Monica Dore, Staff Writer
As part of the Center for Social Science Research’s Understanding and Building World Communities Series, Oneonta Professor Paul Macharia presented a talk on counter-terrorism, focusing on its effectiveness and the assumptions surrounding the topic. Macharia is a professor within SUNY Oneonta’s Political Science Department. On Wednesday, March 25, the seats of IRC 5 were filled with students for the hour-and-a-half long lecture.
Macharia focused his presentation on the four assumptions of terrorism, starting with the assumption that people can recognize a terrorist. Security agencies use profiling methods as an attempt to recognize threats, paying attention to ethnicity, religion and physical and behavioral attributes. These attributes are compared to past terrorists, which theoretically makes recognizing future terrorists easier.
This leads to racial stereotyping and controversial treatment of people, specifically Muslims. Macharia presented both sides of the debate on racial profiling. On one hand, some people think that since Muslims benefit from added security and profiling it cannot be considered unethical. But on the other hand, people say there has not been enough research on terrorism to effectively profile a terrorist. This side suggests that paying attention to behavior, for example, nervousness and inability to keep eye contact, rather than persona is more effective in identifying terrorists.
The second assumption discussed was that de-radicalization (moderating a terrorist’s behavior) is possible. Through either individual or collective means it may be possible to convince an active terrorist to leave behind his or her group and ideologies. Counseling strategies are used in attempts to de-radicalize convicted or suspected terrorists. Saudi Arabian groups target and help at-risk youth and push the idea of building a career to keep them from joining terrorist organizations.
Macharia went on to talk about how decapitation, taking out the leader of the terrorist group, is a mostly ineffective method. Decapitation was only effective in ending a terrorist group’s activity 17 percent of the time, and was sometimes the cause of other revenge attacks. It was least effective in ending terrorist activities of religious groups, like ISIS, but was slightly more effective in killing the activities of non-religious groups and ideologist groups, like Marxist organizations. Besides its ineffectiveness, attacks that are meant to kill organization leaders have been more harmful than beneficial and have resulted in high numbers of civilian deaths.
The fourth and final assumption Macharia discussed was that terrorism cannot be defeated. It seems to be a pessimistic opinion, but it is popular among politicians including George W. Bush and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who both have stated that evil will never cease to exist, therfore terrorism will never fully cease either. However, that is not to say organizations should stop counterterrorism measurements. Local policing was most effective at ending a terrorist group’s activity, responsible for 40 percent of the groups that ceased to exist. Local policing included decapitation, interception of information and arresting. Far less effective was the use of military force, which only accounted for seven percent of groups that became inactive. As Macharia said, there has been an enormous amount of time and money put into the military defeating terrorism with few results.
After his presentation was a brief question and answer session. The presentation was backed by an impressive amount of data and Macharia was certainly effective in getting the point across to his students. Macharia insisted that the best way to act against terrorism would be to continue gathering empirical data before fully investing in counter-terrorism methods. Going beyond rhetoric, which he said is used by politicians only to rile people up, and creating policy based on research and facts, will be the most effective way to fight terrorism.