Terrorism and Insurgencies

Spring 2017
HNRS 20033 Honors Seminar:
Terrorism and Insurgencies

Spring 2017
Prof. Chip Gagnon
MWF 1-1:50pm
Smiddy 108

Course website: https://chipgagnon.com/terrorism/
Office: 324 Muller Center
tel. 607-274-1103
Office hours: MWF 11-12 and by appointment
email: vgagnon@ithaca.edu

Last revised 3/27/2017


Terrorism is in the headlines, with violent attacks in Paris, Beirut, New York, Bombay, London, Madrid, and Ankara, among other places.  But it’s not a new phenomenon, and terrorist organizations are located in all regions of the world.  In this course we’ll explore terrorism, asking what exactly is it?  Why do people use violence?  Are terrorists madmen, religious fanatics, or are they rational?  Why would someone become a suicide terrorist?  How is terrorism related to insurgencies?

We’ll be looking at these and other related questions to try to understand why people use violence as well as how they respond to violence.  We’ll explore these questions both theoretically and through specific case studies, drawing on a range of disciplines, from political science and international relations to anthropology, sociology, law, economics, philosophy, psychology, and history.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course you should:

  • Understand the meaning(s) of the word “terrorism”
  • Be familiar with the debates about what is called “the New Terrorism”, including what role, if any, religious beliefs play in terrorism.
  • Understand the sources and effects of insurgencies, and their relationship to terrorism.
  • Learn about a number of specific terrorist groups and events.

Course Materials

  • Required readings are in two course readers, packets of photocopies.  Page numbers in the syllabus refer to the printed page numbers at the bottom of each page in the course readers. The course readers can be purchased for about $37 in the Ithaca College Bookstore.
  • Most assigned readings are included in the course readers. Some of the readings are on Sakai. These can be accessed by clicking on the links in the relevant places on the web version of the syllabus.

Readings listed as “Required” are mandatory — you should have read and thought about them before class — and serve as background for the class discussion.

The readings are of varying complexities; some are quite difficult. If you have any questions on the readings, please ask in class, or stop by my office.

I would suggest taking notes on the readings as you do them to ease review for the written assignments. The assigned essays require an in-depth understanding of specific assigned readings, so it is in your interest to do all required readings carefully. The amount of reading is generally small enough that you should have time to carefully read and take notes on the readings before each class.


What does “doing the readings” mean?

It doesn’t mean just sitting down and mechanically going through the articles; that’s a sure way to make even an interesting article boring.

Reading is an active and interactive process between the reader and the text. If you’re really reading a text you are also reacting to it. I’ve included a wide range of texts in order to provoke a wide range of responses from readers.

Reading should also be a reflective process. To really understand an article deeply it is usually necessary to read it and think about it, and then read it again, and think about it, and discuss it with others, write about it and read it yet again. I’ve found that even after many readings, when I read a text in order to explain it to someone else I get new perspectives on the author’s arguments and assumptions, on the text’s strengths and weaknesses.

So when I say “do the readings,” I mean “engage yourself with the ideas of the text.” I understand that some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining. But struggle is part of the reading experience. If something’s not clear, if it’s confusing, talk about it with others outside of class, and/or bring it up in class.

If it’s a long or complex reading, don’t try to do it all in one sitting; take breaks, come back to it, read it in small doses. As I mentioned above, taking notes on a text while you read it or re-read it is also a very good way to engage the text and to make sure you understand it.

If you do not understand the readings after we discuss them in class, please see me immediately. Some of the readings are very challenging, and I expect you to speak with me if anything is not clear.


The final grade in the class will be determined by:

  • Class participation (20% of final grade): This part of the final grade will be based on participation in class, which includes:
    • Attendance. I expect students to be present at every class. For every absence after the fourth one, your final grade will be reduced by a grade (that is, from an A to an A-, for example). Much of the learning in this class happens in the classroom, in discussions. If you are missing class you are missing a crucial part of the course.
    • Being prepared. I expect you to have done the assigned readings for the day and to have thought about them before class. Being consistently unprepared will significantly affect your final grade.
    • Participation. Classroom discussion of readings is a key part of the learning process. This is especially so for an Honors seminar.
    • No electronic devices. During class I expect all electronic devices to be turned off. This includes laptops, cell phones, iPhones, tablets, etc. If you cannot bear to be parted from your device, you should take another class. Use of an electronic device in class will count as an absence for that day. Here are some of the reasons for this policy (from Scientific American). Here are even more (from a leading prof of new media).
  • Presentation. (15% of final grade). You will choose an armed group from a list and do a presentation of about 15 minutes based on prompts I will provide you. More details on this assignment will be provided in class.
  • Written assignments. (65% of final grade) Please note: The grade for an assignment is reduced by one grade (eg, from A to A-) for each day an assignment is late. It is your choice whether to hand the assignment in by the due date or afterward, but please be aware of these consequences.
    • Reading reflections (15% of final grade). Throughout the semester you will be writing five reflections on a series of readings, including the one that is assigned for the date the reflection is due.  Due dates are noted in the syllabus and also starred. Each reading reflection should be two pages, and should contrast the readings for the previous classes (noted below and on the syllabus) and the reading on the due date.
      Each response is worth 6 points, for a total of 30 points. The rubric for these is: 6 points – Strong Analysis and Synthesis – basically an “A”; 4-5 points -Acceptable Analysis – basically a “B”; 3 points or less -Unacceptable or Incomplete – basically a “C” or lower.

      • Monday 1/30. Reflection on readings about violence, terrorism and morality (1/25 – 1/30)
      • Monday 2/6. Reflection on readings about terrorism and religion (2/1 – 2/6)
      • Monday 2/13. Reflection on readings about who becomes a terrorist (2/8 – 2/13)
      • Monday 2/27. Reflection on readings about insurgencies (2/15 – 2/27)
      • Monday 4/3. Reflection on readings about suicide terrorism (3/24 – 4/3)
    • Essay #1. Due Wednesday 3/8 by 4pm. (25% of final grade) A take-home essay on the first part of the course.
    • Essay #2. Due by Thursday 5/11 at 10am (25%) A take-home essay on the last half of the course.

Please note: You cannot pass the course unless you have handed in all written assignments.

Meaning of grades:

A = excellent: intense effort and remarkable achievement.
B = good: good effort and pretty good understanding
C = okay: barely adequate amount of effort or effort that is somewhat misfocused or mistargeted
D = inadequate effort or mistargeted effort
F = little or no effort or complete misunderstanding of expectations
(Thanks to Naeem Inayatullah for these characterizations.)
If you get below a C, you should immediately come to see me so we can discuss your paper or exam.

If you have any questions about the class, the readings, the discussions, or anything else, I will be more than happy to meet with you either during office hours or at some other time. To schedule another time please see me after class, or contact me by e-mail or phone (274-1103).



Daily Assignments
Introduction: Thinking about Violence

M 1/23 Introductions. What is and isn’t terrorism?


W 1/25 Violence
Required reading:
de Haan, “Violence as an Essentially Contested Concept”  pp.1-14
To think about:
How and why we think about different kinds of violence differently.


F 1/27 Terrorism: definitions
Required reading:
Hoffman, “Defining Terrorism” pp.15-50
To think about:
What distinguishes the violence that is called “terrorism” from other kinds of violence?


M 1/30 Terrorism and morality  *
Required reading:
Jaggar, “ What is terrorism, why is it wrong, and could it ever be morally permissible?” pp.51-66
–  Asad, “Thinking about terrorism and just war” pp.67-88
Link of interest:
Amjad-Ali, “Jihad and Just War Theory: Dissonance and Truth”
To think about:
Is terrorism different than war? If so, how and why?
bl_diamReading reflection on violence, terrorism and morality (1/27 – 2/1) due.


W 2/1 “New” Terrorism
Required reading:
Rapoport, “The Fourth Wave” pp.90-95
Juergensmeyer, “Understanding the New Terrorism” pp.96-101
Morgan, “The origins of the new terrorism” pp.102-116
To think about:
According to these authors, how and why does the “new terrorism” (what Rapoport refers to as the Fourth Wave) differ from terrorism in the past? What is the role of religion in terrorism according to these authors?


F 2/3 New terrorism: Religious or not?
Required reading:
– Gunning and Jackson, “What’s so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’?” pp.118-137
To think about:
Does it matter if the new terrorism is religiously motivated? Why?


M 2/6  Religion, terrorism, and mutual aid  *
Required reading:
– Berman, excerpt from “Why are religious terrorists so lethal” pp.138-151
– Berman, excerpt from “Religious radicals and violence in the modern world” pp.154-166
To think about:
Religious extremism and social networks.
bl_diamReading reflection on terrorism and religion (2/1 – 2/6) due


W 2/8 Terrorism as recruitment strategy
Required reading:
– Lemann, “What terrorists want” pp.167-174
– Cole, “Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked satirists in Paris” pp.176-178
– Gambhir, “ The Islamic State’s trap for Europe” pp.180-181
To think about:
The goal of fear in terrorists strategies.


F 2/10 Who becomes a terrorist and why?
Required reading:

– Gambetta and Hertog, “Why are there so many engineers among Islamic radicals?” pp.183-212
Link of Interest:
Gambetta and Hertog’s new book, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education (Princeton Univ. Press, 2016)
To think about:
The factors that lead people to join terrorist organizations.


M 2/13 Radicalization  *
Required readings:
McCauly and Moskalenko, “Mechanisms of political radicalization” (on Sakai)
To think about:
What is the process by which people become radicalized? What does radicalization mean?
bl_diamReading Reflection on who becomes a terrorist (2/8 – 2/13) due.



W 2/15  Insurgencies: Background
Required reading:

– Joes, excerpts from Resisting Rebellion: “Guerrilla insurgency as a political problem”  and “Guerrilla strategy and tactics”  pp.213-235
To think about:
What is the goal of insurgency? What’s the difference between insurgency and regular war?


F 2/17 Insurgencies and terrorism
Required Reading:
Merari, “Terrorism as a strategy of insurgency” (on Sakai)
To think about
Can insurgencies ever be justified? Think about the range of actions that Merari attributes to insurgencies, and whether terrorism is ever justified.


M 2/20 Terrorism, insurgency and Just War doctrine
Required reading:

– Gross “Asymmetric war, symmetrical intentions: killing civilians in modern armed conflict” pp.243-259
To think about:
The difference between regular and asymmetric war; the concept of “noncombatant.” International law on just wars.


W 2/22 Insurgency and Terrorism as Economic Strategy
Required reading:
– Ahmad, “The Security Bazaar: Business Interests and Islamist Power in Civil War Somalia,” pp.261-289


F 2/24 – M 2/27 Counterinsurgency  *
Required reading:

– Record, “Why the strong lose” pp.290-305
In class:
Obama’s War (Frontline)
Document of interest:
US Army Countersurgency manual
bl_diamReading reflection on insurgencies (2/15 – 2/27) due 2/27.



W 3/1 Slave revolts: Insurgency or terrorism?
Required readings:
– Etcheson, “John Brown, Terrorist?” pp.306-325
– Egerton, “ Abolitionist or Terrorist?” pp.327-330
To think about:
What kinds of violence are justified in the face of the violence of slavery?


W 3/1 7pm, Textor 101
– Film viewing, Battle of Algiers


newF 3/3 Anti-colonial struggles and terrorism: Algeria
Required reading:

– Polk, “The Algerian War for National Independence,” pp.345-357
– Evans, “The Battle of Algiers: historical truth and filmic representation” pp.358-361
– Gourevitch, “Winning and Losing” pp.363-365
– Dobie, “‘The Battle of Algiers’ at 50: From 1960s Radicalism to the Classrooms of West Point”, pp.366-372
Link of interest:

More articles on the Battle of Algiers, its genesis and impacts from OpenDemocracy.net
To think about:
Is there a difference between the violence of colonialism and the violence of terrorism and/or insurgency? Also think about how the US Army used the film as a way to learn about counterinsurgency strategies.


newM 3/6 Anti-colonial struggles and terrorism: Israel
Required reading:

Hoffman, “The rationality of terrorism and other forms of political violence” (on Sakai)
– Walton, “How Zionist extremism became British spies’ biggest enemy” pp.331-344
To think about:
What kinds of violence are justified in the struggle for independence?


W 3/8  Northern Ireland
Required reading:
– Joes, “Northern Ireland 1970-1998” pp.373-358
To think about:
The degree to which the violence was caused by religion.
Essay #1 due M 3/8 at 4pm


F 3/10 (film scheduled for an evening earlier in the week; we will not be meeting on March 10)


M 3/13 – F 3/17 Spring break, no classes


M 3/20  United States
Required reading:

– Juergensmeyer, “Soldiers for Christ” pp.388-397  [Starts volume 2 of course reader]
– FBI report, “Christian Identity Movement” pp.398-406
– Shane, “Homegrown extremists…” pp.407-411
– German, “Behind the lone wolf terrorism, a pack mentality” p.412-415
– Liss-Schultz, “New ugly surge…” pp.416-421
Hawkins “‘You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake”
To think about:

Why do Americans tend to think about domestic terrorism as fundamentally different than foreign terrorism?


W 3/22  Presentations


Suicide terrorism

F 3/24 Suicide terrorism and foreign occupation
Required reading:
– Pape, excerpts from Dying to Win pp.448-472
 Pape, “The West needs avoid falling into ISIS’s trap” (2016), pp.473-480
Link of interest:
University of Chicago Suicide Attack Database (Pape’s data, updated to 2016)
To think about:
The strategic logic of suicide bombing.
Suggested reading:
– Hage, “’Comes a time we are all enthusiasm’…” pp.422-446
To think about:
Why is it difficult to think of those who use violence, including suicide bombing, as rational?
Suicide terrorism: everyday life
To think about:
How people can be driven to use violence as a way of making meaning of their lives.


M 3/27 Suicide terrorism and women
Required reading:

– Davis, “Evolution of the Global Jihad: Female Suicide Bombers in Iraq”, pp.482-494
– O’Rourke, “ Behind the woman behind the bomb” pp.496-500
To think about:
The gendering of violence and terrorism.


W 3/29 Understanding Suicide terrorism
Required reading:
– Hage, “’Comes a time we are all enthusiasm’…” pp.422-446
To think about:
Why is it difficult to think of those who use violence, including suicide bombing, as rational?
Suicide terrorism: everyday life
To think about:
How people can be driven to use violence as a way of making meaning of their lives.


F 3/31 Suicide terrorism and politics
Required reading:
– Atran, “The moral logic and growth of suicide terrorism” pp.501-521
To think about:

Does Atran disagree with Pape that suicide terrorism is not driven by religion? Would he agree with the theoreticians of the “New Terrorism”?

Note: March 31 is the last day to withdraw from the course.


M 4/3 Suicide terrorism: another view  *
Required reading:

– Kurzman, “Why is it so hard to find a suicide bomber these days?” pp.524-530
To think about:
Why are there so few suicide bombers?
Reading reflection on suicide bombing (3/22-4/3) due.


Al Qaeda and ISIS

W 4/5  Islam
Required reading:
Esposito, “Islam and the West: A Clash of Civilizations?” pp.531-547
To think about:
The diversity within Islam; the historical encounters between the West and the Muslim world.


F 4/7 Islam and suicide bombing
Required reading:
– Gonzalez-Perez, “The False Islamization of Female Suicide Bombers” pp.552-567


M 4/10  Al Qaeda
Required reading:
– Excerpts from Al Qaeda in its own words pp.570-590
Links of interest:
Letters from Abbottabad (internal Al Qaeda communications)

W 4/12
 ISIS: Origins
Required reading:
Barrett, “The Islamic State” excerpts (full report available on Sakai) pp.601-628
– Sly, “The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants” pp.629-636
– Chulov, “ISIS: The inside story” pp.637-646
To think about:
Was the rise of ISIS inevitable? Is it an insurgency?
Link of interest:
ISIS situation live map real time updates of situation in ISIS controlled areas


F 4/14 Presentations


M 4/17 ISIS and religion
Required reading:
– Crooke, “You can’t understand ISIS…” pp.647-650
– Crooke, “Middle East Time Bomb…” pp.651-654
– Doostdar, “How not to understand ISIS” pp.655-659
– Niva, “The ISIS shock doctrine” pp.662-665
– Pape, Rowley & Morrell, “Why ISIL beheads its victims” (or pdf on Sakai)
Suggested reading:
– Ghilan, “Is ISIS Islamic or Not? It Doesn’t Matter”
To think about:
The degree to which religious beliefs/doctrines do or do not explain the rise of ISIS and its methods of fighting


W 4/19 ISIS as state
Required reading:
– Hussain, “Islamic State’s goal…” pp.666-669
– Malik, “The ISIS papers … how ISIS is building its state” pp.670-672
– Reuter, “Secret files reveal structure of Islamic State” pp.673-680
 Pape, “The West needs avoid falling into ISIS’s trap” (2016), pp.681-689
– Atran, “Paris_ The War ISIS Wants” (2015), pp.690-697
To think about:
ISIS as a political organization.


F 4/21 ISIS fighters: Who and why?
Required reading:
– Wilson, “What I discovered from interviewing imprisoned ISIS fighters” pp.698-708
– Kuntz, “Why is a small country producing so many jihadists?” pp.709-711
– Parkin, “How ISIS hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games”, pp.712-715
– Koerner, “Why ISIS is winning the social media war” pp.716-731
– Koerner, “The Orlando shooting shows how ISIS outsources terror” pp.732-736
Suggested reading:

– Roy, “France’s Oedipal Islamist Complex” Foreign Policy
– Atran, “ISIS is a Revolution” (2015)
To think about:
Why people join ISIS; in particular think about the range of reasons..


M 4/24 – W 4/26 Counterterrorism
In class: Film: (T)error (2015; 84 mins)
Required readings
 (on Sakai):
– Shipler, “Terror Plots, Hatched by the FBI”
– Moynihan “(T)error Focuses on Informant and Piques FBI’s Interest”
– Int’l Crisis Group, “Counter-terrorism Pitfalls: What the U.S. Fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda Should Avoid” (executive summary) (on Sakai)
Suggested readings:
“National Strategy for Counterterrorism”
– Hersh, “What to do about Brussels”
Link of interest:
Adama (2011; 57:41) Sutcliffe’s first film



F 4/28  – M 5/1 Effects at home
Required reading:
– Walt, “Don’t give ISIS what it wants” pp.737-742
Kurzman, “America is holding itself hostage to terrorism” (on Sakai) (another link)
– Greenwald, “Why does the FBI have to manufacture its own plots…” pp.743-749
– Green, “The Objectification of Muslims in America” (online)
 To think about:
The ability of weak groups to use fear as a powerful weapon. The power of fear.


W 5/3 – F 5/5 No class

Essay #2 due by Thursday 5/11 at 10am


Updated 3/27/2017