FARC women guerillasThe globalization of terrorism demands an understanding of how terrorist groups make and execute their policy decisions.  Contrary to the popular belief propagated by the media, most terrorists are not insane, brainwashed or from poverty stricken backgrounds.  Most of them are considered to be mentally stable, highly educated and rational individuals who are capable of developing a strong ideology, clear objectives and effective strategy and tactics. This includes an ability to mesh these factors into policy.

Photo:The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia is a Marxist-Leninist-inspired peasant army claiming to represent the rural poor in a struggle against Colombia’s rich and powerful. A guerrilla organization, it is financed primarily by kidnappings and trade in illegal drugs. The group has long been engaged in a struggle to overthrow the government of Colombia, and the United States government has designated it a terrorist organization. Google Images

 Politics of Terrorist Groups

In the current complex and uncertain international environment it is imperative to understand these factors in order to counter the terrorists’ strategic initiatives.  Major terrorist groups have the ability to make and implement policy in a manner consistent with their initial objectives and ideology even if their strategy and tactics change.  These evolving tactics and strategies include forms of organized behavior such as corporations (al Qaeda), small governments (FARC) or mafia-like clandestine organizations (home grown jihadist cells). 

 How to Analyze Terrorist's Politics

This article will examine the political nature of terrorism, methodologies which can be used to understand terrorists’ policy making process and examples of policy making changes as well as offering some general conclusions.  The policy making function in particular will be examined by a variety of methods including:

  1. Examining the group’s documents such as manifestos, communiqués, books, decrees, propaganda and videos,
  2. Evaluating the views of those involved with issues of internal dissent and its underlining factors,
  3. Contrasting the views of the publicly feuding groups of similar orientation, and
  4. Assessing a group’s internal divisions that lead to two or more splinter groups.

Prior to examining the methodology, however, it is necessary to understand some key issues about terrorism, the categories of terrorist groups and their various policies.  Without the ability to understand the terrorist’s objectives, strategy and tactics, comprehending their policy making efforts is an unachievable goal. 

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About the Contributor

Tom Quiggin

Tom Quiggin is a Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University. A court qualified expert on terrorism and on the use of intelligence as evidence...