October 23, 2018

We Need Better Data on Terror

“Terrorist attacks are becoming commonplace across the world. In recent years, attacks have wreaked havoc in iconic tourist destinations such as Paris and Barcelona and have routinely devastated communities in cities such as Kabul and Baghdad.

Clearly, current methods of intervention are failing to prevent young extremists from joining radical groups. As the war in Syria winds down, it is imperative that policymakers shape their counter-radicalization efforts through data-driven and geographically targeted strategies to prevent a future exodus of young people seeking to join the Islamic State or extremist groups in other lawless regions.

Terrorist attacks have risen sharply in the past decade. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, while annual terrorism attacks numbered under 3,000 between the 1970s and 2000s, since 2010 they have shot up to more than 10,000 annually on average.

This increase has gone hand in hand with the rise of prominent violent extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda, all of which have taken advantage of fragile states and power vacuums.

As governments and international organizations try to stem the increasing surge in terrorism, they are faced with the key question of how to stop people—almost exclusively young men—from joining extremist groups in the first place.

Addressing the scourge of terrorism will undoubtedly require military and police action. However, heavy-handed approaches alone will not solve the problem of violent extremism. In some cases, they may even exacerbate it. International organizations have often focused on development interventions—such as community-building initiatives, citizen engagement projects, or job creation programs—intended to address the root causes of terrorism.”

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