Research by Dr Matt Qvortrup published in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations shows that 70 percent of terrorism in Western Europe is a result of lack of political representation for minority groups. The number of Muslims in the country is not a statistically significant factor. The best way of reducing the number of terrorist attacks, Dr Qvortrup found, is to change the electoral system.
Shortly before his execution, Maria Alexandrovna (Vladimir Lenin’s mother) asked her older son, Aleksandr Ilyich, why he had resorted to terrorism. Aleksandr Ilyich answered: “Because, mother, there was no other way.”
Czarist Russia provided no alternative mechanism for communicating the people’s grievances and hence, in a Clausewitz-like fashion, Aleksandr resorted to terrorism as a ‘continuation of politics by other means’ even though this cost him his life.
But suppose there had been ‘another way’; imagine that Alekansdr could have joined a political party, contested an election, or even become a member of an elected assembly. Would this have altered his choice? Would the institutions of a pluralist democracy have changed Aleksandr’s actions. Could the risk of terror be reduced if there were institutions that gave these individuals and groups direct input into the political process? In my article Terrorism and Political Science, recently published in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, I analysed the problem, and found overwhelming evidence that terror is a result of lack of opportunities to be represented.
What is the logic behind this? The basic answer is a bit technical, but it is basically that election rules can provide a democratic safety-valve and mechanism for letting off political steam.
According to the input-output model, originally developed by political scientists Gabriel Almond and G. Bingham Powell, the political system can be seen as a series of inputs and outputs, in which groups in the surrounding environment articulate demands, which are channeled into the political system by so-called aggregators, and transformed into policies, decisions and actions, in other words Outputs.
In the traditional model, the role (or function) of articulators was performed by civic groups and trade unions, and the role of aggregators was performed by political parties that ‘aggregated’ the views ‘articulated’ by organisations and civic groups.
By performing this function, the political parties ensured that concerns and demands from the environment were translated into policies (Almond, Powell, Strøm and Dalton 2006, 67). Terrorism can, if we follow this model, be seen as a result of a malfunction on the input side of the political system; if political parties do not respond to demands articulated by a minority group, they might resort to an alternative – and malign – aggregator; terrorism.
This analysis is supported historically. In fact, in the period from 1920 to 1970, when the West European party system was ‘frozen’ along the lines of the main social, economic and religious cleavages (Rokkan and Lipset 1967), there was virtually no domestic political violence and little terrorism. This was possibly because the political parties were able – and willing – to respond to views articulated by the minority groups.
But this changed in the late 1960s. Political violence and domestic terrorism emerged virtually at the same time as dealignment, i.e. at the time when the relationship between ‘aggregators’ and ‘articulators’ broke down.
A good proxy for the lack of representation is the electoral system. We know from research dating back as far as the late 1960s that PR electoral systems are likely to allow more groups to be represented.
If the opportunities for being represented are greater, then there is a great chance that the views articulated by groups outside the political system will be aggregated as inputs into it. Of course, the presence of a PR electoral system does not explain everything but it is still salient.
Using a statistical technique called regression analysis I found a strong negative statistical association between the number of MPs elected per constituency and the number of terrorist attacks. According to the statistical data up to 70 percent of terrorist attacks can be explained by lack of representation.
One of the other findings is that the number of Muslims in a country does not make a difference. But my research showed that there are more terrorist attacks in countries with fewer ethnic minority MPs. And countries with a relatively large number of MPs elected in each constituency tend to have more ethnic minority MPs and local government representatives
It would seem that institutions are of more than peripheral importance. Indeed, one might even be tempted to argue that institutions are the key to understanding terrorism and that the often cited sociological and economic factors are but secondary causes.
So we should not blame the Muslims or any other minority group, nor should we resort to strong-arm tactics, control-orders and the other harsh methods used in the wake of the terrorist attacks 11 years ago. Rather, we should focus on institutional reform. It sounds like a political anorak’s dream, but the evidence shows that we can reduce terrorism by introducing a PR-Electoral system!
2012© Matt Qvortrup