The complexities of terrorism
Dr. Tami Jacoby, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, has been studying Middle East politics and international relations for nearly 20 years. (photo from Tami Jacoby)
Dr. Tami Jacoby, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, has been studying Middle East politics and international relations for nearly 20 years. She not only shares her expertise with students at the university, but the broader community as well, via books and lectures. She is currently teaching an eight-week class at Winnipeg’s Rady JCC called Terrorism and Political Violence.
After working toward her undergrad degree at the Hebrew University, Jacoby finished her studies at U of M. She then went back to Hebrew U for her master’s degree in political science and international relations. At that time, Jacoby made aliyah and started a family and life in Israel. Later, she moved to Toronto to do a doctorate in political science at York University. She eventually returned to Winnipeg, where she currently resides.
While doing her PhD, Jacoby traveled back and forth regularly between Canada and Israel, and did field work in Israel, conducting interviews and research on women’s protest movements.
Over the years, Jacoby has written several books, including Women in Zones of Conflict: Power and Resistance in Israel (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005). Using the framework of “a case study of three women’s political movements in Israel: Women in Green, the Jerusalem Link and the lobby for women’s right to fight in the Israel Defence Forces,” the book, according to the publisher’s description online, “challenges the traditional view, which suggests a natural connection between women and pacifism, based on the feminine qualities of caring, cooperation and empathy.”
“What I did was a number of years of interviews and research on women’s protest movements … and the book that came out was a book on the diversity of feminism in Israel, but as a level of extremism,” Jacoby told the Independent. “I was interested in how women in one national context could have such radically different views on the same things, like feminism, the Arab-Israeli conflict and just run-of-the-mill party politics.”
One of the interesting things Jacoby found was that many women on the left were interested in things like dialogue with the Palestinians about a two-state solution, and feminism. In contrast, right-wingers’ idea of dialogue with the Palestinians was through protest, the media and policy.
“They were very driven by their fear of not only losing the state of Israel, but of losing their identity as Jews, as Israelis,” said Jacoby. “And the left-wing portion of the Israeli women’s movement was very interested in dialogue with Palestinian women. They wanted to get together with them and have cultural programs and social events. They wanted to listen to and get to know the stories of Palestinian women, to be able to walk in their shoes and completely understand them.”
The class that Jacoby is teaching at the Rady JCC – which started last week and runs to March 21 – looks at terrorism in Canada and the legal and political/social aspects of it.
“This class I’m teaching at the JCC is, in a sense, piggybacking on other research and teaching that I’m doing right at the moment,” she told the Independent before the course began. “So, I’d assume the people in the class will be interested in the kind of terrorism that Canada and Israel deal with…. But the class takes a step back and looks at the phenomenon of terrorism as a philosophical and structural issue….”
While Jacoby is teaching the class, she is also a student of sorts, as she is interested in hearing what people have to say.
“People have a lot to say and it’s not just off the cuff; it’s substantiated by empirical evidence and anecdotes that are based on experience,” she said. “What I try to do is open a little window on something that I’ve been very heavily researching … and open a discussion about things that people may not have thought of before … so people can bring things to the table and we can work to enlighten ourselves about the topic.”
Touching a little on what will be examined in the course, Jacoby said, “One of the things I’ve come to realize about terrorism is that it has a particular dynamic to it, no matter where it is and what period of history it is in. And that is, you have a small group of people trying to terrorize, make afraid, a large group of people … so they start to feel their life is untenable and then pressure the government to act. That’s the case with literally every terrorist group, regardless of their philosophy, background or tactics. That’s the logic of terrorism. I’m interested in seeing how case studies fit into that logic.”
Another topic will be how to pair counterterrorism with policies like multiculturalism, democracy and liberalism.
“The human tendency is to look for people who might look like them, causing a whole range of Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism and xenophobia,” explained Jacoby. “These are the kinds of problems not specific to any one particular form of terrorism, but that fuel a broader understanding of terrorism in general.”
Jacoby sees political violence like terrorism as a way in which people express themselves at the extreme end of the spectrum. “Political violence is quite broad,” she said. “It could be something quite innocuous, like threatening someone or inciting someone to violence … or, it could be throwing a fist or a bomb, or using nuclear weapons as a scare tactic.”
The Middle East will likely be discussed in terms of the ongoing cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their backers, as well as both American and Russian policies.
“One thing that people seem to not understand nowadays is that people may oppose a terrorist group’s tactics, but they may also support the underlying goals … which can be quite honourable,” said Jacoby. “For example, terrorists might use violence to press their point about Muslim victims in the Middle East, [while] a moderate person might say they are against and shocked by the high casualty rate of Muslim victims. There are a lot of divisions out there, of which terrorists only represent a very small group … [an] active, vocal, radical, but miniscule, minority. While we may not like the tactic, many people may support the ultimate goals, which include justice and peace. The reason we can’t see the ultimate goals is because terrorism destroyed them … [and] in the end, makes it worse.”
As for possible solutions to terrorism, Jacoby said it “is one of the most difficult tasks to respond to.”
She explained, “I would say this: the effect of terrorism is more psychological than anything else. Fewer people die from terrorist attacks every year than from faulty wiring or furniture falling on them when they sleep. But, because of the media and the dramatic nature of its coverage of terrorism (pervasiveness, images, taboos, fear), people spend more time worrying about terrorism than any other more concrete and actual danger to their lives. My suggestion is we, as a society, need to be more ‘comfortable’ with the psychological discomfort that comes with terrorism. We must continue to be vigilant, but also live our lives to the fullest so that the terrorists won’t ultimately win.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.