A decade on: New challenges in studying terrorism

After four days of events including a public meeting, plenaries, research workshops and panels including almost sixty speakers, from four continents, the British Academy sponsored conference on ‘Ten years of terrorism and counter terrorism’, drew to a close yesterday.

Among the events at the conference the public meeting on Thursday evening panelists reflected on the events of 9/11, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and more recent events including the Arab Spring, the murders allegedly committed by Anders Breivik in Norway, and the riots in England some weeks ago. Continue reading

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Public meeting: From 9/11 to the Arab Spring, The Norway killings and the English riots: What have we learned about political violence and terrorism?

Time and date: 1800 – 1930   Thursday 8 September 2011

Location: McCance Lecture Theatre, Richmond St, Glasgow


  • Aamer Anwar, Scotland’s leading human rights lawyer.
  • Helen Dexter , is Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester.  She recently argued that morality was an inappropriate way to respond to the riots in England in August 2011
  • Christina Hellmich Reading University, author of Al-Qaeda: From global network to local franchise
  • Dr Bob Lambert European Muslim Research Centre, Exeter University, formerly of Metropolitan Police Special Branch Muslim Contact Unit

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Conference programme overview

A Decade of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism since 9/11:  taking stock and new directions in research and policy

Draft Programme

Thursday 8th September 2011

1400 – 1500            Registration and Coffee

1500 – 1515             Opening Welcome TBC

1515 – 1530            Opening Address: Some thoughts on Terrorism, State Terrorism and the Academy  David Miller, University of Strathclyde

1530 – 1630            Plenary: Unknown Knowns: The Subjugated Knowledge of Terrorism Studies     Richard Jackson, Aberystwyth University

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Social events, presentations details and publication of papers

As the conference approaches we are firming up a number of details.

Social events The conference programme includes a number of social events, which need to be booked separately.

  • Thursday   1630 – 1745 – Walking tour of Glasgow city centre and Whisky tasting.  As an alternative to the Critical Terrorism Studies Working Group AGM we offer a walking tour of the city centre and Scottish whisky tasting session.  This is free – however we need to let the whisky people know of numbers so delegates should register with Jan Bissett if they wish to attend. (jan dot bissett AT strath dot ac dot uk)
  • Friday 2100 till late – Scottish Ceilidh at Sloan’s Bar & Restaurant in the city centre (cost £8/£5 – this is a popular ceilidh so we need to book tickets in advance, delegates should register and arrange payment for tickets with Jan Bissett (jan dot bissett AT strath dot ac dot uk))    Details of ceilidh http://www.sloansglasgow.com/
  • Saturday 1930  – Conference Dinner – Lord Todd Building.

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From 9/11 to Norway: What have we learnt?

The conference is coming closer and the various activities are developing well, a quick summary follows.  The conference will kick off/commence on Thursday with a lively debate amongst presenters discussing From 9/11 to Norway: What have we learnt? Approximately six speakers are currently being contacted for the panel. Themes for the book and the special issue journal theme are being fleshed out.  A number of publishers have already confirmed that they will have stall at the conference and we have raised some sponsorship from the local community.   Presenters have been notified and abstracts are currently being arranged into appropriate themes and panels.  Registration for the conference is open and if you are planning to attend you should register soon as there are now only a limited number of places left. Finally, we are in the midst of organising the social programme for the conference. Fuller details will be circulated shortly.

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An update and ideas for the conference…

A quick update on the conference. We have received an excellent selection of abstract papers and panel papers from various countries, including Australia, India, Brazil, US and UK. We are currently working through the papers and the presenters will be notified shortly on whether their abstract has been selected for the conference; and will also notify participants of the conference costs. We intend to include media as a theme in the conference and arrange panels for speakers who have written on this subject.  We are also exploring the possibility of a high profile debate on contending versions of ‘terrorism studies’.  We envisage some high profile speakers from the world of politics and media.  We will confirm details as soon as possible.

A number of publishers have indicated they will host stalls at the conference promoting their journals and publications and are exploring other ideas for other stalls and exhibitions.   Please get in touch if you are interested.

Finally, from the excellent abstracts we have received so far we are considering the possibility of publishing a book with some selected papers which will outline themes appropriate to the study of a decade of terrorism and counter-terrorism. A special edition of a journal containing the conference papers is also being developed. If you have any suggestions, we welcome your input.

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Expert on Al Qaeda added as new plenary speaker

Jacket image for Understanding Al Qaeda

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou's influential book on Al Qaeda

We are pleased to announce that the Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania (2008-2009) and author of Understanding Al Qaeda – Changing War and Global Politics (Pluto Press, 2007; University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, Second Edition, Pluto Press 2011), will deliver a plenary address at the conference.

His address, entitled ‘Al Qaeda and the Limits of Transnational Terrorism, will examine the tensions within Al Qaeda as it attempted to expand trans-nationally and yet engaged locally.

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Northern Ireland: A Continuing Conflict?

The death of Police Constable Ronan Kerr in a car bomb attack in Omagh on 2 April 2011 has highlighted the enduring threat of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, and as such demonstrates the continuing need for critical research on all aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism policy, not merely those topics brought to the fore by the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001.

According to criminologist Andrew Silke, 2,281non-fiction books with the word ‘terrorism’ in the title had been published since September 2001, compared to only 1,310 books in total prior to this date.[1] In his pioneering 1991 work, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) the late John Whyte (p. vii) wrote: “It is quite possible that, in proportion to size, Northern Ireland is the most heavily researched area on earth.” Neither of these statements should be read as a reason to abandon research on terrorism or Northern Ireland, but instead should be seen as an appeal to write conflict in contemporary Northern Ireland back into a terrorism studies agenda that has recently focused predominantly on the Western world’s current obsession with international terrorism.

Following the death of Constable Kerr last Saturday, Prime Minster David Cameron stated: “Those who carried out this wicked and cowardly crime will never succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to a dark and bloody past” (BBC, 2011). But perhaps Northern Ireland is in a dark and bloody present; since September 2001, the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has reported 68 deaths as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland. In the same time period 57 people have died as a result of international terrorism in Great Britain. Given the relative size of the population, this represents a stark contrast, and the government’s terrorism threat levels, published for international terrorism since August 2006 and for terrorism related to Northern Ireland since September 2010, reveal a glaring disconnect between the government’s threat perception, and the current reality of terrorist attacks. The current Home Office threat level for international terrorism in the UK and for terrorism related to Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland is ‘severe’, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely, the threat level for terrorism related to Northern Ireland in Great Britain is ‘substantial’, a strong possibility. Yet last Saturday’s lethal bomb attack, and the many, frequent real and hoax bomb alerts that have disrupted parts of Derry, north Belfast, west Belfast and Lurgan in the first three months of this year alone, suggest that a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland is not merely highly likely, but that attacks are in fact, a regular occurrence. Whilst the threat level for international terrorism in the UK was increased to ‘critical’ in the wake of the failed car bombing of London on 29 June 2007 and the attack on Glasgow airport a day later, the threat level has not recently been raised with regards to terrorism in Northern Ireland.

The disparity between the government’s response to international terrorism and terrorism related to Northern Ireland raises important questions which resonate with the conference themes, notably; what is the link between terrorism research and policy? Has the focus on international terrorism by both the government and orthodox terrorism scholars reinforced a skewed threat perception? How does a government differ in its response to terrorism in a post-conflict polity than in a peaceful society? When is terrorism merely a crime, and who benefits from the representation of terrorism in Northern Ireland as a crime rather than as ‘political violence’? These are big questions, yet a critical approach can offer new understandings of the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the links between research and policy, and can suggest the need to broaden the research agenda beyond merely following official pronouncements and assessments.

The conference committee therefore, welcomes papers and workshop proposals on these themes.

[1] Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning (eds.), Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 34.

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Conference call for papers issued

The ‘call for papers’ for the conference on ‘a decade of terrorism and counter-terrorism’, has now begun to be circulated on email lists and websites. the conference is financially supported by the British Academy and organised by the Critical Studies on Terrorism Working Group of the British International Studies Association.

The call explains the background to the conference:

September 11, 2011 will mark ten years since the terrorist attacks on America and the start of the global ‘war on terrorism’. The extensive changes engendered by these processes in the last decade have yet to be fully understood and appreciated. There is consequently a real need for rigorous and sustained retrospective analysis. In a year that will see a wide range of special commemorative and academic events, this conference will seek to assess the widespread impact of terrorism and counter-terrorism since 2001 from a distinctly ‘critical’ perspective. More specifically, the conference will foreground inter-disciplinarity and seek to review what we have learnt in a period of unprecedented interest in the study of terrorism and counter terrorism. There will be a range of debate sessions between ‘critical’ and ‘mainstream’ scholars, and engagement with policy actors, including speakers from the government ‘Contest II’/’Prevent’ campaigns, the police, legal officials, civil libertarians and Muslim community representatives.

A full copy of the call for papers is available here to download in Word or PDF.

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More Keynote speakers confirmed

We are pleased to announce three more plenary speakers for the conference on 8-11 September 2011.

They are:

Richard Jackson Professor in International Politics (Aberystwyth). He is the founding editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism. Together with Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth, Richard Jackson is co-editor of the Routledge Critical Terrorism Studies Book Series. Richard Jackson has published numerous books and articles on terrorism-related issues and international conflict resolution.

Caron Gentry was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas and has recently taken the post of Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Her previous work has been published in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence.  Her research interests are gender, terrorism and political violence.

Dr. Bob Lambert Co-director European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter, former head of the Muslim Contact Unit, Special Branch, Metropolitan Police. Bob is known for his advocacy of engagement with critics of UK foreign policy.

More details to be announced soon.

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