Social Science for Counterterrorism: Putting the Pieces Together

By Paul K. Davis; Kim Cragin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
How Do Terrorists Generate and Maintain
Support?

Christopher Paul


Introduction

Objectives

How do terrorists generate support initially, and how do they maintain it over time? What benefits do terrorists or insurgents draw from such support, and how critical are these benefits?

A starting point may be to remember Mao Tse-tung’s (1937) admonition that “the guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” The suggestion in our context would be that terrorists and insurgents desperately need popular support, and that disconnecting them from that support is a potentially highly effective approach to combating them. Although the proposition is quite plausible intuitively and is part of a near-consensus view, it is not as straightforward as it might seem. There are disagreements on the matter and the empirical base is fairly thin.1 Nonetheless, it appears to be an important proposition and what follows surveys much of the relevant literature. It then seeks to structure the information in a coherent way and to draw some conclusions for counterterrorism.


Disciplinary Approaches to Studying Support for Terrorism

Where support for terrorism is addressed in the literature, the focus is typically limited to state support, financial support, or expressions of support as captured in public opinion polls. More often, support is assumed, as authors address other questions. As a result, the survey in

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