An Overview of Terrorism
VIDEO 4:25
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Terrorism is a loaded term, one that stirs both fear and confusion. Charged public debate in the wake of attacks can make it difficult to grasp the nature of threats and to assess responses. But understanding terrorism is important, because policies enacted in the name of national security affect a wide range of issues, such as encryption on mobile phone apps, admission of refugees, and distribution of foreign aid.

In the United States, current discussions focus mostly on Islamist terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Throughout history, however, terrorists all over the world have advanced diverse political agendas. Even now, most terrorism threats aren’t actually aimed at the United States: the vast majority of terrorism-related deaths occur in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. 

In this module, we will

  • learn what motivates the four main types of terrorist groups;
  • analyze where terrorist attacks occur (the majority happens in just five countries);
  • explore how people become radicalized;
  • understand who counts as a terrorist according to the U.S. government, and what makes terrorism international versus domestic;
  • recognize why terrorism is often described as requiring the “oxygen of publicity” and how the media helps shape perceptions of terrorism;
  • examine strategies to prevent terrorism available to national security experts;
  • survey U.S. counterterrorism policies since 1945;
  • zoom in on one piece of legislation with enduring influence on how the United States fights terrorism in the post-9/11 world; and
  • investigate the ways in which terrorists finance attacks, and what this means for the evolution of terrorism over time.
     
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