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On April 15,professor in the Joseph Young, a

School of Public Affairs, was playing outdoors with his kids when a reporter called, seeking comment on the day’s biggest news event. That’s how Young first learned about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. “I knew right away,” he says. “Given the stage, given the way it was perpetrated with multiple bombs, it was clearly a terrorist attack.” Young’s colleague Brian Forst had a more personal reaction. “My first thought,” he says, “was that I ran the Boston Marathon in 1972. What would I do if a bomb went off as I crossed the finish line?” Terrorism “overwhelms the senses,” he says. “That was my gut reaction: What the hell is going on?” Forst spent the day transfixed, “glued to the TV, like everyone else. It was a little déjà vu of 9/11. Then I thought, I’ve got class on Wednesday. It was a great opportunity to ask my students questions we should be thinking about.” orst and Young, along with Stephen Tankel, make up the core faculty of the graduate concentration in terrorism in the Department of Justice, Law and Society (JLS). Though quite new—it launched in 2011—the terrorism program already has awarded 19 master’s degrees and has three doctoral candidates. Forst, a longtime professor at JLS, was the driving force behind the program’s creation. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was clear JLS needed a course on terrorism—“but we didn’t know anything about it.” Finally, in 2004, he began studying the topic himself. At first, he says, terrorism mystified him; he couldn’t conceive of what might drive someone to kill innocent people by the dozens or thousands. Four years later, he published Terrorism, Crime, and Public Policy, now used as a textbook at AU and other schools. He also created a course that bears the same title as his book. During the years of intensive self-study, Forst reviewed texts in the field and found they were missing an important perspective: that of the criminologist. Criminological insights into gangs contribute to our understanding of jihadist networks, he explains. Studies of poverty, alienation, and crime can add greatly to our understanding of what drives people to terrorism. “What took

previous page illustration by brad yeo


30 American Magazine  August 2013

“ A lot of people never get beyond the fear and the desire to kick the crap out of those who did it and anyone who might be associated with their religion or nationality. -brian forst

me by surprise,” he says, “is how much the existing textbooks had nothing to say about the causes of aggression.” In particular, many texts ignored strain theory, which traces aggression to social stressors and to the so-called “bunch of guys” theory, which postulates that young men tend to grow more polarized in their beliefs when they group together with other young men. The main goal in terrorism education “is to demystify this thing,” Forst says. “A lot of people never get beyond the fear and the desire to kick the crap out of those who did it and anyone who might be associated with their religion or nationality. We need to think more comprehensively about the nature of terrorism, about its causes, and about which interventions are productive and which are counterproductive and create blowback.” To that end, JLS began offering the terrorism concentration and hired Young, a political scientist, and Tankel, an expert on foreign jihadist organizations, to flesh out course offerings on the topic. Job one for the program, Tankel says, has been to train personnel to staff the government’s antiterrorism efforts. Current students and alumni are working in the State and Defense Departments, the CIA, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Before 9/11, according to Tankel, few intelligence analysts had experience with terrorism. “The intelligence community ramped up quickly,” he says, “but the demand

for new analysts who have been exposed to these issues remains. The same goes for practitioners and policy makers.” The concentration, Tankel says, gives students “both empirical knowledge and various prisms through which to look at these problems.” n addition to exposing students to an unusual range of perspectives—including insights from law, criminology, international relations, political science, and security studies—the program has another feature that sets it apart from competing programs at other universities, a feature that’s especially useful after the events in Boston: from its inception, the JLS terrorism concentration has included course work on domestic terrorism, not just the foreign variety. Caben Chester got his master’s degree from JLS in 2007, attending classes by night and working for DHS by day. Although he earned the degree before the concentration was formalized, he followed a similar program of study. In his current job as field intelligence director for the San Francisco office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he supports investigations of transnational crime and does trend analysis on methods being used by the criminals. “I got some great experience from AU social science courses in terms of . . . collect[ing] data from a variety of sources, coding that data into a usable format, and then analyzing it”—skills he uses routinely in his work, he says. Beyond helping him perfect his methodology, courses at AU that offered perspectives on Islam and the West have helped him think more deeply about both transnational crime and terrorism, as well as the groups that engage in them. “Arrests are fine,” says Chester, “but our true focus [at ICE] is to identify root causes and then figure out how to disrupt these organizations.”


raining antiterrorism personnel is the highest priority for the program, but expanding knowledge in the field is a close second. Personnel on the frontlines of antiterrorism efforts face a barrage of issues to triage, says Tankel, whose recent book, Storming the World Stage, profiles Lashkare-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. By contrast, he says, university faculty “can step back and undertake the type of in-depth research necessary to illuminate broader lessons.” In addition to having more time for study, university-based researchers


American magazine, August 2013  

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a foru...

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