'I saw the limits of the power of the UN. reports I wrote were "sanitised"'

June 23, 2006

After a stint at the UN, Alex Schmid is back in academe, to speak his mind and to focus on terrorism studies

The bulwark of academic freedom has brought an internationally known scholar on terrorism back into higher education from the UN. St Andrews University has appointed Alex Schmid professor of international relations and director of its Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence to succeed its founding director Paul Wilkinson.

Professor Schmid held a chair in conflict resolution at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, but he joined the UN in 1999 as officer-in-charge of its terrorism prevention branch. "I had been a consultant for the UN for some years before joining the organisation. I saw that as an opportunity of 'speaking truth to power'," he said.

"Once I was at the UN, I saw much clearer the limits of its power. Reports that I wrote were 'sanitised' in order not to offend certain member states. Now that I am back in academia, I can speak as an independent voice again."

This autumn, St Andrews will launch a unique distance-learning course in terrorism studies. Professor Schmid said the centre was now giving more attention to the propaganda side of terrorism, with funding for three PhD students and a data manager.

"(They will) chart how terrorists use the media and the web, and how and why radical rhetoric translates into violent action," he said. "Nobody is born a terrorist, and few dissatisfied young people become terrorists. Yet the process of radicalisation that ends in the use of terrorist violence is ill understood."

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