Terrorist Attacks as a Social Problem


Dr Dorien DeTombe (MSc. Ph.D.)

Chair International Research Society on Methodology Societal Complexity,

P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe

Tel: +31 20 6927526   Email: detombe@nosmo.nl




Dorien DeTombe (2009) Terrorist Attacks as a Social Problem in Transportation Security Against Terrorism. Mete Tahmisoğlu & Cinar Özen (Eds.) IOS Press: Amsterdam , Berlin , Tokyo , WashintonDC. ISSN 1874-6276




In this article terrorism is reflected from a social science point of view. Terrorism is seen a complex societal problem, that must be analyzed according to the theory of societal complexity , incasu the Compram methodology (DeTombe, 1994). The Compram methodology is based on the theory of societal complexity. The Compram methodology is advised by the OECD to handle complex societal issues on global safety. This methodology gives directions to analyze the situation, to find causes, to find interventions, to prepare and guide negotiations and to evaluate results afterwards.

In acting on terrorism several phases can be distinguished. The most important phase is the prevention phase: not to have terrorist attacks at all. This can be done by focusing on the causes on terrorism. Shifting the main human power and money to the phase of prevention will, in the end, help to mitigate terrorist attacks.

There are many causes for terrorism. Some of these will be discussed like the relation between power and idealism, between fundamentalism, identity and religion, and between poverty and immigration. An example of trying to influence one of the causes of terrorism is implemented in a project in Turkey of increasing the level of living.

The theory of societal complexity dictates that before finding interventions the problem has to be defined and the causes have to be analyzed. Otherwise only effects are handled and the problem will stay the same. Looking at the way governments in Western Europe and the USA react on threats of terrorism, it seems that threats of terrorism are used to abuse the rights of civilians. Analyzing ‘war on terrorism’ of the Bush jr. administration seems to support this statement. This results in a double threat for the people, that of terrorist attacks and that of their own government.


Keywords: terrorism, Compram methodology, theory of societal complexity, immigration, religion, privacy



1 Handling terrorism


In this article we focus on aspects of prevention of terrorism from a social science point of view. In order to be able to prevent terrorism one needs to know the causes of terrorism to see how these causes can be influenced by fruitful interventions. Analyzing the causes can be performed with the theory of societal complexity. With this theory complex societal problems like terrorism, can be analyzed. The theory of societal complexity states that one scientific discipline alone can never explain a complex societal problem. In order to explain complex societal problems the knowledge of different fields must be combined. For analyzing terrorism this needs theories of for example religion, policy making, defense, power, psychology, sociology, immigration and methodology. How this must be performed is described by the methodology of societal complexity: the Compram methodology. The Compram methodology is developed to handle societal complexity and  gives directions to analyze the situation, to find interventions, to prepare and guide negotiations and to evaluate. The Compram methodology is advised by the OECD to handle complex societal issues on global safety[1].



2 War and terrorism: an introduction


One can see terrorism as an act performed by a small group of people in order to influence the policy of the state in such a way that it benefits themselves or people they fight for. When violence is used without an army towards a (part of a) government we call this terrorism. Terrorism is often against one’s own state, but can also be towards other states. Some examples of terrorism of the last decades are fighting for justice ‘Die Rote Armee Fraction’ (RAF) in (the former western) Germany (Meinhof, 1974), for the right to rule one’s own country (Israel (Meir,1975); Basque in northern Spain), for the opportunity to repatriate to the country of their parents (decents from Ambon ( Indonesia ) in The Netherlands). Not all terrorist acts are negatively perceived. It depends on one’s point of view: that of the attacker or that of the attacked. Some positive perceived terrorism is that of the ANC in the times of Apartheid of South Africa (Nelson Mandela) and the (non-violent) actions of Gandhi in South Africa and India .

Terrorism is used when the means, power and people to fight a war are missing (Crefeldt, 1998). Often terrorism is initiated by a kind of idealism. Terrorists have their desired view of the world. The government that they threaten or attack should make this is desired world possible. In this way terrorism can be seen as a kind of blackmail. Terrorism is about wanting to change something and forcing one’s opinion onto other people, mostly the state. Lately most terrorist activities happens within the Arabic countries. This causes much pain, fear and casualties for people. Terrorism can start when the desired goals of changing the state want to be reached, but means are low. There is not enough money, resources or people available for political influence or for starting a (civil) war. Then terrorism is an escape route. The group can be small or even ‘a state in nascent’ that has no power or the means to start a legal war. Terrorists try to persuade other groups or states with violence to reach their claims. Terrorism can be stated as a ‘war between a group of persons and another group or state’. Terrorist actions are suicide bombing, water pollution, subway and internet attacks; means to put pressure to a state.

We call it war when one army of a state attacks an army of another state. Say, when one state A, wants to influence the other state B in order to get a part of their power, or to get hold of the local assets, state A can start giving support[2] to state B, one can start negotiating, ask an international assembly to put pressure on the state, or start an economic boycott. If this does not help A can start a war[3]. This causes fear, pain and results in many casualties.

Comparing war and terrorism we see differences and similarities. War and terrorism have in common that these are both ways to ‘solve’ a complex societal problem in  a violent way in case of differences of opinion on how to rule a state or differences in opinion who has the power over the territory or the resources. There is a difference between war and terrorism in the way of using resources such as people, materials and money. There are differences in the effect of the interventions: the causalities, damages on each side, like death of people and damages of buildings, cities and whole societies. This difference is huge but gradual. There is a principle difference in legality. The wars are legal. To name a few legal wars: the Second World War (1939-1945) and the Vietnam war.  These legal wars provoke economic[4] and mental damages on both sides for generations and do not ‘solve’ the problem. The state has the right of violence and is allowed to send his their young promising boys into the field to kill the young promising boys of other countries. All legal. War can be defined as legal attacks from one government on another. The state has a legal right to protect the territory and people when attacked by other states.

Civil wars are a class apart, but can be considered as a war between ‘states in decay and states in nascent’. That was the case in China in the (civil) war between the communists and the nationalists.  The struggle between the Irish and the English can also be framed in this context (Brugha, 2006). In more recent times, the (civil) war between the Israelis and the Palestinians which upsets the world regularly (Kelman, 2006) [5].

Difference in opinion, management of territories, and economic demands can be handled in a less damaging, more human and sustainable way. Neither terrorism nor war is an adequate answer to such a disagreement, it is often the cause of many new complex societal problems. These kind of major differences in opinion are part of a complex societal problem and should be approached as a complex societal problem and thus handled according to the directions of the theory of societal complexity.

War is never a solution for a complex societal problem. War only causes more complex societal problems then before. In order to handle internal and external state conflict one should approach the problem as a complex societal problems and apply the theory of societal complexity to it. This means handling the issue according to the directions of the Compram methodology.



3 The influence of people on the state policy


People performing terrorist’s acts try to enlarge their influence on a state, often their own state. Civilians have, to a certain extend, to obey the state. The degrees of freedom differ per state. The way an individual or a group of individuals can influence the government of a state varies with the kind of government a country has. The government in a democracy is supposed to represent the interests of all people, but one can never have all one’s personal ideas implemented. In most cases only a kind of general view of the people is represented. However in a democracy there is a large space for freedom: freedom of speech and acting, as long as it does not abuse other people. A person can influence the government by elections, demonstrations, strikes ( France , 2006[6]) and by the media (Hess, 1998). The direct influence of people on the government is limited.

Although in a democracy the influence of people is limited, in a totalitarian system any kind of objection to the state can be followed by an arrest ending in prison, exile or death (Solzjenitsyn, 1974; Wu, 1994). In a totalitarian state the space of freedom is more restricted and the acts of civilians are more controlled[7].



4 Big brother is watching you[8]


The threat of terrorism is frequently popping up in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places in the world. In reaction there is a large demand for global safety. One of the answers by the government to terrorist threats is controlling; controlling the individual by implementing often technological based, devices such as camera’s and scans. The first step in controlling the individual is identification of a person. This assumes that the state knows where the danger comes from; from small groups of vaguely identified persons, who might be planning an attack. To prevent this vague attack all kinds of controlling is allowed. Laws are rapidly changed to make these state controlling actions legal. In order to prevent terrorist attacks, politicians start to create total control over individuals by giving the state the right to follow the individual in all its activities, special his/her travels by tracking him or her down by Geographic Information Systems ( GIS ), by following the person by its cell phone and credit cards, by millions of cameras, and by extending border controls. Border controls not only by passports control, but also by luggage control with X-rays, stripping a person from his or her belt and shoes, by identification through eye scan and fingerprints. By identification on demand of a person in the street, by controlling the books a person reads, by viewing the buying systems of the bookstores and lending systems of libraries. In USA these last actions are based on the patriot act, then pushed over to Europe . Thus far these intruding acts were only reserved for (potential) criminals. In the seventies there was much protest against these controls, which were at that time less severe, now there is hardly any protest.

Like all complex societal problems, some people benefit from a problem and most people have to pay. All this controlling demands many (new) technological devices and provides work for a whole sector of industry, which is glad to supply the new interventions. Total surveillance of people by technological interventions cost much money, but has it the intended effect? Does it prevent terrorism? The effect is controlling people. Is this the actual goal of all these interventions? Controlling has a direct negative effect on civil rights of people, their feeling of freedom and the democracy of the state.  Controlling provokes fear and fear provokes the demand for safety. It is striking that these freedom provoking acts are initiated during the Bush junior administration by the country of liberty and democracy: the USA . Instead of freedom we are moving towards a society unfortunately well-known under the former USSR and clearly shown in East-Germany in the period of 1945-1990 (DDR[9]). We know what effect this had on the economic production and on the behavior and well being of people.

Is this the price people have to pay for their safety? Have these high technological devices the effect of preventing terrorist attacks? Looking at a huge attacks of 9/11 New York , the set of many of the demonic measurements described above, one should realize that all these measurements would not have prevented the attack. Some of the people performing the attack on 9/11 (2001)[10], were already in the USA , some of them were actually citizens of the USA and partly trained (as flying instructors) in the USA .

Legal governmental control threatens the privacy of civilians, and by this it threatens democracy. The civilian is under total surveillance before he or she even has thought of an illegal act. All this controlling demands much government money which is, as is shown in the Bush jr. Administration, directly coming from healthcare and education.

Does this kind of control really diminishes terrorism? Or does it only abuse innocent civilians who are in this way provoked to unnecessary fear. And by this imaginary fear, are willing to hand in their civilian’s rights of freedom and are willing to pay more for control and war industry. The real causes and the relation to terrorism are not thoroughly studied. The measurements policy makers take, stimulated by technological business, are too shallow and not very fruitful. Does the government really think that these technological devices help?  Or do these devices serve an other purpose. Do governments use terrorist threats to empower their grip on people, meanwhile not really doing something to prevent terrorism?



5 Causes of terrorism


What provokes a person to plan terrorist’s acts? What and who stimulate them to do this? What are the causes of this behavior? In acting on terrorism several acting phases can be distinguished. The prevention phase, the defending phase, the actual attack phase, the phase shortly after the attack and the phase after the attack. Most of the effort in fighting terrorism, political as well as actual by the police and the army, is put in the defending phase and the actual attack period. The other phases do not get much attention. However the most important phase is the prevention phase: not to have terrorist attacks at all. For preventing terrorism one has to know the causes of terrorism. There are many causes of terrorism. The causes are complicated and complex related which each other, such as the relation between power and idealism, between fundamentalism, identity and religion, and between poverty and immigration. For finding and analyzing the causes the theory of societal complexity and the Compram methodology are needed. We will now only indicate some of the causes.


Poverty, immigration, unemployment, school-drop out and identity

Poverty seems to be one of the causes of terrorism. Lets have a closer look at this aspect of terrorism as an illustration of how thinking about terrorism can be approached. There is discrepancy between the rich developed and the poor developing countries[11]. In most countries in the world there have been for thousand of years agricultural activities. Agriculture is, next to trade, the major source of living. Agriculture was often simple life with a low level of income, which did not need a high level of education. The income The industrialization from 1850 on attracted people from rural areas to the cities, in order to find a better way of living[12]. Here they could do simple work, that did not need a high level of education. This urbanization can be seen world wide.

However in the last decades the life in the cities became more complicated. After computerization most simple jobs in the industry, which needed only a low level of education, disappeared. The industry demanded a higher level of education of the worker. The new immigrants, coming from the rural areas, have now difficulty to adapt to the complexity of the large cities and to find suitable work. This leads to many problems in large cities in Western European countries such as France , Germany , England and The Netherlands as well as in large cities of the emigrant countries itself such as in Turkey in Ankara and Istanbul . After 1975 immigrant laborers in Western Europe, coming from Arabic and Asian countries are not so well coping as the predecessors coming from Southern Europe: Greece , Italy and Spain in the period of 1960-1975. The major differences with the former group of laborers are the industrial demands and on top of this the differences in religion, language and family relations. Marrying persons from the home land, and the pressure of the (fundamental) religious centers supported by their home land, made the integration slower than expected. Introducing new inhabitants from rural areas, that have conservative religious and cultural ideas, people with low education, into a society, where a huge emancipation and secularization wave just is realized, is at least a challenging idea. The immigration policy of the Westeren European states had many unforeseen and unwanted effects, which made the small benefits of the industry having cheap laborers, change into huge costs for society and ended up in the so-called large city problems (DeTombe, 2003).

The issues large cities are confronted with are problems in the field of urban planning, education, house shortage, transportation, economics, healthcare, ecology, crime, law and order and immigration, resulting in social tension. All these issues are closely related to each other, and can been seen as an integrated interdisciplinary complex societal problem. Not all large city issues are related to immigrants, but they are more frequent represented in trouble making groups then other groups of the society. This is especially seen in the group youngsters, the second and third generation immigrants, being school-drop-outs, and having huge unemployment and identity problems. Many new immigrants are not able to find suitable jobs which leads to unemployment of the parents and school-drop-outs and identity problems with the second generation. Because of the language differences at home, and probably also the cultural differences, there is a high amount of school drop-outs among children of immigrants. Without a finished education it is very hard to get any job in Western Europe . This leaves many secondary immigration youngsters, especially males, with a low or even negative identity. A way to be somebody, to have some money, to buy nice things, could be acquired by engaging criminal activities. An other way to create an identity is to become a member of a group and it this way the so-called illegal fundamentalist terrorist networks can provide an identity and can be challenging for vulnerable male youngsters. In a terrorist group these youngsters might find a new identity.

Housing, accessibility and ghetto forming became also one of the large city problems. The abandoned houses in Amsterdam , often of minor quality and low prizes, owned by large housing corporations were rented to new immigrants. In Amsterdam in the West the Moroccans, in the East people from Turkey and in the South–East (Bijlmer) people from elsewhere. This situation is growing towards ghetto forming, in which autochtones move out the area and immigrants move in. Now 47% of the population of Amsterdam is from non-Dutch decent (Crok, Slot & van Antwerpen, 2002, p.15).


The role of  religion

The major goal of any religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islamic or Christianity is to have power over people. This power often exceeds the borders of a state. This power goes together with wealth, such as the enormous power and wealth of the Roman Catholic Church from about 450 A .C till now. Religion stimulates and regulates fear and anxiety and gives people directions to live and an identity. Next to this, religion promises an eternal (happy) life, which thus overcomes death. Religion is often been a source of war and fights between people because of the power over people, a territory or a state. Also nowadays people of different religion are set up against each other in the name of religion.

Religious fundamentalism is often an inhuman way of living for women and sometimes a source for violence (terrorism). Religion has many aspects: personal, cultural and societal aspects. Some of the personal aspects of a religion are belonging to a group, having a guidance for living and the aspect that religion allays the fear of dying by promising a beautiful eternal life after death. These aspects are often considered as positive. Looking at religion as a societal institution, religion is mainly a power element. Imposing religion on a person, imposes a certain way of living on the person. When people refuse to submit themselves to this kind of religion the punishments can be severe. The stronger the religion imposed on people, the more fundamentalist the religion is, the more strict the behavior restrictions are and the more severe the punishments are for disobedience[13].

Religion is one of the elements that played a role in terrorism. Some of the recent terrorist attacks in West Europe and USA (9/11, Madrid , London ) seem to be provoked by terrorism based on religious ideas. Like in many European countries the tension between the immigrants which have a Islamic religious background and the autochtones having an (Roman-) Christian background grew after the September 11th attack (2001). Suddenly people realized their cultural and religious differences[14]. Most immigrants were and still are religious in a moderate way. Fundamentalist religion only gains in power after the midst of the twenties century. In countries like Turkey , where a large part of the Dutch immigrants come from, the state is not ruled by the Islam but by a political regime in which belief and politics are separated[15].


Increasing the level of living

A way to decreasing the immigration flow of low educated people into large cities is by diminishing the gap between the rich and poor countries. This can be done by increasing the level of living in rural areas. This idea is based on the suggestion that most people immigrate out of economic reasons. Increasing the level of living could also be a way to diminish terrorism, given the idea that terrorism often is caused by feelings of unhappiness with the contemporary life circumstances, which in turn can be provoked by poor living conditions. in poor living conditions people are more vulnerable for ideas of fundamentalism , and some of the terrorist acts are provoked by fundamentalism.

A project of the Middle East Technical University  (METU), a large international oriented university in Ankara,  in the Balaban Valley (Abee, 2006), a rural area near Ankara, is an example of mitigating indirect terrorists threats by increasing the level of living in that area, in order to prevent immigration. The Balaban project is a pilot project along the lines of some ideas of the Compram methodology. This project near Ankara is performed by a group of scientists of the Middle East Technical University , cooperation with the local people in the area. The project is called: Balaban Valley Project: Improving the Quality of Life in Rural Area in Turkey   (Gökmen, Kayalıgil, Weber, Gökmen, Ecevit, Sürmeli , Bali , Ecevit, Gökmen, DeTombe, 2004). In this project a five component approach for increasing the level of living in an area is followed. Improvements in the areas of agriculture, industry, education, emancipation and healthcare. The ideas of this project are: Agriculture: fertilizing the ground, by reforesting and replanting shrubberies[16], in order to keep the water and improving the way of doing agriculture to improve the harvest. This will improve the food for the animals and the quality of the vegetables and grain. And in this project corn will be cultivated to make biological based fuel (bio-gas). This will include a training program for farmers. Industry: setting up small sustainable industry. The educational system in the area will be improved by creating possibilities to attend secondary school and agricultural and industrial preparation schools. Emancipation of women by women support groups, by increasing the communication possibilities via the community house[17] increasing the education of women and getting (paid) jobs for women. Healthcare: improving the healthcare facilities by regularly visiting physicians. This approach will be implemented parallel if possible. This five component approach when successful will increase the level of living[18]. Increasing the standard of living is a way to prevent fundamentalism and to prevent immigration into large cities which both can be sources of criminal activities and/or terrorism.

The different causes of terrorism need different interventions. Interventions like diminishing the gap between rich and poor, like given the second generation immigrants jobs and a feeling of belonging, so the youth is not challenged to join a terrorist group, preventing unprepared immigrants to move to the complicated situation in large cities by increasing the level of living in the rural areas and trying to diminish the influence of fundamentalism. In all causes education plays an important role. Education gives people knowledge and information how to adapt to complicated situations, education gives women the opportunity to live an independent life so they are no longer vulnerable to fundamentalism, and education diminishes the gap between the rich and poor countries.



6 Global safety


There is much attention on terrorism. Is terrorism the only threat to safety? The emphasize on terrorism is so huge because terrorism attacks the stability of the state; items that threaten the only people often get less attention (see New Orleans disaster, 2005).

For making the world a better place to live, global safety have to be addressed. This needs knowing where the threats come from. Global Safety is a buzzword, brought to the attention of politicians after the 9/11 (2001) incident. What kind of concept is global safety? The world is threatened by many different kinds of dangers. Indicated by causes there are global and local natural and man made threats[19]. World wide natural threats are threats caused by viruses such as the flu pandemic, fowl plague and HIV/Aids, local natural threats are threats such as hurricanes, avalanches and floods. Man made global threats are threats like climate change, world wars, global terrorism, internet vulnerability and stock exchange manipulation and man made local threats are threats like pollution, traffic danger, terrorism, nuclear power plants and agricultural business. Terrorism is a global as well as local man made threat. These dangers threaten people, the economy and the stability of states. Terrorism is just one of the threats.

            In order to create a safer society one needs to know where the danger comes from and what causes the threats. Each threat has different causes and different effects on different elements in society. Each threat needs a different set of interventions. In order to cope with the different manifestation of danger one should look beyond the effects of the danger to find the causes. Therefore one has to carefully analyze the situation, make a distinction between causes and effects, to see what the phenomena are and how they are related, see which power groups are involved and to find out which package of sustainable changes can have the desired effects.

Creating a safer society needs more and other things than technological innovation only. It connects to nature and culture. A safer society is connected to protection from nature wind, water, sun and earth quakes. A safer society is connected to all cultural elements in society, like people, government, organizations, industry and infrastructure. A safer society has a direct link to the poverty gap on micro, meso and macro level and to education. How to deal with societal threats is a part of the field of handling complex societal problems.

As indicated above most interventions of the government against terrorism are in the line of installing technological control devices. In the OECD report on global safety (July 2006) there are several reasons mentioned why technology-based development projects for enhancing societal safety are not always successful[20]:


‘1) The societal issues are very complex, with many stake-holders and multiple, intricate social interactions. It can be difficult to even identify the most essential elements of the safety problem. Typically, a solution realised within a single S&T[21] domain can only resolve a small portion of the entire complex problem.

2) The safety issues are composed of not only technical aspects but social aspects as well. In fact, in most cases the latter are dominant, and any purely technological solution cannot be fully effective if it does not adequately account for the human dimension.


3) Many safety challenges are inherently multi-disciplinary, but, unfortunately, the body of accumulated useful knowledge (principles, theories, techniques, devices, best practices, etc.) is largely fragmented: that is, its elements typically remain confined to the narrow circle of experts in each domain, and are not available to the wider hazard-reduction community, including persons who are concerned about (and/or may be among the potential victims of) existing or emerging threats.

For the above reasons, there is a need for an innovative approach to develop effective measures to resolve societal safety issues, utilizing the full strength of S&T.’

Handling complex societal problems needs a special approach. Handling societal problems in an interdisciplinary way has become a must for our society. The challenge is to combine the knowledge of the social sciences, technological sciences and natural sciences in such a way that new knowledge and insights are created. The problems society is confronted with are difficult to handle. There is a growing gap between the complexity of these problems, the need for interdisciplinarity and the way the knowledge, for instance on universities, is organized. There is a need for better methods and tools, more knowledge and imagination. Scientific knowledge is needed to survive amidst these problems.

Therefore the theory of societal complexity is field of scientific attention which combines knowledge from different sciences. Some of the scientific and real life reasons for this special approach are that the complex societal problems are seldom completely defined, change during their development, involve many actors each with a different view on the problem, with different interest and with different ‘solutions’ in mind, have a large impact on society and involve a large amount of money. In handling complex societal problems technology supported by science can play a role, however, only as an extension of human capacity not as submitting human capacity. Handling these kinds of problems belongs to the field of theory of societal complexity. The claim of this field is that complex societal problems should be handled in according to the approaches, methods and tools in the field of societal complexity.

To find out what we know about the problem, who is effected by it, which parties are involved, who benefits and who suffers, what emotions and political vulnerability are going on, one has to analyze the problem. This needs an interdisciplinary approach. An interdisciplinary group of knowledge experts should analyze the situation and discuss possible changes. Then stakeholders should discuss the issue and give their opinion on the situation. Together the experts and stakeholders should find some fruitful changes. The interventions should be carefully implemented and evaluated on their desired effect on the problem. Each complex societal problem has a knowledge, a power and an emotional element.


“For more than ten years, the International Research Society on Methodology of Societal Complexity has been coordinating the work of over two hundred researchers from many disciplines in Europe, North America and Turkey on the topic of handling complex societal problems. This field combines multidisciplinary expert knowledge with the different views of stakeholders taking emotions into account. This approach, based on the COMPRAM method, supports the problem handling process of complex societal problems from awareness via changing to implementation and evaluation.

The Bird’s Eye View approach is in harmony with various existing approaches called holistic approaches or integrated approaches. For example, operations research, which attempts to provide those who manage organized systems with an objective and quantitative basis for decisions, is characterized by the systems approach and the use of interdisciplinary teams. The systems approach to problems recognizes that the behaviour of any part of a system has some effect on the behaviour of the system as a whole. Operations research is normally carried out by teams of scientists and engineers drawn from a variety of disciplines[22].“



Some of the recommendations of the  OECD (Report on global safety report, July 2006) are:


 ‘Recommendation 1:

The Bird’s Eye View approach to problem-solving is a promising method for identifying the essential characteristics of a complex problem and for implementing solutions based on an optimal combination of knowledge about the material world (traditional science and technology) and knowledge about societies and individuals. When properly applied, it allows researchers to apply the full power of scientific and technological knowledge for effectively enhancing societal safety. Research projects that are based on this innovative method are complementary to traditional discipline-specific projects, and can be applied with these methods in a synergistic way. The BEV approach promises to be particularly effective in addressing safety issues in a way that fulfils high-level social policy goals.

There exist, however, inherent obstacles to realising the full power of the Bird’s Eye View approach. To overcome these, its value should be explicitly recognised, and strong initiatives put in place in coordination with all of the relevant institutions at the national level, transcending traditional institutional boundaries. Interested countries should consider establishing university-based multidisciplinary research institutes devoted to studying (and developing solutions for) complex societal hazards. These institutes should have be endowed with a sufficient amount of stable funding, such that there effectiveness can be assessed following an appropriate predetermined time interval.

Recommendation 2:

International cooperation within the established boundaries of recognised S&T disciplines has a long tradition, and is relatively easy to arrange. International research groups can be formed with a focused theme, bringing together researchers with similar backgrounds. On the other hand, to promote the BEV approach on a global scale, special care is required since it is based on interdisciplinary studies which do not have established procedures, traditions and sources of funding.

Since many threats to societal safety have an international (even global) dimension, and since expertise and other resources are widely distributed around the world, international cooperative projects based on the Bird’s Eye View approach deserve the support of national authorities and appropriate international bodies. The existence of strong programs at the national level is a prerequisite for such international efforts.

Recommendation 3:

Countries that are most at risk due to various emerging complex hazards are often the ones that are least able to protect themselves by applying science and technology. Such applications are most readily developed in OECD countries, but their broader application must take into account the specific conditions and constraints that apply to the area where the solution is to be applied. Fortunately, this necessary flexibility is an inherent feature of the Bird’s Eye View approach, within which knowledge of individuals, groups, cultures and entire societies is explicitly combined with scientific and technological knowledge.

The Bird’s Eye View approach aims at developing general methodologies that are applicable to a wide rage of similar problems. It also seeks to identify the for the best combinations of S&T and social system methods. For solutions to be transferred from one country to another, the S&T components have to be adapted to any new conditions and requirements that characterise the social system in question. The Bird’s Eye View approach may serve as a tool for technology transfer related to the resolution of safety-related societal issues. To realise this, appropriate consultations and actions should be undertaken by the international community.’


Multi-disciplinary knowledge on how the handle societal complexity is highly needed in the world. In order to develop this knowledge special multi disciplinary knowledge institutes for societal complexity are needed.

In order to handle global safety in the world, to be aware of future and now-a-days dangers and threats, the states need to establish institutes that perform multi disciplinary research for handling complex societal problems. These multi-disciplinary institutes develop and combine the knowledge, the methodologies and tools for handling societal complexity. To accomplish this, each state should establish multi-disciplinary centers for research on societal complexity.

To get some insight into this problem one needs a thoroughly scientifically based methodology on which teams of experts and actors can make a good analysis of the situation and, based on simulation models and scenario’s, see where changes can be made. This can be done by the scientifically based methodology Compram[23] for handling complex societal problems.



7 The theory of societal complexity and the Compram methodology[24]


The Compram methodology (DeTombe, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001a, 2001b, 2003) is especially developed to handle complex interdisciplinary worldwide problems and offers a step-by-step approach of analyzing the problem and finding ways of sustainable intervention. The Compram methodology offers a bird’s-eye view on the complexity of the problem in a transparent democratic process.

To find out what the problem is, who is effected, which parties are involved, who benefits and who suffers, what emotions and political vulnerability are going on, one has to analyze the problem. This needs an interdisciplinary approach. An interdisciplinary group of knowledge experts should analyze the situation and discuss possible changes and acceptable interventions. Then stakeholders should discuss the issue and give their opinion on the situation. Together the experts and stakeholders should find some fruitful changes. The interventions should be carefully implemented and evaluated on their desired effect on the problem. Each complex societal problem contains a knowledge, a power and an emotional element.

Several phases can be distinguished in handling terrorism. The phase of prevention, the phase of defending, and the phase of handling the effects of the attack after the terrorist attack. Each phase needs attention, however most of the attention should go to the prevention phase. Finding the causes by looking at organizations that support or initiates terrorist acts, finding out who support these terrorist acts with what means of money, knowledge and training, prevent the individual to enter a terrorist group and find reasons for terrorist acts. How to prevent terrorist acts, how to coordinate the support on the moment of the attack, how to communicate and how to create a sustainable support afterwards is prescribed by the Compram methodology. The Compram methodology is a scientific developed methodology to handle societal complexity

The theory of societal complexity (DeTombe, 1994, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008) recognizes twelve phases in the problem handling process (see figure 1). The phases should be followed in the prescribed order, but can also be used iterative, meaning that one can not skip a phase but one can go back to earlier phases of the handling process if necessary.


Sub-cycle 1: Defining the problem


phase 1.1 becoming aware of the problem and forming a (vague) mental idea

phase 1.2 extending the mental idea by reflection and research

phase 1.3 putting the problem on the agenda and deciding to handle the


phase 1.4 forming a problem handling team and starting to analyze the


phase 1.5 gathering data, exchanging knowledge and forming hypotheses

phase 1.6 formulating the conceptual model of the problem


Sub-cycle 2: Changing the problem


phase 2.1 constructing an empirical model and establishing the desired goal

phase 2.2 defining the handling space

phase 2.3 constructing and evaluating scenarios

phase 2.4 suggesting interventions

phase 2.5 implementing interventions

phase 2.6 evaluating interventions


Figure 1: The phases in the problem handling process (DeTombe, 1994, 2001, 2003)


In this article the description on terrorism can be seen as the first phase of the problem handling process. When this idea is taken seriously the next step of extending one’s idea about this can be done by thinking, discussing and reading (phase 1.2). Then one can try to put this on an (international) agenda (phase 1.3). When accepted, this problem can be taken up by the problem owner, who can start handling this problem (phase 1.4 to 2. 6). This needs a good and thorough scientifically based methodology.


The Compram methodology is a good and thorough scientifically based methodology for analyzing and handling societal complexity. The methodology is based on the idea that handling complex societal problems should be done with a team of experts and actors. The problem handling process should be open, transparent and possible to follow by and be controlled by outsiders. The Compram methodology is based on the idea that each societal problem is based on elements of knowledge, power and emotion.

The Compram methodology has six basic steps (see figure 2). Each step is performed by a group of problem handlers guided by a facilitator. The problem owner asks a facilitator to guide the problem handling (process problem handling phase 2, Compram methodology step 1).



step 1     analysis and description of the problem by a team of neutral content


step 2     analysis and description of the problem by different teams of actors

step 3     identification of interventions by experts and actors

step 4     anticipation of the societal reactions

step 5     implementation of the interventions

step 6     evaluation of the changes


Figure 2: The six steps of the Compram methodology




Step 1 of the Compram methodology

In the first step of the problem handling process the facilitator invite experts with knowledge of a part of the problem. For the first question ‘How are the assets divided among the people of the world’ experts of the field of economic, politics, psychology, agriculture, commerce, developing countries, and religion are invited. Each expert sees by her/his education a part of the problem (see figure 2).



Figure 3 Every experts sees a part of the problem, colored by her/his own field of knowledge


A carefully composed team of experts describes together the problem and by explaining to each other what certain aspects mean in their field, how this should be interpreted and how they are related. The experts interpret knowledge given by the other experts for their own field. In this way the problem handling team is able to form an overview of the problem. The experts meet several times analyzing the content on knowledge, power and emotions. They analyze which actors are involved, which unorganized groups are affected, what goals different groups have and which directions these groups would support and which not, and what their power is. The emotions will be analyzed in relation to the ideas or goals of the actors. The combined knowledge of the experts, the definition of the problem, will be described in a seven layer model (DeTombe, 1994). This model is created to ease the communication between the experts of different fields. In each layer of the seven layer model the knowledge is given in a different way, from a description of the problem in words, to defining the concept and the status of the knowledge to describing the problem in ways of a causal model, into a conceptual model with the help of a simulation model (system dynamic model). This is done through an iterative process of describing the problem based on the discussion between the experts.  Part by part the seven layer model is filled, until the group of experts is convinced that this description of the issue represents the definition of the problem. This is phase 1.4 to 2. 6 of the experts.




Figure 4: The seven-layer communication model of the Compram methodology


In layer I the problem is described in a natural language, in words, each team member understands.

In layer II the concepts and the phenomena used in the description of the problem in layer I are defined. In this way the team members are stimulated to operationalize and define the concepts and phenomena they use. This gives other team members the opportunity to learn the concepts of other professions, and its prevents verbalism[25].

In layer III the relations between the concepts and the phenomena of the problem are described in natural language. These relations can be based on theories, hypotheses, assumptions, experiences or intuition. This indicates the status of the knowledge. This layer is related to the description of the problem in layer I, to the definition of the concepts and the phenomena in layer I and to layers IV, V, VI, and VII.

Layer IV shows the knowledge islands. This is a graphic representation of the knowledge of the problem that is needed for handling the problem. The way the knowledge islands are filled indicates the completeness of the knowledge.

In layer V a semantic model of the problem is made. A semantic model is a graphic representation of the relations between the concepts and the phenomena of the problem described in layer I.

In layer VI a graphic representation of the causal relations between the concepts and the phenomena of the problem is shown.

Layer VII contains a system dynamic model of the problem based on the causal model in layer VI. The system dynamic model contains non-linear connections because of the repetitive interactions between the phenomena and the actors in the model.

Parts of the problem and of the different domain knowledge can be worked out in more detail in sub-sheets of the layers I to VII. The sub-sheets of one domain are internally connected and are externally connected to the overall problem. It is often necessary to focus on a part of the problem in detail to get a better view. Otherwise the models are too large to comprehend. The seven-layer model can be used to support the first sub-cycle of the problem handling process as well as the second sub-cycle (see DeTombe, 1994) (see figure 1).


Step 2 of the Compram methodology

The second step of the Compram methodology deals with power. In the second step of the Compram methodology the actors are invited. These are the main actors in the problem. They are invited to give their view on the problem, to see on what conditions and to what extend they like to cooperate and which goals and desires they have. Realizing that the world is what it is, the methodology recognizes that major groups of people are not strongly enough represented in these kinds of problem handling processes. The Compram methodology explicitly includes unorganized groups, like in this case, people from developing countries, women, and elderly people as discussion partner in the handling process. Each actor group can, supported by the facilitator, analyses the problem and define the problem expressed in a seven layer model supported in the same way by a facilitator as the experts. Handling complex societal problems is difficult not only because the different kind of phenomena, but also taking the values and ethical aspects of people into account. This is phase 1.4 – 2.4 of the handling process of the actors.


Step 3 of the Compram methodology

In step 3 of the Compram methodology the representatives of the actors groups and the experts discuss together their view on the issue of democracy and the more equal distribution of assets among the people of the world. This is the negotiation step in order to diminish the gap between the rich and poor countries. Many issues in a democracy need to have mutual agreement of the actors involved. In step 3 of the Compram method the actors will explain and negotiate their point of view, the definitions and models, the differences and similarities, with each other and with the experts. The comparison between the views of the actors and that of the experts is made easier by structuring the description of the problem in the same structured way by using the seven layer model including the system dynamic models. Based on scenarios, what–if exercises and try-outs with the models, suggestions can be made for changing the problem to wards the mutual agreed goals. This is phase 2.3 and 2.4 of the problem handling process.


Step 4 of the Compram methodology

Before the changes are implemented the societal reactions must be heard. When the group of representatives agree with each other on certain kinds of interventions, it does not mean that the rest of the world will agree automatically. There for, the outcome of the agreement between the actors and the experts of step 3 of the Compram methodology will be published and is open for discussion with the rest of the people who are involved. In this case the rest of the world, or at least some representatives of the rest. This is step 4 of the Compram methodology. Depending on the reaction of those people the problem handling process can continue or should be brought back to the negotiation table: step 3 of the Compram methodology or sometimes even to step two or one, the definition part.


Step 5 of the Compram methodology

When agreed upon several possible changes, these interventions can be implemented, carefully guided by a group of problem handlers and the facilitator. This is step 5 of the Compram methodology.


Step 6 of the Compram methodology

Directly after step 5 of the Compram methodology the problem handling process itself should be evaluated. Is the problem handling process performed in the right way? Are issue overseen? What can be improved next time? This is step 6 of the Compram methodology. After several years, the implementation should be evaluated. What is changed meanwhile in the world? Are the goals still valid and wanted? Is the effect of the intervention some steps nearer to the desired goals? Often at this moment in time, parts of the problem handling process should be performed again, because complex societal process tent to change, often, unexpectedly and suddenly in unforeseen directions.



8 Conclusions


Terrorism as such is an attack on the balance of a state, however terrorism is only one of the global threats and in order to be safe attention should also be given to other global safety threats like nuclear power plants, viruses, earth quakes and floods.

Causes of terrorism are different and complicated. There is a relation with poverty, with differences between rich and poor people, with immigration, religion and identity. Mitigation of terrorism starts with looking at the causes, by analyzing the situation carefully, and by defining the problem. Terrorism is a complex societal problem and should be approached as such. Controlling people with all kinds of technological devices does not stop terrorism. It only abuses the privacy of people. The theory of societal complexity dictates that one first has to define the problem by a multi-disciplinary team of experts, and by doing this finding the causes. Then after making scenario’s one has to look for interventions that are directed to the causes. The emphasize should be on the causes not on the effects. Technological intervention gives a fake impression of safety. It does not effect the causes. Technological interventions cover up the  lack of real treatment of terrorism. Terrorism as a complex societal problem should be handled according to the theory of societal complexity with the methodology of societal complexity: the Compram methodology.

A complex societal problem is a multi disciplinary problem. For understanding the problem one must combine knowledge from different disciplines by a multi disciplinary team of mono disciplinary educated scientists. Together this multi disciplinary team can make a system dynamic model and a description of the problem in order to see what are the causes, the effects and emotions and which power groups are involved. These analyses regards the knowledge issue. Then the power and emotions issue should be taken care of. Power groups of actors should be invited to give their view on the problem and on interventions they proposed. Taking the emotions into account, changes can be suggested and interventions can be implemented into real life. This problem handling process can be performed in a structured, transparent and democratic way according to the guidelines of the Compram methodology of by groups of experts and actors guided by a facilitator.

In order to create global safety the OECD (July 2006) strongly advised all OECD countries to create multi-disciplined knowledge institutes to combine the knowledge on safety with experts from different disciplines and to invite actors involved in the complex issue to join the problem handling process. The Compram methodology is one of the methods that is explicitely mentioned as a methodology to handle these kind of problems in these knowledge institutes.





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[1] The Compram methodology is advised by the OECD (July 2006) to handle complex societal issues. The ‘Final consensus report’ is published in see

Report on the Workshop on Science and Technology for a Safer Society 20-Jul-2006 http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/29/2/37163745.pdf.

[2] The influence of the USA after World War II (1945) by the Marchall Plan on Western Europe .

[3]  A state only starts a war when the state has the idea that it can win the war. This is in general what happened between USA in Iraq in the period of 1990-2003.

[4] A war can be very profitable for the state, (re)building companies and the war industry (DeTombe, 2008).

[5] The fights within a country are often indicated as civil war. Such as the fight between the North and South states of the USA  in the 19th century (Mitchell, 1937).

[6] Riots and strikes because of flex working in France in 2006.

[7] See the Stasi in the DDR (former East Germany 1945-1989, Honecker) and the  KGB during the Stalin period in the USSR (1919-1953).

[8] To the book of George Orwell (Orwell, 1949).

[9] In the DDR almost every third civilian watched two others.

[10] The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in the USA on September 11, 2005, often indicated as 9/11. The attack was performed by people with an Islamic religion by flying passengers airplanes into these buildings and in this way causing many casualties and a world wide shock.

[11] Sometimes this discrepancy is continued within a country by the immigrants coming from developing countries such as is to be seen in France in ‘le banlieu’ (the suburbs).

[12] Fast urbanization can be seen world wide and is one of the sources of problems in the large cities all over the world.

[13] To give some examples: in fundamentalist religion disobedience is punished by shutting people out of the group, this is called shunting by the Amish people in USA; in middle ages by the Spanish Inquisition, a religious court of the Roman Catholic church, punishing Jewish people who refuse to convert; by Islam law, the Sharia, the so-called avenge that gives the family the ’legal space’ to kill a young female family member who have a kind of unwelcome contact with man. All religions, but fundamentalist variation of a religion more severe, try to control women’s sexuality, and the power and influence of women. An extreme example of this is clitoriodectomy which is still performed in Egypt and Sudan , another example is forcing women to wear a burka. Knowing what the effect of religion is on the lives of women we can see that women have nothing to gain by turning to a more fundamentalist religion. Knowing this could be a start for intervention, because women have much to gain by emancipation, by taking up  the way other women live in their new homeland.

[14] The tension between Islamic and Christian religion goes back to the 10th century. The time of the crusades was actually a power fight between two world religions both believing in the same god. Nowadays the tension between these two major monotheistic religions can be found in the fights between Israel and Palestine (Kelman, 2006).

[15] This is challenged in 2007, 2008 by the AKP (Justice and Development Party ) of Erdodan in Turkey , who want a integration of religion and state.

[16] Huge parts of the land in the area around the Mediterranean sea are worn out by more then 5000 years of agriculture and by free wandering sheep and goats, which eat the roots of the young plants.

[17] The community house is build in 2005 by the department of architecture of the Middle East Technical University   (METU) as a student project.

[18] To be effective this takes a long time. This can only be seen after five to more years. There is already proof that these kinds of improvements works. It is successfully shown in Israel with much effort and knowledge from the people of the country itself and supported by economical help from outside. The state of Israel changed from a bare country in 50 years into a modern up-to-date country in European style (Meir, 1975).

[19] Actually all threats are man made threats. For instance a flood is only a danger when in low areas (delta’s) vulnerable houses are build., such as is the case in Bangladesh and New Orleans in the USA . The same is the case with earthquakes, which has a natural cause, however the effects are man-made. Like the very bad constructed school buildings that where destroyed in China in 2008 in the area of  Sichuan in May 2008 which caused the death of many school children. The more stable build houses in this area survived the disaster (Vriesekoop, 2008)).

[20]  Science and Technology OECD report on global safety, July 2006. The author is one of the composers and a key note speaker of the workshop that created this report in Japan 2005.

[21] S&T stands for  Science & Technology

[22] OECD Report on global safety, July 2006).

[23] Many articles and books are published about the Compram methodology. Available at: http://www.geocities.com/doriendetombe

[24] The Compram methodology is advised by the OECD (July 2006) to handle complex societal issues. The ‘Final consensus report’ is published in see

Report on the Workshop on Science and Technology for a Safer Society 20-Jul-2006 http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/29/2/37163745.pdf.

[25]  Verbalism is using words without knowing what they mean.



Dr. Dorien  DeTombe

Chair International Research Society on Methodology of Societal Complexity

P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe

Tel: +31 20 6927526

E-Mail: DeTombe@nosmo.nl ; http://www.geocities.com/doriendetombe





©Dorien J. DeTombe, All rights reserved, first created  June 2009