70 Police J. 193 (1997)
Issues in Terrorism Research

handle is hein.journals/policejl70 and id is 199 raw text is: JOHN HORGAN, BA
Research assistant, Department of Applied Psychology, University
College Cork, Ireland
Although modem forms of terrorism and political violence can trace their
roots to the French Revolution of the eighteenth century and to Russian
renegades of the late nineteenth century, the phenomenon has advanced
considerably, even from the more recent skyjackings of the 1960s and 70s.
From right-wing extremism in Oklahoma to Tamil suicide bombings in Sri
Lanka, the spectre of terrorist violence permeates modem life as much as
it ever has before as scarcely a night goes by without some news reports
of a shooting or bombing.
Given then the extraordinary relevance which terrorism has for
contemporary life, it may appear surprising that relatively little research
has been conducted on the subject. As two commentators state [t]here are
probably few areas in the social science literature in which so much is
written on the basis of so little research. Perhaps as much as 80 per cent
of the literature is not research-based in any rigorous sense; indeed it is
often narrative, condemnatory and prescriptive.' Yet, the avenues
available for investigating terrorism are almost as numerous as the faces
which political violence takes. The  terrorism-media symbiosis for
example, has received huge attention from social scientists, doubtless to
its valued importance in influencing not only the perceptions, attitudes and
behaviour of the general public, but also the terrorist group itself, often
urgently seeking attention for its cause. At another level, albeit to a much
lesser degree, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists have
conducted case study research on both convicted and active terrorists.
Nevertheless, to say that terrorism does not easily lend itself to systematic
research is a considerable understatement.
The Difficulties Inherent in Researching Terrorism
Aside altogether from the seemingly-impossible access to terrorist
organizations, it should be noted first that researchers are actually afforded
relatively little information by legitimate, overt sources. Most
governments do not permit access to records and information regarding
individuals whose activities have landed them in legally punishable
circumstances.2 Obviously, these are sources whose immediate demand for
keeping this information classified outweighs the academic's requirement
for its study. Thus, the reliability of what little information is actually made
available to the student is questionable.3
Secondly, it is not too difficult to understand an academic's reluctance
to enter into an area of research in which the possibility of self-
endangerment is quite clear. The journalist Maggie O'Kane, following an
interview with Ulster Defence Association (UDA) Chief, Johnny Adair,

The Police Journal

July 1997

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