Projects of the Research Group
PhD projects within the Research Group focus on different aspects of terrorist organisations’ learning and cover different levels of the framework-dimensions accordingly. Find below short descriptions as well as illustrations delineating the scope of the various projects.
The Making of 'Foreign Fighters'
'Foreign fighters' have become crucial to the survival and development of violent Islamist groups/organisations in the current dynamic environment. This can be seen from the exponential upsurge in the number of foreign individuals who have joined various Islamist militant entities in Syria and Iraq since 2013. This research project focuses on what make individuals join violent Islamist groups (motivating factors) and how they get enlisted in those groups (facilitation or recruitment methods). Theoretically, this touches upon the micro (individual) and meso (group/organisational) levels of analysis. The micro level is connected to, or re-enforced and in some cases developed by, the meso level which is about operational and tactical methods of a) recruitment to or b) facilitation in joining a group/organisation. The project aims to explore 'foreign fighters'' cases from Central Asia and Western Europe. more
Lost in Fighting? Dynamics of Interaction between Armed Opposition Groups in Syria (2012 – 2017)
This project analyses how armed opposition groups in multiparty civil wars draw the line between ally and enemy among their own kind. In Syria allies are defined by a specific subset of groups that fight on the same side of the war, that is majority Arab, Sunni factions. Three consequential ruptures in the insurgent arena constituted this set of actors: first, the split among the Kurdish-majority groups with their agenda of separatism and the other insurgents. Second, the complicated divorce between the so-called Islamic state and the more hardline Islamist groups such as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), and most recently (in 2017) the completion of the distinction between a 'mainstream' rebel camp and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the successor of al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Hence, the focus is set on groups ranging from the latter to independent Islamist and Salafist groups to local battalions using the FSA-label. The project traces how these three ruptures constituted the set of actors fighting on the same side and why particularly the last one has been delayed so much and was plagued by so many difficulties. more
Between Gun and Olive Branch: Collective Consciousness and Strategy Change in Palestinian Nationalist Organisations
This research project addresses the decisions of nationalist organisations in Palestine regarding the strategies they employ in their efforts to create a Palestinian state and particularly aims to understand the motivation and rationale underlying a groups' decision to choose a certain strategy. It is argued that the collective consciousness of an organisation, meaning the values and beliefs that its members share, plays a crucial role in this context: The collective consciousness is the lens through which the environment is analysed and the fundament on which a decision is based.
By discovering the respective collective consciousness of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), the Palestinian Liberation Movement (Fatah), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and by analysing their strategic histories, the above mentioned ideas will be put to the test. Of particular interest will be to find out why or why not organisations changed their strategies and how change or continuity is related to an organisation's collective consciousness. It is assumed that differences between the groups vis-à-vis their strategies can be traced back to the characteristics of their particular collective consciousness. more
Internal and External Mobilisation in Opposition and in Office: Comparing the Strategies of Hamas in Gaza and an-Nahda Movement in Tunisia
This research project focuses on mobilisation strategies of the Palestinian Hamas and al-Nahda party in Tunisia. Central questions are how the two Muslim Brotherhood movements mobilise, educate and train their own activists, how these activists then go on to form their internal organisational structures, and how they mobilise the public within their own local communities. The project examines the peculiarities of this mobilisation process firstly during the period in which Hamas and an-Nahda were in opposition, and secondly during the years when they were in office, and emphasises how the transition to office affected their capacity to mobilise and the strategies they used to overcome problems of (de)mobilisation. more
The Boko Haram crisis and socio-political dynamics in eastern Niger
This project looks at the wider context of Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency from the angle of Eastern Niger, a region severely affected by spill-over effects. Since its emergence in the early 2000s, Boko Haram established itself as a regional player by a process of integration on the regional social landscape – integration understood not in the sense of acculturation or assimilation, but as interaction in a wider systemic whole that can also be characterised by conflictual relations. This perspective implies a view of Boko Haram not as a player outside of society, but as one who is part of it and who takes part in social processes. The social embedding allows to analyse learning processes of Boko Haram in a broader systemic perspective, which avoids reducing them to tactical and strategic adaptations for survival. Instead, they are understood as the result of processes of social interaction between different groups. Social interaction, i.e., the dynamic interplay between persons or groups, results in modifications of the attitudes and behaviour of the persons and groups involved. An underlying assumption is that people have multiple and overlapping identifications, which dynamically change over time, and are simultaneously part of different categories which can situationally be appealed to. 'Terrorists' or their supporters are at the same time also members of local communities, which allows for multiple levels of interaction. more
Understanding and Influencing Dynamics of Learning and Unlearning Violence
This project is concerned with understanding and influencing mechanisms of learning and unlearning of terrorist groups. One way of influencing learning mechanisms that is commonly employed when dealing with terrorism is exerting pressure on terrorist groups – for example, through violent counterterrorism measures. However, is it possible to learn under pressure? Researchers from various disciplines have observed that pressure only leads to changes in routine behaviour and that what is learnt is not internalised. Conflict mediators emphasise that in order to bring about moderation of terrorist groups, exerting pressure has to be combined with offering them a way out. Hence, this project also looks at providing a way out – for example, through recognition – as an additional possibility for inducing change. Can external recognition bring about self-recognition of violent groups? What is the result of recognition by allies or enemies? Pressure and recognition often serve as arguments or justifications that reinforce identity and hence support a certain course of action, rather than as inspiration for profound course corrections. The question then arises: how does a change in beliefs come about and under what conditions do organisations question the rules of the game of decision-making, for example by questioning conflict dynamics. These are the questions that this project shall help to find answers to by means of analysis of multiple case studies. more
Mixed messages? The role of terrorist violence in armed conflict
A cursory look at contemporary conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Nigeria shows that terrorist and guerrilla tactics do not merely coincide in space and time, but blend into each other as militant organisations apply both forms of violence, blurring the line between the traditional categories of 'guerrilla' and 'terrorist' organisations. This presents a challenge to conventional accounts of the logic of terrorism, in which it is effectively used to substitute for an inability to challenge the enemy regime directly. Moreover, terrorism is not something that simply 'happens' during armed conflict, but is itself a constitutive part of it, together and interacting with other tactics shaping the process of conflict. This project asks, what role(s) or function(s) terrorism plays in the strategies of insurgent groups. How and why do armed actors use and change between different types of violence, and what consequences do these choices have? In order to study these phenomena, literature from the fields of terrorism studies, peace research, and strategic studies has to be brought together and will be related to quantitative data on group's activities. more