Terrorism overreaction critiqued

Erica Chenoweth
Erica Chenoweth
Avoiding overreacting to attacks is crucially important in efforts to counter international terrorism.

That is the view of Prof Erica Chenoweth, a leading United States-based specialist in studies of terrorism and non-violent resistance.

Prof Chenoweth (35) directs the University of Denver's programme on terrorism and insurgency, and is visiting the University of Otago as a William Evans Fellow and guest of Otago's National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

She was named as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy journal in 2013.

Prof Chenoweth said recent terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, were ‘‘deliberately provocative'' and sought to generate a disproportionate backlash.

But extensive research highlighted the importance of making appropriate and focused responses to terrorism, and not overreacting.‘‘It's all about proportionality,'' she said.

Overreacting, including by widely scapegoating people of Islamic faith, was counterproductive, because it could discourage people from providing useful tips to police and security services.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, many tips had been given to authorities by members of New York City's Muslim community, and this ‘‘see something, say something'' response was vital in countering terrorism.

Her research had shown nonviolent resistance, a tradition including protests involving Mahatma Gandhi in India, was much more effective than terrorism in contributing to political and other changes being campaigned for.

After terrorist killings, people focused mainly on those deaths and not on the cause involved.

‘‘It's much easier for people to listen to what you're saying if they don't feel personally threatened by the way you're doing it,'' she said in an interview.

Her book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, has won top awards, including the Woodrow Wilson Foundation's for the best book on government, politics or international affairs.

Prof Chenoweth will give a free public lecture at the university's Archway 4 lecture theatre at 5.15pm on February 11.

-john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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