Terrorism and nonviolence

Orginally published in xxx 


Terrorism studies are growing fast since 2001[1] but suffers from three fundamental problems. Firstly, it is dominated by state and military oriented counter-strategies focused on terrorist actors and immediate crisis-preventions. Secondly, it suffers from conceptual confusion, lack of empirical studies and theoretical understanding of what drives terrorism. Thirdly, alternative counter-terrorism has been too focused on what states can do to reduce terrorism.

In the following we will focus on the third problem and present a framework for how to study multiple options of handling terrorism. The framework will introduce two basic variables: a timeline and a high number of actors. This framework shall be seen as an invitation for more researchers, as well as practitioners of different kinds to think “outside the box”. We want to contribute to new theoretical models as well as the practical implementations of new ideas.

And as the title indicate: Our aim is to present work against terrorism from a nonviolent perspective. That includes nonviolent actions but also other activities without the use of violence. For a more developed understanding difference between nonviolent actions and actions without violence see Vinthagen page 24-28 (Vinthagen 2005).

For definition of terrorism the work done by Schmid and Jongman (Schmid and Jongman 2008) is essential, but not updated since 1988. They have studied 5831 bibliographical entries, but the amount published today is probably in the range of ten times that amount. As indicated by Silke much more is done the last two decades. One of the recent definitions is by Albert J. Bergersen. We will use his ideas and thinking as a starting point. Bergesen has defined terrorism as “The strategic use of direct violence against civilians (non-military and/or non-combatants), or the threat of such violence, done by a group. It is done in order to achieve a goal of defending or changing something in a society with the help of the terror created among civilians. It is at least a three-folded action in which the victim of the terrorist act is different to the target of influence, making the victim a tool for pressure on someone else” (Bergersen 2007). This definition is good because it is short and does not separate “state terrorism” from other sorts of terrorism. It is also brilliant because it goes to the core of the concept. The separation of “targets” and “victims” is crucial. There is a need for a more specific definition when it comes to specify actors, target groups, and means used. A definition able to cope with the real complexity of the phenomena will be very long and not useful outside a limited academic and/or juridical context.


Acts of terrorism can be dealt with in a number of different ways. Each possible activity belongs to a specific time. In order to open up for more creative thinking and hence more options we will introduce four phases. These phases are not always in chronological order and should all be considered as a holistic package. The first one is what can be done to prevent acts of terrorism. That is the time prior to the violence of threats of violence. The second is the ongoing violence. This is the phase when the violence is conducted or the threats are acute and severe. The next phase is overlapping with the second one but goes longer into the future: The period when there are possibilities to reduce the effect of the terror. The last one is from the immediate aftermath and into the future. We have given each phase a name that at the same time illustrate what sort of actions could be done in each of them.

They are labelled: 1. Prevent; 2. Stop Ongoing; 3. Reduce Effect; and 4. Heal and Reconcile. We will later suggest activities for each of these four phases. Some of them from empirical material, others from theoretical discussions of what are possible.

The other variable we want to emphasis is the number of possible actors in activities against terrorism. In most of the literature on how to counteract terrorism with nonviolent means there is a narrow view on actors (Martin 2002; Varma 2003; Hastings 2004; Elworthy, Rifkind et al. 2006; Ram and Summy 2008). We have tried to open up for a broader perspective and have listed several categories of possible actors. We are fully aware that the list can easily be expanded and that some categories are broad and could benefit from being more specific. Since the purpose of this article is to present a new perspective of thinking we believe that the list is long enough to illustrate our point. As for mapping of actors in conflicts there must be a balance between too detailed lists and the possibility to use the list in a practical way.

As examples of possible actors we have listed states, coalitions of states, regions, political parties, civil societies, religious communities, business communities, non-organised individuals, artists, victims of terrorism, ex-terrorists, media, educational systems, and global private foundations. All of these can influence to some degree the acts of terrorism. Some activities can escalate the problems other actions can reduce the problem. Some actors can do more than others and none of them can do all necessary work by themselves.



Bergersen, A. J. (2007). “A Three-Step Model of Terrorist Violence.” Mobilization 12(2): 111-118.

Elworthy, S., G. Rifkind, et al. (2006). Making terrorism history. London, Rider.

Hastings, T. H. (2004). Nonviolent response to terrorism. Jefferson, N.C., McFarland.

Martin, B. (2002). “Nonviolence versus terrorism.” Social Alternatives21(2): 6-9.

Ram, S. and R. Summy (2008). Nonviolence : an alternative for defeating global terror(ism). New York, Nova Science Publishers.

Schmid, A. P. and A. J. Jongman (2008). Political terrorism : a new guide to actors, authors, concepts, data bases, theories, & literature. New Brunswick, N.J., Transaction Publishers.

Varma, A. K. (2003). Prevention of terrorism : from TADA to POTA. New Delhi, Sterling Publishers.

Vinthagen, S. (2005). Ickevåldsaktion. En social praktik av motstånd och kontsruktion. PADRIGU. Gothenburg, Gothenburg University: 486.



[1] Research by Andrew Silke suggests that a new book on terrorism is published every six hours in English language. (Silke 2004)

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Posted in In English, Nonviolence, Political comment and analysis

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