Dealing with Terrorism and Foreign Fighters 8hours

This course provides an outline of (the study of) the phenomenon of (counter-) terrorism and the primary source of today’s counterterrorism agenda’s in Europe: European citizens and residents fighting in Syria and Iraq with groups such as Islamic State. These persons are also referred to as ‘jihadist foreign fighters’.

Course Description

The course investigates this phenomenon from various theoretical perspectives, ranging from the literature on agenda setting and governing complex problems, to theories on terrorism and radicalisation. It aims to provide answers to the fundamental questions: Who are these foreign fighters, do they pose a threat or not, and who should do what in order to deal with this ‘wicked problem’?

It starts with an overview of specific features of the phenomenon of terrorism and foreign fighters, such as its history, the role of leadership, the concept of leaderless jihad, the concept of ‘swarming’, as well as the role of social media, propaganda and recruitment. It will also focus on the individual characteristics of foreign fighters.

After this overview, why and to whom these foreign fighters might be a problem is discussed. Special attention will be paid to the need, possibilities and challenges related to the often- propagated ‘comprehensive approach’ to deal with terrorism and foreign fighters. We will study the difference between so-called ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ as well as preventive and repressivemeasures, looking at multi stakeholder approaches and investigating how such a ‘wicked problem’ is dealt with in the policy domain.

Course Objectives
  • Students are able to differentiate between specific features of terrorism and the foreign fighter phenomenon and can apply different lenses (structural lens, group lens, or individual lens) to study these phenomena and the specific features, types, roles and radicalisation processes of foreign fighters. 
  • Students are able to analyse the governance challenges and consequences of different approaches to deal with terrorism and wicked problems such as the issue of foreign fighters

  • Students are able to assess how policies and strategies relate to best practices in countering terrorism and foreign fighters and can critically reflect on this in terms of effectiveness by using and assessing (primary) sources

  • Students are able to reflect on counterterrorism policies by using theoretical and empirical knowledge on how to manage or address terrorism and the foreign fighter phenomena at the national and/or local level, and transnational level
  • Students are able to present examples of terrorism and foreign fighters and their specific features, relevant processes and governance challenges, analyse the approaches to manage or govern the terrorism and foreign fighter phenomena and translate their analysis into policy recommendations.

Lecture 1 : Definitions, state of the art of terrorism studies and today’s phenomenon of jihadist foreign fighters

How to define the phenomenon of terrorism and what is the essence of this phenomenon? Moreover, how to study terrorism and counterterrorism? This lecture presents the key concepts of the course and the main opportunities, challenges as well as dilemmas it raises for research and policymaking in the current period.


Lecture 2 : What’s new? Attracting fighters to conflict zones in the past and today

Why do conflicts in faraway countries attract foreign fighters? Why and how are people motivated to leave behind their daily lives and travel to distant conflict zones?

    1hr. 10min.

    Lecture 3 : Radicalisation processes and characteristics of Foreign Fighters

    In 2014, when presenting its annual report, the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) talked about more than 100 Dutch citizens and residents who had gone to Syria to fight. The AIVD and others consider this a worrisome situation, but who are these persons and why did they go? In addition, are they indeed radicalised (or not) and what does radicalisation actually entail?

    2hrs. 27min.

    Lecture 4 : What is the Problem?

    This lecture focuses on the ‘wicked’ problem of (jihadist) foreign fighters. It also looks into the actual and potential threat from foreign fighters, with a focus on returnees. Key questions include what is the essence of the ‘problem’ posed by foreign fighters, how do they pose a threat, to whom, how to assess the threat level, and how to deal with them upon their return?

    2hrs 1min.

    Lecture 5 : Pathways and Fallout

    What happens to foreign fighters after the conflict has ended? What are the different pathways they could take? Moreover, what is the potential fallout of the presence of a large number of foreign fighters in a conflict? In this lecture, we will address these questions and see how we should approach the issues that seem to be increasingly relevant now that IS has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

    1hr. 35min.

    Jordan Reynolds


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