Prof. Alex P. Schmid, Director, Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI); Research Fellow, International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) The Netherlands
The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism". Prof. Schmid discussed the support for terror organizations, providing examples from public opinion polls. He noted that Jihadi supporters are beginning to operate in open spaces. He argues that this is becoming possible, especially in the Middle East, due to support for Jihadism.
Professor Schmid began his speech explaining his understanding of the difference between legitimate resistance movements and terrorist movements. The two may have same goal, but they significantly differ in methods. Terrorist movements tend to target non-combatants. Moreover, the use of force as a last resort and the use of violence as a first resort is an important factor as to whether we perceive a violent act as terrorism or resistance movement. Prof. Schmid also discussed the use of term ‘terrorism’ in the point of view of Prof. Boaz Ganor and his understanding of such phenomena.
Prof. Schmid referenced the quote ‘terrorism has no religion’ and how this has been often expressed in a recent time. Even Pope Francis expressed his understanding of terrorist acts as not being directly linked to religion since no religion condones killing of innocent people. This view is also shared by the international community and stated in the UN. Professor Schmid explained the need to understand your opponents' way of thinking, thus the importance to study the root causes of perpetrating violence and the rationale behind such acts.
Public opinion polls were in the forefront of the presentation as they enable the viewer to understand the rationale behind supporting a terrorist group. First he showed a chart with ‘support for suicide bombings against civilians among Muslims’. The chart, which includes data from several Muslim countries, aims at mirroring public opinion in 2013. Prof. Schmid presented the chart and explained that the Palestinian territories had significantly higher support then other states, at almost 40%.
Prof. Schmid outlined the importance of studying the reasons behind positive identification with terrorists. The University of St. Andrews carried out an opinion survey which compared opinions 10 years after the events of 9/11. The outcome of the survey showed that both the U.S. and Al-Qaeda lost sympathy and supporters.
Furthermore, another survey which depicted Muslims' views on Al-Qaeda in 2013 and 2014 showed a surprisingly high number of people who did not know whether they are in a favorable or unfavorable position of Al-Qaeda. This trend can be explained by multiple reasons, though Prof. Schmid stated a lack of time to elaborate on them.
Towards the end of the speech, Prof. Schmid presented a study by Professor Brynjar Lia which condemned the research on the support for Jihadism since the Arab Spring. Three main points from the study were presented: 1. Jihadi supporters have moved to open space and began operating in a variety of fields; from religious proselytization and social charity work, to street activism and neighborhood policing as self-appointer sharia enforcement. 2. It is evident that Jihadism has a critical popular support base in many Middle Eastern countries, enabling it to operate far more freely. 3. The common conceptualization of Jihadism as a terrorist underground without popular support is a dangerous misconception. Instead, it represents a massive global rebel movement with several territorial proto-states, a huge popular base of geographically scattered and dedicated supporters around the globe, and a massive capacity to rally foreign fighters and resources to new conflict areas.