“As a professor of government at Harvard, Louise Richardson concentrated for many years on international security, with a special focus on terrorism – a relatively obscure academic field until the day George W. Bush declared war on it. At which point Richardson was pitched from the cloisters into the public arena, giving lectures to a variety of audiences – policymakers, the military, intelligence agencies and business communities – as well as testifying before the US Senate. She also picked up awards both for teaching and for her contribution to international peace, and became executive dean at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
Everywhere Richardson went, people seemed to be asking the same question: which single book should we read to get a handle on terrorism? There wasn’t one. And so Richardson wrote What Terrorists Want – a freethinking examination, informed by three decades of research, of this complex subject. It was her counterblast – if it’s possible to have a peaceful, measured counterblast – to what she calls America’s “absolutely catastrophic” response to September 11. Her book became that rare thing in academic publishing – a bestseller with no trade-off between accessibility and scholarly rigour.
Which is not to say it was uncontentious. Richardson holds that despite the dreadfulness of their deeds, most terrorists are neither “crazy” nor even “amoral”. On the contrary, most terrorists see themselves as altruistic and noble – Davids against Goliaths – and their objectives are rationally calculated. “Terrorism is a tactic,” Richardson says, “and terror is an emotion. It makes no sense to declare war on either.” While arguing that terrorism cannot be defeated, Richardson believes passionately that it can be contained. The first step is to understand its appeal to those who practise it, and on the basis of this understanding to devise effective counter-terrorist policies.” via Financial Times.