Martha Crenshaw, pioneer in terrorism studies, joins CISAC

Martha Crenshaw is a pioneer in terrorism studies, one of a handful of scholars worldwide who started investigating the subject long before Sept. 11, 2001.

Crenshaw, who joined CISAC this year as a senior fellow at FSI and a political science professor by courtesy, brings three decades of study to her current agenda of examining distinctions between so-called old and new terrorism, how terrorism ends, and why the United States is the target of terrorism.

"We are very fortunate to have Martha Crenshaw join CISAC as a senior fellow," said Scott Sagan, CISAC co-director. "Her detailed knowledge of the inside workings of terrorist organizations and her deep understanding of earlier counter-terrorist campaigns have brought much-needed historical perspective to contemporary policy debates after 9/11."

Associate professor of law Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who led the search that resulted in Crenshaw's hiring, said her "combination of attention to historical detail, interdisciplinary methods, and knowledge of institutional context has made her one of the nation's foremost scholars of terrorism. Her appointment is great news for CISAC and Stanford, where she will strengthen an already significant scholarly community working on homeland security and terrorism."

Coming to Stanford from Wesleyan University, where she was the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor of Global Issues and Democratic Thought and a government professor, Crenshaw said she found the opportunity to join an interdisciplinary research center a welcome change.

"CISAC's and my interests merged perfectly," she said, as the center was looking to build its research expertise in terrorism. She said she looks forward to teaching graduate students in the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies as well as working with research colleagues at CISAC and across campus.

Crenshaw's terrorism studies began with a graduate seminar paper she wrote on actions by the FLN, or National Liberation Front, during Algeria's war for independence from France in the 1950s and 60s. She arrived at the topic the way many professors advise students to do--she noted in a study of Vietnam-era guerrilla warfare the comment that "no one has studied terrorism."

That seminar paper inspired her dissertation, which formed the basis of her 1978 book, Revolutionary Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954-1962, a case study in the strategic use of terrorism by a revolutionary nationalist movement.

Having written numerous articles and edited four books on terrorism, Crenshaw is now editing a book tentatively titled The Consequences of Counterterrorist Policies in Democracies. The Russell Sage Foundation supported the research, which Crenshaw said illuminates issues such as "the strength of executive power, effects of counterterrorism legislation on minorities, and unintended consequences of counterterrorism policies."

As a lead investigator with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, Crenshaw is also researching why the United States is the target of terrorism, a study that could be especially useful in informing counterterrorism policy.

Crenshaw "trace[s] the evolution of anti-American terrorism over time--since the mid-1960s," she said, comparing groups that used terrorism to others with similar ideas that have not resorted to terrorism. Comparing case studies, she explained, allows her to "analyze incentives for the use of terrorism."

In "The Debate over 'New' versus 'Old' Terrorism," a paper Crenshaw presented at the American Political Science Association annual meeting in September--and which will be published as a chapter in an edited volume, she questions oft-heard claims that terrorism in recent years has taken on a new character to become more religious and lethal. She found the distinctions too hastily drawn and possibly dangerous.

"There is no fundamental difference between 'old' and 'new' terrorism," she said.

"Rejecting our accumulated knowledge of terrorism by dismissing it as 'obsolete'" would be a mistake that could lead to bad policy choices, she added. Before 9/ll, assumptions that "new" terrorism would forsake the "old" technique of hijacking and turn to weapons of mass destruction turned out to be wrong, she pointed out.

Crenshaw said researchers and policymakers should "ask why some groups cause large numbers of civilian casualties and others do not, rather than assuming that religious beliefs are the explanation for lethality."