Past CICA-STR Conferences
The 2008 CICA/STR Conference:
Another Conference Success
By Tali K. Walters, Ph.D.
Vice President – Society for Terrorism Research
In August 2006, Drs. Sinclair and LoCicero joined forces to create the Society for Terrorism Research. They had a vision to promote the interdisciplinary study of this most relevant, important, and difficult to empirically research subject, as well as wanting to positively impact global peace. They did not know, although they hoped, that their efforts would quickly and effectively touch so many colleagues who shared their interests. The success of the second annual CICA/STR conference, held in July 2008 in Zakopane, Poland, demonstrates the significance of their important decision to form STR.
Over 60 participants from the USA, Canada, Bulgaria, England, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, the UAE, and Australia attended the 2008 CICA/STR International Conference on Aggression, Terrorism, and Human Rights in Zakopane, hosted by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. These colleagues represented a broad interdisciplinary spectrum – Psychology, Social Psychology, Nuclear Sciences, Journalism/Media/Communication, Statistics, Counter-terrorism Studies, Criminology, Law, Nuclear Science, Medicine, Social Science, Psychobiology, and Organizational Psychology. Participants were researchers, practitioners, policy makers, Fulbright Scholars, members of Nobel Peace Prize organizations, and students. Many attendees to our first conference in Miraflores, Spain, returned.
The conference was honored to host four esteemed leaders in the fields of terrorism and aggression: Drs. Art Kendall, Yonah Alexander, Gary LaFree, and Adam Fraczek. The themes of their keynote speeches addressed issues of human rights, trends in the manifestation of super-terrorism, the importance of data driven policy making, and the use of aggression research in the analysis of an individual terrorist.
This year’s conference honored the 60th Anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his keynote speech, Dr. Kendall, member of the STR Advisory Board, raised participants’ awareness that it is important to incorporate issues of human rights in our teaching, research, writing, and mentoring. In his ongoing work towards this end, Dr. Kendall works with the AAAS Coalition on Human Rights Program and is collecting examples of the interface between scientists and human rights issues. He invites you to contact him at HumanRights@DrKendall.org.
In his keynote address, Dr. Alexander, Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, and Senior Fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute, offered insights into the issues of immediate consideration regarding the management of super-terrorism. He discussed proliferation trends, tendencies in terrorism, impact and cost of super-terrorism, current responses to super-terrorism, and requirements for the future national, regional and global defense against super-terrorism. Dr. Alexander reached out to all participants at the conference, especially the students and younger colleagues, offering his extensive knowledge in the field, leadership, study and collaboration opportunities, and his wisdom.
Dr. LaFree, Director of the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, discussed the dilemma inherent in the study of terrorism resulting from a primary purpose of terrorist acts – the evocation of strong negative emotion, namely fear. Thus, effective policy related to the reduction of terrorism and its impact is particularly dependent on hard data and objective analysis. Dr. LaFree presented information from the START Center’s extensive collection of open source data on terrorism. He also examined trends in terrorist attacks and geographical distribution of terrorism over the past 35 years. With his broad base of research associates, Dr. LaFree brought to the conference not only his own professional knowledge, but also data from research conducted by dozens of scientists, groups, and programs that study all aspect of terrorism and responses to terrorism.
Using a theoretical approach, keynote speaker Dr. Fraczek tied together the field of aggression studies with issues related to individuals participating in terrorist action. He discussed a model of a developmental pathway to the implementation of terrorism that involved socio-cultural and family background, instrumental training in the use of violent behavior, and specific beliefs and ideas of the individual.
While the keynote speeches expanded our understanding and opened new avenues for discussion, the individual presentations represented work being done in the trenches by students, professors, and practitioners. I mention the following presentations as a representative sample of the wonderfully diverse and relevant work presented at the conference. Malgorzata Kossowska, professor at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, presented findings from her multi-national study of terrorism threat and anxiety. Sam Mullins, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wollongong in Australia, presented research to support the terrorist-as-criminal hypothesis. Steve Thompson, Ph.D. candidate in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design at Clemson University in the USA presented data and discussion about the impact of terrorism on freedom of speech in the media. Sahhzad Shafqat, Pakastani psychology graduate student at Cambridge University, presented his research on threat, extremism, and terrorism. Vivan Salima, journalist stationed in the United Arab Emirates, discussed how terrorists use the media to disseminate their message. Albert Jongman, Strategic Analyst with the Dutch Ministry of Defense, discussed the reasons and logic behind, as well as the methods, regarding the exponential growth of suicide terrorism. Alice LoCicero, Ph.D., Chair of the Social Science Department at Endicott College and past-president of STR, presented data on her in-country study of children in Sri Lanka who become terrorists.
In feedback from participants, we heard that the program was “very educational and inspiring” and that the conference was “stimulating, informative, and fun.” The “personalized attention during and after the conference has been exemplary.” A keynote speaker wrote, “I was impressed with the organization of the event and the high quality of the presentations.” A frequent comment heard at the conference, particularly poignant from keynote speakers, was that all of the presentations were relevant to the efforts to reduce global terrorism and political violence. We received very positive feedback from participants as well, regarding the scientific program. One participant commented, “Your choice of keynote speakers was excellent, as were the other presenters. It was amazing how many good speakers and presentations were packed into such a short time.” The research represented the highest quality and, because of the fine organization of the Polish organizing committee, the conference schedule made all presentations accessible to all participants. Looking to the future, a participant wrote, “I really enjoyed the variance of perspectives on this important topic and hope we’ll keep on … tackling it.”
Not all was work in Zakopane! In an alpine town famous for its skiing and world class long jump competitions, there was also plenty of opportunity to socialize. Malgorzata Kossowska and her Polish organizing committee hosted a first night wine party to give us the opportunity to wind down from our long journeys to the Tartre Mountains. Although there was no formal event, many conference participants also used the second night for dining and socializing in Zakopene. The third night was special. We were treated to an authentic Tartre Mountain feast, with music, costume, vodka, and flaming meat!
Through interdisciplinary and multinational collaboration, the impact of theory building and research on international terrorism and counter-terrorism policy is multiplied. The work of those who participated in the conference will have a world wide impact. The conference underscored the need to collaborate across disciplines and across borders, to contribute to the research literature, to share ideas and findings, to pass on wisdom and knowledge through teaching and mentoring, and encourage colleagues and students to join in this effort.
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