Terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder: a historical review

Summary: Terror is a psychological state. Historically, most studies of terrorism focused on its societal purpose and structural consequences rather than mental health effects. That emphasis began to change shortly before the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A vast expansion of research into post-traumatic stress disorder accompanied revisions to the classification of mental health disorders. The effect of terrorist incidents on those people now deemed vulnerable, both directly and indirectly, was actively sought. However, a review of more than 400 research articles (mostly published after Sept 11) on the association between terrorism and mental health reached the largely overlooked conclusion that terrorism is not terrorising—at least not in a way that causes a greater than expected frequency of post-traumatic stress disorder than other traumatic events. This conclusion is surprising given the emphasis on the psychological effects of terrorism in political discourse, media commentary, contemporary culture, and academic inquiry. Authorities might prefer to encourage an interpretation of terrorist incidents that highlights fortitude and courage rather than psychological vulnerability.

Durodie, B., Wainwright, D (2019) Terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder: a historical review, Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 6, Issue 1, P61-71, 1 January 2019 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30335-3

Theory informed by practice. Application informed by purpose. Why to understand and manage risk, cultural context is the key

Abstract: Risk analysis and risk management are reliant in order to be effective on their ability to engage with and communicate to non-specialist audiences, whether these be policy-makers asked to turn the advice that they agree with into practice, those implementing decisions, or the public, who are often on the receiving end of these.

Accordingly, there needs to be clarity of purpose regarding – and reflected through – the language used, the partners engaged, and the proposed ends of any measures to be implemented. These elements sit within specific cultural contexts – both geographical and historical – and it is essential to account for these in translating theory into practice.

This article surveys the discourse used across various examples, including a detailed case study. The most significant conclusion is that while data and evidence certainly matter for validation – understanding culture remains key to effective risk analysis and trustworthy risk management because, on the whole, people look for meaning beyond the mere ‘facts’. This applies to risks assumed to be narrowly technical as much as those with a strong social, cultural and political dimension.

Few risk analysts and safety experts consider or account for the broader, contextual and cultural factors that impact their choices, analyses and modes of dissemination. This creates a divide between those commissioning and conducting the research and those to whom it is held to apply and needs to be implemented by, which undermines democratic accountability, as well as the possible benefits of, and trust in, their enterprise.

Durodie, W. (2017). Theory informed by practice. Application informed by purpose. Why to understand and manage risk, cultural context is the key. Safety Science99(B), 244-254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2017.04.002

Remaking Bandung, 60 years on

Introduction: This Communication Article proposes that if the Bandung Spirit is to be revived in the twenty-first century, then this will necessitate an appreciation in the first instance how different the world is today from conditions 60 years ago – both across the South but also, more particularly, in the West. The key shift may have been one from an assertive imposition of rule based on a clarity of vision and purpose, to a more insecure and reactive form of engagement that lacks direction. This latter seeks to compensate for an absence of meaning behind forms of procedural risk management. It will be the ability of the former colonies to put forward a direction that captivates all, based on transcending the past and presenting coherent human values rather than mere economic might that will determine the future. 

Bill Durodié (2016) Remaking Bandung 60 years on, Global Change, Peace & Security, 28:3, 307-315, DOI: 10.1080/14781158.2016.1193848

Securitising Education to Prevent Terrorism or Losing Direction?

Abstract: This article examines the growing relationship between security and education, particularly in the light of the UK government’s Prevent Duty that seeks to tackle radicalisation in a variety of milieus, including universities. However, rather than seeing this process as being merely one-way, through a so-called securitisation of education (in the parlance of the Copenhagen School of International Relations), what is explored here is the dialectic between these two spheres. It is suggested that a heightened sensitivity to the supposed consequences of inflammatory rhetoric on the well-being of supposedly suggestible or vulnerable students has been in existence within education for quite some time. In that regard, the securitising efforts of politicians and officials are pushing against an open door. What’s more, it is proposed that the inability of the authorities to hold the line in support of absolute freedom of expression, within academia and beyond, tacitly encourages the very people the government would hope to detract.

Bill Durodie (2016) Securitising Education to Prevent Terrorism or Losing Direction?, British Journal of Educational Studies, 64:1, 21-35, DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2015.1107023

By banning those they reject, our leaders reveal their own crisis

The failure to understand what tolerance really is reveals a low view of freedom and other people, and a complete absence of any purposive vision for society.

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.’” With these words to the National Security Council, the re-elected British Prime Minister David Cameron laid out his intention to establish new powers to make it harder for people to promote so-called extremist views. His reappointed Home Secretary Theresa May had already introduced new legislation earlier in the year that mandated those in specified authorities – including schools, colleges, and universities – to take measures “to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” (a notably passive formulation).

They appear to be in good company. A supportive article in the establishment paper The Telegraph ran under the title “Britain is too tolerant of the intolerant.” And it is not just conservatives who hold such a position. Many liberals, as well as those on the old left of the political spectrum, seek to have those whose opinions they oppose banned from speaking in public. Some Muslim community leaders now see their role as “protecting our younger generation from the toxic effects of extremist propaganda,” too. Even a few academics have been arguing as much for years.

But aside from the small matter of who defines what is “extremist” – a task legal professionals will most likely relish – these individuals betray their failure to understand what tolerance really is, revealing a low view of freedom and other people, and a complete absence of any purposive vision of their own for society.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – the apocryphal phrase attributed to the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire is as good a place to start as any in elucidating these points. Tolerance, in this sense, can never be passive as Cameron suggested. It starts from disapproval, which is an active judgment. Only the non-judgmental – an attitude unfortunately encouraged by contemporary multiculturalism – are passive. And accordingly, they are not tolerant either – just indifferent, turning a blind eye to the beliefs and actions of others.

True tolerance, as Voltaire’s predecessor the English philosopher John Locke understood full well, requires ruthlessly engaging those whose opinions you disagree with, while agreeing not to censor them or resort to violence. It is an acceptance that the world is uncertain and a willingness to be open to the possibility of your own error or partiality. It needs absolute freedom of expression, both to prevent viewpoints being banned or hidden from view, and to allow all parties to better develop their own position or understanding.

This lies at the heart of what a university is. Indeed, it is why many choose to go there – to have the opportunity to put their ideas to the test (no matter how outlandish they may be), and, in turn, to test others. To deny this to the young – for fear that supposedly bad ideas may have “toxic effects” – is to view and treat them as infants. Sadly, this is a position already adopted by successive heads of the British Security Service (MI5), who have described their concerns of young adults being “vulnerable” or “groomed” into becoming terrorists.

As at least one commentator has noticed, this approach turns the war on terror into a child protection issue that draws on contemporary social fears regarding pedophiles. It presents young people as mindless sheep in need of protection. Yet, the recent actions of several youth who made their way to join the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) in Syria suggests the opposite is true. These are bright, energetic, and willful individuals in search of something to believe in, which is also necessarily an indictment of what they are provided with at home – in the West.

At home, they see politicians who have given up on the need to engage and inspire, and who would rather be seen to censor and regulate (despite the fact that many of them marched in support of free speech in solidarity with the cartoonists murdered in France earlier this year).

Similarly, universities that know the new legislation to be unnecessary and unworkable – let alone opposed to the spirit of a liberal education – will, nevertheless, introduce new procedures and audits to be seen to be in compliance with government diktat. Little wonder that those in search of a real purpose and meaning to their lives are left to look for this elsewhere.

By seeking to ban the opinions they disapprove of, our leaders implicitly reveal their weaknesses – both in failing to engage with and argue against those they so stridently reject, and, even more so, in having nothing more positive to put forward as a vision of their own. In doing so, they do not make society more tolerant, but more authoritarian – and blindly so, to boot, for what is it that they want people to be de-radicalized to?
First published by The Mark News, 5 June 2015

Precautionary Tales – Missing the Problem and its Cause

Extract: Two recently published volumes on the concept of precaution as it is variously understood and applied across the United States and in Europe make for a fascinating comparative analysis. They also respectively offer some undoubted and invaluable insights into the subject. Sadly neither really addresses how precaution came of age or why.

Precautionary Tales: Missing the Problem and the Cause, European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol.4, No.2, pp.297-299, June 2013

The changing nature of riots in the contemporary metropolis from ideology to identity: lessons from the recent UK riots

Abstract: Whereas past episodes of rioting in UK cities confronted the state authorities with a conscious and collective political problem – either through opposition to job losses or to institutional racism – in the post-political climate today we witness a shift towards individual action driven more by identity than by ideology. The one element that united the otherwise disaggregated rioters across the UK recently was more their taste in expensive sportswear (branded trainers) and electrical goods (plasma television screens) than anything else. Far from being a backlash against the police shooting of a petty, local black criminal in north London, or to the austerity measures introduced by the Liberal-Conservative government to combat the UK state deficit, some commentators suggest that what we now see is the product of a generation brought up on welfare for whom the old allegiances of work, family and community have lost their meaning and who, accordingly, are only able to assert their identity through the expression of their consumer tastes. This article examines what really drove the recent UK riots and explores the twin crises – of authority and of identity that they have exposed.

The Changing Nature of Riots in the Contemporary Metropolis from Ideology to Identity: Lessons from the Recent UK Riots, Journal of Risk Research (Impact Factor 1.027 ISI 2015), Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.347-354, May 2012

Reconciling growing energy demand with climate change management

Introduction

More than two billion people in India and China are only now emerging from a life of drudgery and abject poverty.’ A billion more across sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia look set to join them over the next decades. This should be a cause for celebration. Instead, much of the contemporary discussion relating to energy needs and climate change portray these trends as a major problem.

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was hailed in advance as reflecting an ‘overwhelming scientific consensus’ on the assumed problem of a link between carbon emissions and climate change, as well as on what needed to be done about it. But instead of agreement there was discord between the developed and the developing nations. The former argued that the latter should monitor and restrain their growth as they view with a growing sense of alarm the possibility of every Indian and Chinese person expecting Western lifestyles. They pointed to China now being the second largest producer of carbon emissions on earth.

From the perspective of the developing countries, however, as expressed by the Indian premier, Manmohan Singh, their growth and development is to meet internal needs and demands, as well as simply to catch up with the West. Their view is that the advanced capitalist countries had the benefit of industrialising first – thereby releasing into the atmosphere the carbon that is now considered to be a problem. Accordingly, it should be for those countries to lead the way in cutting back on emissions. And anyway, in terms of per capita emissions, it is these developed Western countries that remain the single largest polluters.

It appears, then, that the debate over how to meet growing energy demands and manage climate change has reached an impasse. It is difficult to see how, within the current framework, the different perspectives of developed and developing countries can ever be reconciled or resolved.

Reconciling Growing Energy Demand with Climate Change Management, Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp.271-282, June 2011

H1N1 – The Social Costs of Cultural Confusion

Abstract: In May 2011, the World Health Assembly received the report of its International Health Regulations Review Committee examining responses to the outbreak of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza and identifying lessons to be learnt. This will emphasized the need for better risk communication in the future. But risk and communication are not objective facts; they are socially mediated cultural products. Responses to crises are not simply determined by the situation at hand, but also mental models developed over protracted periods. Accordingly, those forces responsible for promoting the precautionary approach and encouraging the securitization of health, that both helped encourage a catastrophist outlook in this instance, are unlikely to be held to scrutiny. These cultural confusions have come at an enormous cost to society.

H1N1 – The Social Costs of Cultural Confusion, Global Health Governance, Vol. 4, No.2, pp.1-19, June 2011

Human security – a retrospective

Introduction

This paper is not a comprehensive critique of the concept of human security, for which the reader should look to some of the authors cited here and those whom they cite. Rather, it is based on remarks prepared as a discussant at a human security workshop held at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia on 8 June 2010.

The concept of human security has come of age. Many writers are today examining how far the concept has come, where from, and in which directions it should now be heading.

Like an artist whose work is about to undergo its first major retrospective, this shows how entirely mainstream this framework has become today. It is embraced by many across the entire political spectrum, as well as by activists from civil society organizations.

Human security certainly has traction. After all, who could possibly oppose the notions of ‘freedom from fear and freedom from want for everybody? This formulation, originally attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt, is the one embedded in the 1994 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report, authored by the Pakistani economist Mahbub Ul-Haq, that many see as one of the drivers of this agenda.

But maybe the growing popularity of, resonance with, and attempts to implement human security are not based on the reasons that most appear to suppose they are. Maybe it is not simply an inherent good that should be applied across the board of international relations as quickly as possible. In the words of the Canadian academic and policy advisor Andrew Mack, ‘Human Security’s importance lies less in its explanatory powers than as a signifier of shared political and moral values.”

If so, we should be alert to some of the unexpected consequences of this characteristic, particularly if the concept itself is found to be wanting.

Human Security – A Retrospective, Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.385-390, October 2010