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New terrorism degree program aims to create thinkers who are able to come up with more informed and productive responses to terrorist acts.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Here, tucked among the grey stone walls of this 600-year-old university, in a modern, glass-walled building, is the world-renowned Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence — as up to date as a suicide bombing.
Although Europe has long been accustomed to terrorism, in a way the United States has not, with the IRA in Britain, Basques in Spain, and left-wing radical gangs in Germany and Italy, after 9/11 terrorism and political violence took on a new dimension with the ever-present prospect of mass destruction on a previously unheard-of scale.
The center’s director, Max Taylor, believes that the new terrorism, borne on the wings of globalization, is here to stay and will not just stick around for a generation or two and fade away, as have some of its predecessors. “We need to be professional in our response to terrorism,” he says — thus the need for terrorism to be studied and analyzed in a careful, systematic way.
His center, Europe’s oldest for examining political violence, recently began offering a master's degree in terrorism studies. It also offers a certificate in terrorism — a shorter, 16-week course instead of the usual three-year master’s program.
Taylor’s students, about 125 at any one time in the master's program, come from the security services of many countries — including the United States, as well as the police and armed forces. Taylor says that for some of the more clandestine services, the exact nature of a student’s day job may not be revealed.
A student may come to this small college town on the North Sea for his or her studies, or, if they prefer, the whole course can be done on the internet. This means that many of the center’s students are on active duty somewhere. Taylor had one student on a navy ship who did all his work for the master's course at sea. The equivalent of the dog-ate-my- homework excuse can be: I am sorry, professor, we are about to be deployed against a Taliban-held village and I am going to be late with my paper. Tragically one of Taylor’s students, a British soldier in Afghanistan, was recently killed in action.
By a happy coincidence for the center, St. Andrews University recently chose a terrorism expert to be its new Principal and Vice Chancellor, Harvard’s Louise Richardson whose book, “What Do Terrorists Want?” has become a classic. She is the first American and the first woman to head this ancient center of learning, the third oldest in the English-speaking world.
The center holds frequent conferences, often attended by top security service and armed forces personnel. The head of MI5, Britain’s domestic counter-intelligence service, for example, addressed a January gathering here.
This week Taylor is presiding over a conference called: “The Globalization of the Conflict in Somalia.” One counter-intuitive paper, presented by Peter Henne of Washington’s Georgetown University, for example, questioned the assumption that all militant Islamist organizations are a necessary part of Al Qaeda’s network. The paper stressed the often overlooked local political factors in Somalia, the difficulties Al Qaeda has in establishing itself in the local context, and “the lack of definite unity between Somali groups and Al Qaeda.”