Serious research into terrorism has been going on for decades, peaking in the late 1970s when terrorism started to emerge as a global phenomenon, followed by a determined resurgence after 9/11. The world again appears to be in the grip of terrorism inspired by Al Qaeda and ISIS, which has seen vicious attacks in many countries. But for all the time, effort and resources that have gone into studying these groups, we don't seem to have progressed very far in our understanding of terrorism or come to any consensus about what really makes people commit these acts.
This is not a reason to give up. But it is depressing to hear a French investigation citing a failure of communication between intelligence agencies and other security forces as a key reason a series of terrorist plots in France last year went undetected, costing 147 lives. Every terrorist involved was known to someone, their potential for involvement in something dangerous was predicted or predictable – but no one joined the dots. This must be the oldest, but hardest lesson to learn – information is power. It can provide security and it can ensure safety, but it cannot do this if organisations who have knowledge work in silos, and are threatened by sharing it. It is always easier to join dots in hindsight and appear wiser for doing so, but, with the death toll in the hundreds in recent attacks, more connections need to be made before violence occurs.