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Since We Last Spoke: Fighting Terrorism

New twists on past stories.

By Elena Gooray


A bombed-out building on Tripoli Street in Misrata, Libya, in 2011. (Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)

For Pacific Standard’s March/April 2016 issue, the University of Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse investigated the role that social bonds played in mobilizing revolutionaries to commit rebel violence in Libya: “Simply being on the same side ideologically (sharing the same beliefs and goals) doesn’t predict fusion,” he wrote (“What Motivates Extreme Self-Sacrifice?”). More important, Whitehouse has found in his research, is that rebel group members have violent, tumultuous, or otherwise intense shared life experiences. Counterterrorism efforts, though, continue to emphasize the assassination or prosecution of extremist groups’ most vocal political leadership — an approach known as “cutting off the head of the snake” — instead of undermining social bonds within terrorist networks: In June, the United Kingdom brought to trial two preachers accused of encouraging support for the Islamic State. University of Pittsburgh political scientist Michael Kenney echoed Whitehouse’s findings in a blog post arguing that taking down influential individuals would do little to prevent new leadership from emerging.