Political Parties and Terrorist Groups

Political Parties and Terrorist Groups

Political Parties and Terrorist Groups

Political Parties and Terrorist Groups


This book is the definitive guide to the topical issue of the relationship between political parties that embrace the democratic process and terrorist groups which eschew the legal and procedural strictures of democracy.

The fully revised edition continues to provide the most detailed theoretical and empirical analysis of this controversial issue, highlighting the fluid nature of boundaries between terrorist organisation and legitimate political party. Drawing on a vast array of data, the authors examine a large number of international case studies from Italy, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Peru, Argentina, Japan and Northern Ireland.

By incorporating substantial new material on ETA, Hizbollah and Hamas, this book retains its position at the forefront of the worldwide political discussion on terrorism, and continues to be essential reading for all students, academics and readers with an interest in security studies, terrorism and political violence


For many, two forms of political organization, political parties and terrorist groups, could not be more different. Western writers usually believe that political parties play an indispensable role in the democratic political process. Parties allow voters to choose their rulers. They provide citizens with the means and opportunity to take part in and influence the political process. They simplify and crystallize complex issues and abstract choices. They control governments and may be held accountable by the public for how they perform this task. These observations are true not only of individual parties operating in democratic settings but also of clusters of parties or “party systems” active in various democratic countries. If competition among business firms is healthy for a nation’s economy, competition among political parties is an important sign of democratic vitality.

If parties represent the sine qua non of democratic rule, terrorist groups appear to present us with virtually the opposite picture. While parties signify or symbolize peaceful forms of democratic political activity, at least within the democracies, terrorist bands signify illegal and extra-normal forms of violence directed against both governments and members of the public. While parties engage in persuasion, terrorists practice coercion. They do so because they are unable or unwilling (frequently on ideological grounds) to win the support of large numbers of citizens. And if parties constitute the building blocks of stable democracy, terrorist groups very often seek to destabilize and then bring about the collapse of democratic regimes.

Nevertheless, the distinction between political parties and terrorist groups may not be as clear-cut as it appears. If we think of political parties and terrorist groups operating not under democratic but authoritarian auspices the roles may be reversed, at least from time to time. Under authoritarian rule, a single ruling party, one which exhibits all or most of the qualities of a political party, may act to stifle dissent and repress the formation of democratic alternatives. Rather than promoting democracy, such a party may act to prevent democracy’s development. The histories of party politics in many North and sub-Saharan African countries, especially in the immediate aftermath of national independence struggles, often display this tendency.

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