence, individuals that have no strong political or religious background can find
a deeper sense to their involvement in society. We can also see the emergence of various forms of
“vigilantism” and active racism. As Charles Tilly reports, what matters is less the actual plunge into
violence than the question of its rarity 13 . He explains that even the smallest groups have strategies,
“repertories of collective action”, and use different forms of collective actions depending on the
opportunity structures. He rejects the theories that point out the irrationality of the actors under
study: there is always a minimal culture of strategy that is even more important as the organisations
are related to each other and work as a network.
In order to face these contemporaneous approaches that repeat the hypotheses of deviant
behaviours, it will be useful to remind of the escalation and de-escalation phenomena and the
strategic culture, and to apply them to the current forms of violence, including the “terrorist” forms.
Terrorism is not radical in the sense of non-rational, fanatic, religious, individual or coming from
manipulated or frustrated individuals: it has political roots, even though the causes it endorses are
not legitimate and are not approved by significantly large parts of the third-party population14 .
Depending on which vision of collective action is chosen, the questions of recruitment and
reasons of the plunge into violent action will be treated quite differently. According to the theses
favouring frustration and psychologising explanations, recruitment is settled through the
See for instance Charles TILLY, Contention and Democracy in Europe, 1650-2000, Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 2004 and also Barrington MOORE, Injustice: The Social Basis of Obedience and Revolt, New York,
M.E. Sharpe, 1978.
See Louise RICHARDSON, “Introduction” in Louise RICHARDSON (ed.), The Roots of Terrorism, New York
Routledge, 2006, p. 2; Sidney TARROW, Power in Movement, Cambridge, CUP, 1998; Doug MCADAM, Sidney
TARROW and Charles TILLY, Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001; Donatella DELLA
PORTA, Social Movements, Political Violence and the State: A Comparative Analysis of Italy and Germany,
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995 and Didier BIGO and Daniel HERMANT, “La relation terroriste”, Etudes
Polémologiques #47, 1988.
clandestine organisations and the detection of individuals who are already fragile and “frustrated”,
and who need some motivation to go further, to leave speech for action; hence the majority of these
studies focus on the analysis of radical discourses, the authorities, the places where these discourses
are spoken and the communication tools. No other actor is to be taken into consideration, and the
relation is established between the clandestine organisation and its “environment”. Moreover, as it
is presupposed that propaganda is effective through the facts and that new recruits are attracted
through distant motivation, no serious study has been led on this matter: there are only lists of the
means available to the organisation and the only proposition consists of monitoring, controlling, or
simply banning them. As these means are often of common use (phones, Internet, gyms, pubs or
places of worship), the recommendations eventually come to be more and more extremist, which
only limits are the will to keep a certain presumption of innocence and to create “profiles” of
potential groups to avoid the generalised suspicion of everybody by everyone. In the version
favouring the interactionnist and strategical theories, recruitment is most of the time made against
an actor rather than for another one. The third party considers that action is required against one of
the adversaries in a situation of injustice or domination, and thus joins the other adversary. What is
at stake are the errors made in the policies led by one adversary, which counts as much as the
abilities of recruitment and the list of means of the other adversary, the “radicalisation” is a loss of
a certain indifference, or median position: the strikes and counter-strikes are the processes that lead
third parties from one adversary to another. The recruitment into a clandestine organisation is not
the result of its own skills, but rather often the consequence of errors in the previous policies of
counter-terrorism or anti-terrorism.
Foreign policies led towards some countries, certain forms of war, coercion, and even torture,
have definitely played a part in the dynamics of radicalisation and counter-radicalisation: more than
that, the generalisation of controlling measures undertaken to fight against radicalisation can
paradoxically increase the radicalisation process. It is then essential to give a thorough thinking on
the policies implemented by all actors instead of concentrating only on the clandestine
organisation’s tactics and strategies: this is what we call the “terrorist relation”.
If we now consider the solutions to be brought to the violent radicalisation phenomenon, we can
see that the former theses call upon the army, the police or the intelligence services as the only
answers. Eradication and total war are the terms used and the tendency is to go beyond the limits
allowed or to push back the limits of the previous legal system, in the name of a discrepancy in
efficiency that would exist between the possibility to act under cover and the possibility to use
surveillance. Such terms as detection and prevention are privileged in order to fill the gap, but
shouldn’t we remind that all these processes in which intransigency and preventive action are
lauded were strongly unadvised in the relational approach on the dangers of escalation? It should
indeed be useful and relevant to re-read and remember the lessons taught by the Peace Studies or
the sociology of conflicts, on the Cold War period and the escalation process between actors.
Everybody knows the resistances that sprung at that time, and even the insults that the researchers
and parliamentary members had to face when they dared to bring up the necessity of de-escalation.
Everybody also knows that this approach was more pertinent because it included more components,
gave a part to the civil society and emphasized the relational dimension of violence. Likewise, the
contemporaneous approaches of the conflict resolution insisting on the de-escalation phenomenon
can also be used for the forms of political violence that affect western societies and they must not
be considered as specific to “exotic” conflicts.
I. Understanding the radicalisation processes
To think the terrorist relation without allocating a priori the “origin of evil” to one of the actors
– their “bad” violence purifying a contrario the violence practised by the others – leads to the
necessity to study (echoing thus an economic metaphor) the production and circulation of violence
Thus, the analysis must uppermost define these actors and draw their relations and the
mechanisms that give them a structure: these are the only means to understand the processes of
radicalisation and counter-radicalisation, of escalation between actors, as radicalisation does not
come from one side or one actor only.
Some studies favouring the irrational behaviour of the individual members of the clandestine
group take great delight in writing the biographies, the personal trajectories of such or such
“leader”: once it was Carlos, Abou Nidal, Andreas Baader, even Jean-Marc Rouillan or Hans
Joachïm Klein, nowadays Bin Laden, Al-Zarkaoui, or Al-Zaouahri 15 . The details of their lives,
often quite common until they went underground, are scrupulously examined to find the proofs that
this passage was but inescapable. Terrorism is not a relation, but is linked to one single actor: the
terrorist is an individual cut from reality and suffers all the symptoms of megalomaniac paranoia.
Among many publications, see for instance Peter L. BERGEN, “The Bin Laden trial: what did we learn?”, Studies in
Conflict and Terrorism (2001-11/12) vol. 24, #6, p.429-434; Michael COLLINS DUNN, “Usama Bin Laden: the nature of
the challenge”, Middle East Policy (1998-10) vol. 6 #2, p.23-28; Yossef BODANSKY, Bin Laden: the Man who
Declared War on America, Rocklin, California, Forum, 1999; Jean-Charles BRISARD, Zarkaoui. Le nouveau visage
d’Al-Qaida, Fayard, Paris, 2005.
In order to avoid this psychological reduction, other analyses carry on the same type of studies
on the clandestine organisations, but include not only the group’s pressure on the individual but
also the group’s aim: its objectives, targets, etc., which, though they might look irrational to
external people, provide an intrinsic rationality that could explain the acts of actors defined as
terrorists. The analysis of the ideology, action programmes, propaganda documents and
declarations of individuals under arrest can give us an insight of their motives, and possibly
anticipate their actions. Unfortunately, the study of ideologies only is still in the perspective of the
single actor, unique acting subject, except when it sympathises with the victims and gives advice to
the government forces, which supposedly are not able to interpret what they have in front of them.
More sociological works place back the ideological discourses in a larger cultural and political
frame and try to describe how the clandestine organisations are part, or not, of the expressions of a
social movement that would be larger. They analyse how the clandestine organisation takes root
and how this process is reflected or not in its ideology. The studies led on the RAF by the
Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) centre, were without a doubt amongst the most complete ones made on
the relations between ideology and strategy, ideology and social basis. When the Italian Communist
Party studied the Red Brigades and the “movementist” wing, it also developed this type of
approach, adding considerations about representation in terms of social class. More recently, Gilles
Kepel and his students analysed Al Qaeda and their texts and demonstrated the interest we could
draw when the texts and discourses of the actors are taken seriously, instead of getting lost in the
hypotheses on the psychology of individuals as provided by services and journalists 16 . This is even
more crucial when many supposed analysts of Islamism and Al Qaeda do not read Arabic and refer
de facto in their own analyses to the services’ discourses quoting extracts from the clandestine
organisation’s speech translated into English. A quick survey of the main magazines in which the
term “terrorism” appears in the title, shows that most of them come from the “expert” field 17 .
The authors, going beyond these analyses, and more familiar with the collective action theses,
include the dynamic of the answer given by the government forces in their scheme. But once
perceived, this dynamic blurs the readability of the clandestine organisations’ ideologies: they
adapt their tactics, if not their strategy, to their adversaries. The battle between the government
forces and the clandestine organisations are stressed, be it at the local, national or transnational
level: at the local level, the State’s actions are placed at the scale of the criminal police or law; at
Gilles KEPEL (ed.) Al-Qaida dans le texte. Ecrits d’Oussama ben Laden, Abdallah Azzam, Ayman al-Zawahiri et
Abou Moussab al-Zarqawi, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2005.
Edna F. REID and Hsinchun CHEN, “Mapping the contemporary terrorism research domain”, Human-Computer
Studies 65 (2007) 42–56.
the national level, administrative derogations and exception laws often tend to be added, as they
allow the intelligence services, and even the military forces to intervene (for instance, in the case of
Northern Ireland); at the transnational level, the tendency is to generalise and consider it as a fight
of coalesced States that would combine the police, legal and military forces, and the diplomatic
services to face a set of clandestine groups that would be organised reticularly and that are often
fantasised as coordinated at the planetary level.
Depending on the authors and institutions, the word “terrorist” is used to refer either to the
clandestine organisations (almost the totality of the definitions given by the Code of Criminal
Procedures in the Western countries), or to the State and the government members (a certain
number of countries in South America keep using “State terror” to designate the dictatorships
which they have been subjected to), or to both actors, in the same process of disapproval (however,
UNO fails to give an unanimous definition of terrorism because it sort of sets on an equal footing
both the action of the military forces and the action of the armed groups 18 ). For a long time, in this
kind of approach, the term “terrorism” was replaced by “urban guerrilla”, “subversion” or
“insurrection”. Nowadays, the term “terrorism” and even “global terrorism” are used in every
instance, even though in the specific case or Iraq, the British forces stood out and insisted upon
keeping the distinction between antiterrorist operations and counter-insurrection 19 .
The model of the military confrontation takes over psychologism, and tactics of the various
adversaries, their mobiles and means, the situation in which they enter action, or the sympathies
they can rely upon are now taken into account.
Beyond the classical approach to conflict, when some authors come to consider the power
struggle between two adversaries, they emphasize the fact that the society as a whole does not feel
involved in the conflict and only exceptionally does it take side with one or the other adversary.
Most of the time, third parties witness the fight indifferently and only feel concerned remotely,
through a violence that is mediatised and experienced on the subjective mode of a partial or total
identification to the victims. Since the 1980s, Schmid and Van de Graff showed, with the case of
Southern Moluccas, that the dramatisation via the media not only brings an emotional participation
and a political mobilisation, but also a distance and a paralysing fascination in front of violent acts
The discussions at the UNO in 2006 showed the impossibility for the Western governments to reach a consensus on
the definition of terrorism as coming from one single actor: the bomb planter. See Thomas MERCIER, La définition du
terrorisme au sein des organisations internationales, thesis for the IEP school, Paris 2006.
Christian OLSSON, “Afghanistan et Irak: les origines coloniales des guerres antiterroristes”, in Didier BIGO, Laurent
BONELLI and Thomas DELTHOMBE (eds.), La guerre au terrorisme et ses ombres, Paris, La Découverte, 2008.
performed by clandestine organisations and shown on television 20 . This lessens the relevance of the
arguments that focus on the newness of spectacular attacks and the theses that insist upon the
population’s unanimity when condemning an organisation 21 .
However, underlining the presence of a third party is not enough, as its identification is still not
clear: victims, civilians, or media? Also, nothing has been made yet to question the structural
conditions in modern societies that allow forms of violence to emerge, in which the violence as a
show and the third party as an indifferent spectator are as important elements as the two adversaries
engaged in the conflict. If we want to understand the various forms of individual involvement into
violence and the constitution of clandestine micro-organisations, we need to understand first that
they organise themselves at the very same moment and for the same reasons as the ones mobilising
to obtain the unanimity against terrorism. To get support from 90% of the population but to let the
remaining 10% get involved in violence, which thus questions the global social cohesion, is one of
the paradoxical side-effect of the democratic governments’ policies when they call upon
unanimism. One emblematic example is the case of Spain dealing with the Basque question.
Likewise, the anti-Americanism observed in some Middle-East and Asian areas can be interpreted
as one of the results of the discourse of the world-wide union in the war against terrorism. Though
it might seem scandalous, a certain indifference – instead of policies that emphasise enrolment,
unanimity and integration as a form of assimilation – is structurally necessary as it allows tolerance
between social groups, be it at the local, national, or translational levels.
Eventually, the triangle figure can be kept as it includes the relation to the third party that is the
specific basis of the terrorist relation, which contrasts with other forms of fights such as guerrillas
or civil wars. This figure should even be preferred to other formalisations that only include the
clandestine organisations and the political authorities. Clausewitzian readings in terms of a dual
mobilisation that leads to the “with us or against us” motto are inoperative and even have perverse
effects, such as the pressure to obtain an unanimous condemnation of the illegal organisations
eventually entice some individuals to support their objectives and join their means.
However, the triangle figure must be completed with median lines in order to include four
actors, as shown below:
A.P. SCHMID and V. de GRAFF, Insurgent terrorism and the Western New Media, Leiden, Pays Bas, Center for Study
of Social Conflicts, 1980.
To be co
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