There have been many attempts to measure and provide a broad overview of the impact of terrorist activity around the world. In many cases, however, attempts fail to capture what is happening on the ground or assess the variety of causes involved as the re
The key to analysing the impact of terrorism is the ability to look behind the headlines and understand significant trends; how the impact of terrorism is changing, who is being affected and by whom. We need to study this in detail because of the diverse factors involved in terrorism, such as social hostilities between different ethnic and religious groups, group grievances, state repression and human rights abuses, and violent crime.
The Institute for Economics and Peace recently published the second edition of their Global Terrorism Index, which looks at the impact of terrorism in 2013 and observes trends since 2000. The report is grim reading: it states that there was a five-fold increase in the number of deaths resulting from terrorism between 2000 and 2013, rising from just over 3,300 in 2000 to almost 18,000 in 2013.
One of the central themes of the report this year, however, is the dominance of four terrorist organisations: ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Between them these groups account for 66 per cent of claimed deaths from terrorist attacks in 2013. Eighty two per cent of the victims in these attacks were from just five countries; Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. Particularly striking is the dramatic increase in the number of attacks by Boko Haram. In the first edition of the Global Terrorism Index, released only two years ago, the group was positioned relatively low for number of attacks, whereas the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS already dominated.
The upsurge of violence in Nigeria from 2012 and likewise, the dramatic advance of ISIS through Iraq and Syria took many non-experts by surprise. The fact that lives are being lost around the globe on this scale through terrorism of any form is still shocking, but the apparent growth in religious ideology as a motivation for terrorism since 2000 is an aspect that is certainly worthy of closer consideration. The basis of this shift is the concentration of larger, more active terrorist groups focused intently on very regional contexts, such as the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
As the report rightly points out, we cannot lose sight of the fact that much terrorist activity is driven more by political, nationalist or separatist causes than religious ones. At the same time this should not hinder the action needed to tackle those groups persecuting religious minorities on a daily basis and why studies such as the Global Terrorism Index are so vital in highlighting these issues to a global audience.
Policy makers should use these studies to assess conflict situations
Studies on conflict situations, such as the Global Terrorism Index are important in assessing where shifts in conflict situations could occur. Policy makers, business leaders and others should remain attentive to these studies to understand where the next global or regional change may arise. This ensures that those who are making policy decisions can do so using robust and informed data, including on the religious dimensions of such situations, being prepared for all possible outcomes, and assessing where there should be a focus in policy making and action.
On the theme of informing and preparedness, the 2014 Global Terrorism Index points towards countries of concern in the coming years and the risk that terrorism could have a higher impact in countries such as Angola, Bangladesh, Iran, Israel, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
We should take note of these potential concerns, alongside others who warn of countries of concern, such as at the U.S. State Department who each year list countries to watch in terms of religious freedoms and restrictions. In doing this we should always be careful that findings and data such as these are viewed in the context of one another, ensuring that they are presented in a way that allows users to make practical associations and correlations without encouraging them to come to false conclusions about causal links.
The Global Terrorism Index is an important study that enables resources such as the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' website to aid understanding of the ways in which religious ideology interacts with the changing face of global terrorism. We can use the data from this Index and others like it to inform and to enable others to look at the many influences at play in terrorism around the world.
This all fits into the need for timely data to be readily available to help in the understanding of conflict situations and to inform the global debate. At the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics we are using information from the Institute for Economics and Peace, alongside a range of other religious, socio-economic, civil-political and conflict data, ensuring these data sets are integrated throughout the resource's commentaries and analysis. The aim of this project is to aid decision making and planning for tackling the religious elements of conflict. These and future findings can only benefit and contribute to this important debate.
More on the 2014 Global Terrorism Index can be found here.