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Minority Groups, Political Exclusion and Terrorism

Previous research has suggested that instead of turning to civil war, some groups resort to acts of terrorism due to lack of resources required to support an extended conflict. Terrorism is often used as a more cost-effective option. Similarly, this study goes deeper, exploring the relationship between excluding certain ethnic groups from political participation and their likelihood of using terrorism as a way to overcome their exclusion.

Terrorist movements often benefit from stable support networks when developed from a group of people with family, social, or cultural ties. The authors argue that the strength and reliability of ethnic bonds make terrorism a viable response, deemed legitimate when included civilians are viewed as complicit in their exclusion, and offer a more accessible and effective target.

The research team formulated the following hypothesis to help understand the relationship between politically marginalized ethnic groups and their likelihood of domestic terrorist activity:

  1. Countries with larger populations of politically excluded ethnic groups will experience more domestic terrorist attacks.
  2. Countries with larger populations of politically excluded ethnic groups will experience more casualties from domestic terrorism.

To conduct their study, the research team gathered information from 130 countries from 1981-2005 on the yearly domestic terrorist incidents per country and the yearly total of deaths due to terrorist incidents per country. They then compare this information with a global database measuring political exclusion of groups due to their ethnicity. In the case of this study, exclusion is represented by whether or not a particular ethnic group’s members are barred from service or representation in the executive branch of government.

The research team found political exclusion to be very important in predicting a country’s chance of experiencing domestic terrorism. The more citizens a country excludes on the basis of their ethnicity, the more prone the country is to terror attacks and consequently its citizens will suffer higher casualties due to the increased terrorist activity. For example, a country that excludes three quarters of their population is 80% more likely to experience terrorism than a country that excludes half of their population. The research also showed that the percentage of politically excluded ethnic populations was a more important predictor to domestic terrorism than a country’s total level of political participation, or the amount of economic discrimination faced by the same ethnic groups. Meaning exclusion from political power or representation is more important to ethnic groups than economic exclusion. Moreover, not the mere political participation forces ethnic groups to turn to terrorist acts, but rather the disqualification from participation.

Research on terrorism and its motivators are most often focused on social and economic factors. This research is very important due to authors’ success in introducing the importance of addressing political influences as well. Political exclusion on the basis of ethnicity fuels domestic terrorism. When people are excluded from government power or representation, they are more likely to resort to acts of terror to address or avenge their grievances.

Contemporary Relevance:

This research is particularly important to US post-9/11 counterterrorism policy. In 2005, President George W. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Account which provided development aid to help countries fight terrorism by addressing its political and economic root causes. In exchange for American aid packages, countries are required to engage in political reforms, create free-market economic policies and to fight corruption. However, a recipient country’s progress in addressing root causes of terrorism is based on 17 indicators—none of which measure political inclusiveness of ethnic minority groups. Considering the findings of this study – ethnic group political exclusion as a major influence in domestic terrorism – policies aimed at building inclusiveness could be a highly effective counterterrorism tool.

Talking Points

  • Political exclusion on the basis of ethnicity fuels domestic terrorism
  • A country’s proportion of the politically excluded ethnic populations is a more important predictor to domestic terrorism than the level of political participation or of economic discrimination.
  • When people are excluded from government power or representation, they are more likely to resort to acts of terror to address or avenge their grievances.

Practical Implications

Although this research found a direct link between political exclusion and increased terrorism, political participation was not a factor. Therefore, it is not the act of political participation that forces ethnic groups to turn to terrorist acts, but rather the disqualification from participation. Thus, this research predicts that terrorist activity won’t increase so long as ethnic groups have the option of political participation-regardless if they choose to or not. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is the current buzz-term in the field of peacebuilding. Adding the variable of political inclusion for ethnic groups is crucial for the complex strategies needed to address terrorism at its roots.

Continued Reading

Citation: Choi, S. W., & Piazza, J. A. (2016). Ethnic groups, political exclusion and domestic terrorism.Defence and Peace Economics,27(1), 37-63.

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