Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Who are the lone wolf terrorists?

In an article published last year, I argue that there is a particular (and frequently dominant) framing of terrorism that links it to "Islamist extremists organized in international networks." News out of the Netherlands today suggests that this may be changing, but only partially.

The Dutch newspaper NRC reports that the city of The Hague is trying to assess how dangerous "lone wolves" are. On the plus side, authorities are paying more attention to "lone wolves" than before. On the minus side, lone wolves are defined in the article (and hence presumably by the city) as solitary individuals with "jihadist thoughts". This is problematic to say the least, given that the most serious terrorist attack in the wider region in recent years — Anders Breivik's actions in Norway in 2011 —was committed by someone who had virulent anti-jihadist thoughts, and that the Netherlands has its own close experience with a non-jihadist terrorist — Volkert van der Graaf, who killed Pim Fortuyn.

I suspect that the majority of lone wolf (or potential lone wolf) terrorists today are indeed individuals with "jihadist thoughts", but it strikes me as a spectacularly bad idea to make that a definitional assumption of a project intended at preventing terrorist attacks by lone wolves.