Professor Richard English FBA, Wardlaw Professor of Politics/Director of the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews
‘Does terrorism work?’
Recorded at the British Academy Soirée, Tuesday 28 June 2016
From ISIS to al-Qaida, from Paris to Brussels and beyond, terrorism continues to dominate headlines and international politics alike. But the question of how far it works has been examined much less carefully than have other questions such as definition, causation, or response. Yet understanding how to respond to terrorism requires that we think systematically about how far, and in what ways, and why, terrorism has or has not worked for its practitioners. Scholarly analysis suggests that terrorists tend to be psychologically normal, and as rational a set of actor as other figures; so the question of why they continue to engage in this brutal form of politcs demands a dispassionate and properly frameworked answer. Richard English, who has spent three decades analysing terrorism and associated phenomena, argues here that we need to produce a layered understanding of what ‘working’ might mean in the case of terrorism, that we need to think historically about the question, and that we need to balance a focus on the uniqueness of each case study with an argument about the wider patterns of terroristic success, whether strategic, tactical, or in terms of those inherent rewards which exist beyond ideology.