Asal adjusting the lens on terrorism
Published: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 14:06
On such a big campus as the University at Albany, it's hard to stand out. Students and professors alike are but mere individuals among a mass population of working individuals trying to leave their mark on the university. However, on occasion there are those groups of unique individuals who manage to simply fall into doing something amazing. One such person is Associate Professor Victor Asal.
From his simple, well-organized downtown office in Milne Hall, one would hardly walk in and scream "he must be doing something life-changing in there." However, he is. Perhaps to Professor Asal, the work being done in and out of his office is simply a way to expand political scientists' understanding of a prevalent media phenomenon: terrorism.
Almost an entire decade after September 11, America and its citizens are still left with the implications of that memorable day. A combination of smog, running people, and lost loved ones gave some Americans their first tastes of what millions across the world face each day. For the past ten years, the citizens of the United States have willingly backed a war against this force that changed their lives years ago.
Victor Asal's current research deals with understanding this force.
For the most part, America's war on terror has been heavily saturated with discussions of invading various Middle Eastern countries with large Islamic populations. It has become natural for the average American to tie terrorism with Islam. However, along with Dr. Karl Rethemeyer—Associate Professor and Department Chair for the Political Science Department—Asal has been conducting research that can change that narrow discourse that we have become so accustomed to.
"In the American discourse, we tend to tie terrorism, very tightly, with Islam but when one looks at the data one sees that terrorism is just not Islamic," Asal said.
According to Asal, there are all types of terrorism. Terrorism, as he defines it, includes two components.
"A terrorist act is where an organization targets civilians on purpose for violence," he said. The organization however is simply a group of people who repeatedly commits these acts.
"There are Leftist terrorists. There are Rightist terrorists. There are Christian terrorists. There are Jewish terrorists. There are Hindu terrorist. There are Buddhist terrorists. There are anarchist terrorists. I can go on and on," Asal said.
One of the goals of his research is to look at the larger picture. Asal sad that "Islamic terrorism is just one component of this." The research being done by Asal and Rethemeyer is making a huge advancement towards including this larger picture in a sort of revised American discourse regarding terrorism.
As Asal outlined, this research is based upon a compilation of data that they have collected from various studies and analyses that they and other political scientists have performed. Asal and Rethemeyer handles all this information by plugging it all in to their big BAD (The Big Allied and Dangerous) database. As Asal jokingly noted, "Karl does all the hard work. I just come up with the funny acronyms."
However, even for a man who jokingly claims that he gives over his workload to someone else, Asal's expertise on terrorism seems to be a facet that could change the average American's relationship with terrorism. Not only does the research deal with expanding our lens on terrorism, but simply understanding the nature of terrorism.
Based upon the data gathered in BAD database, Asal believes that "ideology has a lot to do with the likeliness of an organization's tendency to resort to violence." In fact, in fact Asal and Rethemeyer have been able to draw a correlation between a government's policies and the likeliness of terrorist response to that government.
"Certain government policies that repress or exclude people are more likely to provoke violence," Asal said. "There are choices that American policy makers make that are having impact on what kind of behavior we see from different organizations." If this is the case, this could possibly change the way that the American government approaches policymaking, and more importantly, their views of terrorism.