Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 78: “ISIL and terrorism”

This week our Top5 is entirely devoted to the dramatic terrorist attacks that killed 129 people in Paris last week. While police raids are still ongoing in Europe, we suggest four (+1) links to useful analyses provided by experts and scholars on the broad issue of “ISIL and terrorism”. Let’s see how political science can help us in interpreting the current scenario.

First, how effective is terrorism? In this excellent paper for International OrganizationVirginia Page Fortna investigates the issue, stressing “that although civil wars involving terrorism last longer than other wars, terrorist rebel groups are generally less likely to achieve their larger political objectives than are non-terrorist groups“. If the question is “Do terrorists win”, the answer is simply: no.

Second, one the most important experts on foreign fighters, Thomas Hegghammer (and his co-author Petter Nesser), recently assessed the Islamic State’s commitment to attacking the West. In this paper for “Perspectives on Terrorism”, the authors “examine IS statements and take stock of IS-related attack plots in Western Europe, North America, and Australia from January 2011 through June 2015 using a new dataset of jihadi plots and a new typology of links between organizations and attackers. IS appears to have had a decentralized attack strategy based on encouraging sympathiser attacks while not mounting centrally directed operations of their own”. So, is the Paris plot a turning point?

Third, Clint Watts provides an insightful analysis on ISIL and its recent evolution in tactics and strategies. Comparing ISIL with Al-Shabaab the lesson could be the following: “If an extremist group that has seized territory starts to lose it, it will be highly incentivized to turn to terrorist operations that allow for maximizing effects at a lower cost“.

Fourth, some concrete suggestions from the field on how to counter ISIL in Iraq. Here the post by Michael Knights for War on the Rocks on “how to build on progress and avoid stalemate against ISIL”.

Five, from an historical perspective this video well illustrates the evolution of Europe across centuries and how it will be difficult for terrorists to destabilize our countries if we remain unite.

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