When did we stop negotiating with terrorists?

The terrorism researcher Carolin GörzigHow do terrorists learn?

"Of course it is difficult to collect data for our research," says Carolin Görzig, who has headed the "How Terrorists Learn" research group since 2015. Still, her team tries to approach the thinking of terrorist groups without any targets. To find out how they learn from their experiences, their tactical, operational and strategic approach is analyzed. The researchers seek direct contact with actors in terrorist groups, but: How close to the research topic are ethnologists allowed? In the end, there are findings - also politically usable - for one goal: How do you negotiate with terrorists in such a way that further violence does not occur?



On July 31, 1959, a student association was founded at the University of Bilbao, which developed into the toughest terrorist organization in Europe: the so-called Basque liberation organization ETA. After 59 years, it dissolved itself in the spring of 2018. The Colombian FARC, founded in 1964, laid down its arms in 2017 after a tough negotiation process and transformed itself into a party.

How does the end of terrorist organizations come about? Which political and social processes lead to the dissolution of armed groups, even to the admission of their failure in the paramilitary struggle? Carolin Görzig has headed a working group on this topic at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle an der Saale since 2015. The end of the ETA seems less unexpected to them than its stable existence over several generations.

Carolin Görzig: "In fact, the long lifespan of the ETA is in a certain sense surprising, because, from a purely statistical point of view, the majority of such groups cease to exist again after a short period of time. Only a minority manage to survive over a long period of time Which explains the fact that some groups last longer and some groups disappear after a short time - several approaches could come into play: On the one hand, the ability of groups to make certain discourses their own and also change carry out, for example, anti-colonial, anti-national, communist discourses or even religious discourses. So a certain flexibility, also a certain pragmatism. What we also focus on is, among other things, the learning of such groups: How capable are they of learning processes perform and thus also to put a certain adjustment to the day and to focus on certain facts to discontinue? And thus to achieve what only some people manage, namely to establish themselves over a long period of time. "

Terrorists see themselves as freedom fighters

Not only in the official classification of the European Union were ETA and FARC terror groups, as well as the IRA, the Red Brigades, Hamas and many others that could be listed here. From the point of view of the affected governments and the majority of the population, the break with the state monopoly of force in order to enforce particular interests is marked by sheer illegality, even if the guerrillas - apparently idealistic - affix labels such as "liberation struggle" or "resistance" .

In the ethnological research, as carried out by Carolin Görzig with her colleagues in Halle, one wants to understand the inside view of the armed fighters. Most of them do not see themselves as terrorists at all, but vehemently reject such attributions, as a Hamas leader put it to the researcher:

"You say violence. I say resistance."

Görzig: "The term terrorism is of course highly problematic, as it is a term that is used to delegitimize the opponent. And this is exactly the problem that we face, since our research deals with how such groups describe themselves and how Or whether they use the concept of terrorism to describe opponents - be it other non-governmental or governmental groups. What is also of interest to us, again in connection with the ETA, is not only its processes, which lead to radicalization and the perpetuation of such groups, but also de-radicalization processes and the unlearning of violence. How it comes about that groups such as the ETA suddenly renounce violence, these unlearning processes, mechanisms of unlearning violence. "

How do terrorists learn to renounce violence?

"How Terrorists learn" is the title of the working group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, which at first glance seems irritating. Of course, this is not about the terrorists' ability to operate machine guns or to build explosive belts.

The focus is on learning and unlearning a violent identity, and less the point of how to become a terrorist than the question of how to strip off the ingrained automatisms of such a fatal mode of existence?

Görzig: "When we talk about learning processes, we are interested, on the one hand, in learning that leads to a change in behavior. Also to a change in tactics, for example. But we are also concerned with changing views, attitudes, etc. and the question of how that can also be influenced from outside, for example. So on the one hand we are interested in: What happens within such groups, within this black box? And how can we influence such learning processes that take place inside from the outside, which dynamics are there, which Are there any influence? "

Terrorist organizations are difficult to access for research

Eo ipso, terrorist organizations are a black box: every contact with the outside world endangers their existence. For the ethnological point of view, however, it is essential to be able to look into this black box and to communicate directly with terrorists. A difficult setting:

Görzig: "Yes, in fact it is of course very difficult to collect data for this research. For obvious reasons, field research is of course difficult. These are reasons of safety, but also ethical questions that were raised. When I founded the group at the time I decided, however, that we should take up this task, take on this challenge and do a little bit to fill this gap. This primary data gap that is facing terrorism research and peace and conflict research. That is, my staff and team members went into the field and we did qualitative research and spoke partly with former members and partly with current members, partly with families whose family members have gone to Syria as an example. It's interesting that when you are there the contact is often possible, and of course we have all the necessary skills Safety precautions have been taken to make sure it doesn't get too risky. "

In 2008, Carolin Görzig met with active Hamas fighters and other Islamist groups. This then resulted in her doctorate "Talking to Terrorists", which became the foundation of the current research group. But it is not only in the - difficult to conduct - dialogue with active terror group members that insights can be gained; dealing with dropouts or prisoners can also be productive.

Görzig: "So it is interesting, for example, when groups de-radicalize themselves that those who formerly belonged to such groups, some even strive to give themselves a voice in public and want to talk about what they have experienced. Or maybe theirs too Wanting to convey the message that it is necessary to renounce violence. For example: Members of the Red Brigades talked about the self-knowledge that they gained partly in prison, after several years or partly after decades. One of the former members of the Red Brigades For example, Brigades said, "It is one thing to break out of prison. It is another thing to break out of mental prison." We are actually interested in precisely these processes that take place there. So also the self-knowledge, for example, of leaders of such groups, the mental prisons. That is exactly what we want to research. And former members in particular offer a possible point of contact. "

Any contact with terrorists raises ethical questions

However, there is never a neutral communication situation: Both parties - terrorists and ex-terrorists like the ethnologists - have different motives for and different interests in the talks. The question of the evaluation of the interview material and its publication, which is essential for the researchers, raises questions of scientific ethics, as Carolin Görzig describes in a text:

"A colleague of mine who did field research in conflict regions and published the results in a journal on terrorism retrospectively reconsidered this publication because she believed that publication in a magazine labeled 'Terrorism' was tantamount to betraying her interviewees This touches on the question of the extent to which a researcher burdens his interviewees and contact persons. [...] It is crucial to regard the interviewees as research subjects who want some control over what is written about them The independence and intellectual freedom of the researcher at stake - a dilemma that every researcher has to decide for himself. "

Such dilemmas are common in field research with terrorists. Just the question of who the dialogue is most useful to - terrorists, science, politics or even the law enforcement authorities - is always an issue.

Görzig: "On the one hand, you could run the risk of being instrumentalized by the state, that is, your own research is used there for certain purposes. On the other hand, you can also become the propaganda tool of the interviewees, exactly the opposite. And what you do To protect yourself from this, you can problematize your own normative claims, reflect them and make them clear and clear. This way you can prevent that from happening. This way you maybe become more aware of when it happens, so when it comes to it I think when you realize what your own goals you are pursuing or what your own normative claims you have, you can tell whether you are being instrumentalized or whether you are now taking too much of one side. Interesting is for example the quote from Gamaa Islamija, who said about their own renunciation of violence, that insight comes through distance. They talk about that if you are caught in action and reaction, that is, if you are caught in combat, then this lack of distance also leads to the fact that you do not gain the necessary insights. "

The Pentagon abused ethnologists for its own purposes

Distance is a basic requirement of objective science. For seven years, from 2007 to 2014, however, the US Department of Defense instrumentalized ethnologists in its fight against terror. In the so-called "Human Terrain System" (HTS) field researchers were sent out to help

"... whose expertise and language skills help the military to carry out a more intelligent counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These specialists are, among other things, intended to map the population of cities and villages, the relevant clans and the faults they contain identify and then advise US commanders on the correct approach to using local support. "

This "use of local support" - as it was called in "Newsweek" magazine at the time - could of course also be interpreted in reverse, namely as an almost cynical euphemism. Such mapping of clan structures also shows who the pullers are in a region, the killing of which would then have a greater military benefit than eliminating someone from the infantry. The "Human Terrain System" quickly came under fire. Rightly, says the terrorism researcher Carolin Görzig:

Görzig: "It's difficult. We're talking about 'embedded anthropology' here. And putting science too much at the service of certain political purposes makes it difficult for science to establish a certain status as independent research . I think this covert research is difficult. You have to, and here we are back to the normative agenda, your own claims, your own goals, you have to make all of this clear to yourself and then formulate it clearly during the research and communicate."

Is there a difference between distribution and identity conflicts?

In international conflict research, one likes to differentiate between distribution conflicts and identity conflicts, the latter being considered to be more complicated. At the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, on the other hand, they have a different view of things, as the director Günther Schlee specifies in an essay:

"In general, it can be said that there are no 'identity-based conflicts' in contrast to 'resource-based conflicts'. The distinction often made in English between identity-based conflicts and resource-based conflicts is nonsensical, even if there are some difficult-to-understand theories, for example that identity conflicts are relentless and resource conflicts, in contrast, are negotiable. Whether someone defines himself with his neighbors as a member of another clan alliance and shares resources with them, or whether he sees his neighbors as apostates from Islam in alliance with Christians and the ungodly and with Islamists allied against them in other parts of the country is a resource conflict that is carried out through identifications (self-descriptions and images of the enemy), or an identity conflict with implications for the distribution of resources - however one will. The question of identity is the question of subjects: who with whom g egen who? And the question about the resources is the question about the object: who claims what, what is it about? Every conflict analysis must answer both questions and clarify how the two perspectives are related to one another. "

Görzig: "So if you now say that distribution conflicts could not be translated into zero-sum games, but could be translated into win-win scenarios, and that is more difficult for identity conflicts, then one could also think from this perspective about the extent to which identities are also related to resources If you think of the subject of 'territory', for example. Identity and territory are two things that go hand in hand. That doesn't necessarily make the conflict easier, but it may allow a new way of thinking about the conflict. The interesting thing here is that that Territory often transports something like memory, history, i.e. transports symbols, everything that is important for the topic of identity creation. If you take the Temple Mount, for example, you could also think about how to create new common identities. Interesting is in In this context, groups often form in groups, i.e. against an outside party Form a group so that the identity within the group is strengthened by the external image of the enemy. And the question that arises for me in conflicts, where two identities face each other, whether these two identities, these two populations can unite and identify themselves against something third? Of course, this does not mean that a new enemy has to be created in the now and here, in the present, but that one can also set oneself apart from the past. The enemy can also be the past conflict. So just rethink identity. "

Can ethnological knowledge be translated into mediation processes?

Parties to the dispute who have been at odds with one another over a long period of time, even for generations, and who make highly symbolic territorial claims that are apparently indispensable for their own identity, as is the case in the conflict over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, may not be able to come to terms with each other on their own free from mutual clutches. The use of a neutral mediation body would be desirable. But is such a thing even in the perspective of Carolin Görzig's research work? Do the ethnologist and her team primarily want to understand the internal structure of terrorist groups, or are they also aiming for a practical application of their findings?

Görzig: "What we do think, of course, is that our research is also politically relevant and socially relevant, and that we also make a contribution to society. One could imagine, for example, that as a result of this research, interdisciplinary teams come together and take action together set up or simply accompany negotiations.For example, I have dealt with the Gamaa Islamija, which has tempered itself while in prison and has written several books about this moderation, and in these books also explains how it came to these new points of view. And so it is interesting that if you read these books you could use several disciplines to understand what happened and how they came to this profound change of heart? For example, one could use communication sciences when looking at the debate within the group. Or psychology, processes of cognitive dissonance. Dissonances that are resolved when it comes to thinking about whether jihad has achieved its goal? And if not, how do you deal with it? One could also use other disciplines, sociology, organizational learning, learning processes that take place. Or also the subject of law. Some of the books read like a presentation of the theory of just war. For example, it's about proportionality, about killing civilians. What I mean by that is that several disciplines would definitely find starting points here to explain this change of attitude. That is also the common denominator, namely the turning away from violence. And if you say you just do it and see how these different disciplines would explain it, you could also think that the result could be interesting for negotiation strategies. For the question of how an interdisciplinary team would be put together to conduct such negotiations, for example. Or to advise them. Or to set up guidelines, what would really convince such groups to turn away from violence? What would be brilliant, convincing arguments? "

Example FARC in Colombia - a rocky road to peace

A rare case in which a peaceful solution has been reached through negotiations with terrorists is the surrender and subsequent conversion of the Colombian FARC into a civil party. For this, the then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize. But the result remained fragile, the FARC failed dramatically at the ballot box and only got its parliamentary seats because of the agreements made: Ex-terrorists are obviously not trusted to find civil political solution strategies, not to mention the highly controversial impunity for countless crimes among the population . But even among the FARC rebels, individual factions took up arms again shortly after the peace treaty was announced.

Görzig: "On the one hand, the thing is that the political situation is of course often volatile in such conflicts. Especially in conflicts like Colombia, where there are not just two actors facing each other, but at least three or four. Several non-state groups There are also those who compete with one another or who cooperate. So very complex dynamics that influence one another. And in Colombia we have seen time and again when peace is made with one group that another group has acted as a spoilsport in the negotiation and that The negotiation has torpedoed. Just like in the Middle East conflict with more moderate or radical elements. "

In every terrorist organization there are representatives of a moderate line, i.e. those who are moderately ready to communicate, and radical or fundamentalist forces who reject any dialogue because they derive their strength from the purity of teaching. Negotiating with radicals often turns out to be impossible. But their position within the group is usually stronger than that of the mostly outnumbered moderates. However, outsiders who want to get in touch with a group often have problems clearly identifying both factions.

Görzig: "The concept of 'radical' is of course also very relative. When you say 'radical', you naturally imply that there is something moderate. And then the question is, how do you define 'moderate'? Radical in relation to what, that is What is really the moderate? If you look at the radicals and the moderate, the second question is: How can you influence this from outside, for example through communication? And here, too, there are various means that states have at their disposal . Many put pressure on the radicals and show the moderates a way out. This is a common strategy used to try to convince such groups. What is interesting, however, is that radicals often use the pressure to blame the moderates and to make this a scapegoat, and that, interestingly, the moderates can often use pressure constructively, namely as an argument to enforce change internally, for which they already had the ideas. If you already have ideas for change and there is pressure from outside, this can be a welcome window of opportunity to apply pressure internally. "

Learning under pressure is not sustainable

“Is it possible to learn under pressure? Researchers in various disciplines have observed that pressure only changes routine behavior, and what is learned is not internalized. Often times, when people learn under pressure, their main goal is to stop the pressure. What Really learning them in the process is of little importance to them. Sometimes pressure can cause the person under pressure to unlearn their behavior, but once the pressure is gone, the previous behavior reappears. Hence the effects of pressure often short-term and not sustainable. "

Görzig: "It is also interesting that when you think about communication, negotiations that include more radical elements naturally have greater chances than of course only negotiations with moderates, since the radicals, in turn, could be the spoilers who torpedo the negotiations. And This is exactly what brings us back to the question: Who is taking part in the negotiations? How many parties are taking part in the negotiations, do you take a comprehensive approach that says you bring everyone to the table, i.e. an inclusive negotiation? Or you say you exclude certain elements and thereby risk the implementation of the negotiation. "

Does a peace treaty reward previous acts of terrorism?

The decisive factor is with whom you reach agreements, but in order to be able to reach them you have to have something to offer, such as the granting of guaranteed parliamentary seats for the former terrorist organization in the process of demilitarizing the Colombian FARC. If one takes the title of the working group at the Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Research literally, "How Terrorists Learn", there must be a reward for terrorists who turn away from violence; without rewards man learns nothing. On the other hand, does it not honor previous violent behavior?

Görzig: "That's what I dealt with during my doctorate. It was the question of how rewards to terrorist groups encourage other groups to copy violence? That might be interesting, these dynamics, these copy-cat reactions, these domino reactions. This argument about those copy ‑ cat reactions is the argument behind the doctrine of non-negotiation, namely the idea that you shouldn't negotiate because it might save a few lives, but it would endanger the lives of hundreds or more people. And in this research I came to the conclusion that the picture is more complex when we examine it empirically. I have conducted field research in four countries and have found that under certain conditions groups also copy the abandonment of violence, so that they do not only necessarily copy violence as a result of concessions to their role models, to their role models, but that they partly also turn away from Copy violence. And that depends on the one hand on the relationship that such groups have with their role models that receive concessions. On the other hand, it also depends on the type of concessions. So, for example, are we talking about selective concessions that only affect group members? Or are we talking about collective concessions that affect society as a whole? In sum, groups do not always copy violence, and that means that concessions do not lead to a chain reaction, and if you make concessions to one group, other groups copy violence. That the renunciation of violence can also be copied and that sometimes there is also innovation rather than a copy-cat reaction. So the question is how to signal that violence is not rewarded, but the abandonment of violence is rewarded. That is the bottom line, and that is a question of political signaling. "

As in the case of the FARC, these signals include the granting of impunity for terrorist acts. It is highly controversial among the Colombian population and caused a political change in favor of the opponents of reconciliation in the last election. Almost all societies find it difficult to make such gestures because they clash with the deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong.

Görzig: "This is also interesting in connection with the peace-versus-justice debate, 'justice with peace debate', namely the question of what do you do: Do ​​you give up a bit of the right to retaliation in the function of peace? That you say 'You buy peace by giving up something on the law? Or do you say that you insist on the law and punish these perpetrators, which often means that certain perpetrators do not renounce violence at all, but say:' We stay here in the mountains, we don't want to submit to justice, it's not worth it for us. ' So this balancing out between peace and justice is the question. And there is research that has shown that negotiations that are primarily backward-looking and insist on justice and punishment that are not so forward-looking. That in turn negotiations that say 'We are now putting everything aside, we will start all over again and we will look into the future together', that this can sometimes be more constructive and also more promising, because it is about conflict resolution. "

IRA and ANC - an exit is possible

Two countries that have managed the transformation process in the past to turn powerful terrorist organizations into politically effective forces were South Africa with the ANC and Northern Ireland with the IRA. For example, the former IRA leader Gerry Adams now appears as an "Elder Statesman" and, in the eyes of many violent activists of today, confirms their own self-image that they are not a terrorist group, but a legitimate association in the pre-political space.

Görzig: "When you ask them about terrorism, they often get 'Mandela was a terrorist, Adams was a terrorist, look, they're statesmen now!' There is also a twofold ambiguity in international politics or in these events, whether it is perhaps used to reward violence. On the other hand, I think this constructive involvement of conflict actors is very important when she was taking part in the negotiations, for example learned from the ANC. The ANC also went straight to the prisons in Northern Ireland and said to them: 'Look, if you take part in the negotiations, it doesn't mean giving up. That doesn't mean you just give up and give in. ' They said that it can also be some kind of victory, namely a victory by other means, not by means of violence. There is an opportunity for you to use these peace negotiations constructively and just go down this new path. So the interesting thing is that such a group also learn from one another and also advise one another and that of course what happens at the other end of the world also triggers learning effects and triggers reflections on one's own decisions. What the ANC actually shows is: One can also do without Violence can achieve something! And that's a constructive signal. "

In South Africa from 1996 to 1998 the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" contributed significantly to pacifying society. In this public education process, all acts of violence were named - those of the apartheid regime on the one hand and those of the organizations fighting against it, such as the ANC, on the other. At least symbolic compensation was awarded to the victims. This model later inspired exit scenarios such as that of the IRA in Northern Ireland. So there is a ray of hope to break terrorist violence and counterviolence spirals. In principle, however, the field that Carolin Görzig and her team of ethnologists are working on in Halle hardly promises any short-term success:

Görzig: "When I started doing my doctorate, my normative agenda was 'Negotiating is always the solution'. Talking always leads to peace, it always makes sense to talk to all actors and negotiating is always the right option. So a very idealistic approach At the same time, I have to say that in the course of my research I have already discovered for myself that reality is really more complex and that there are conditions under which negotiation is the right option and when it can perhaps make things more difficult So it is not a black and white picture, it is really more complex. And the question for us as scientists is to find out this condition: When do negotiations lead to more peace and when do they lead to more violence. The question is not this yes / No question, but the how question: How does that lead to this? So to get beyond the yes / no, which often determines the policy in which the discussion is held ird: Are we even allowed to negotiate? Isn't the better question: How do you negotiate? What would the successful negotiation strategy be? "