Alex P. Schmid

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Alex Schmid 15 January 2008, London

Alex Peter Schmid is:

Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at University of St. Andrews. Prior to his appointment to St Andrews, Professor Schmid served as Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations’ Terrorism Prevention Branch in Vienna, where, from 1999 to 2005, he held the position of a Senior Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer. Before joining the United Nations, he held the Synthesis Chair on Conflict Resolution at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He also taught International Relations at the Department of Political Sciences of Leiden University where he acted as Research Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Research Programme on Causes of Human Rights Violations.[1]


There is a problem with the word "terrorism" in that it is (1) vague and (2) doesn't indicate the reason for violence. Thus if one uses a definition for "terrorism" possibly with an adjective attached, then it may apply to a given culprit, but the same definition could then apply to major state actions like those of the United States, UK, etc. So, much effort has been put into defining "terror", "terrorism" so that it isn't a double edge sword. The leger demain is usually applied by referring to acts of major state violence as part of "war fighting" where a different set of rules applies.

On 15 January 2008, Alex Schmid presented a paper at the London School of Economics under the Chatham House Rule. That is, one is not allowed to quote and attribute anything he said at that lecture (NB: that is a rule he insisted on). Most of the lecture dealt with different definitions and their implications. Schmid is a major player in the "terrorism definition" process, and several major organizations like the United Nations, the Supreme Court of India, and others have adopted his definitions.

Given a definition, it is then possible to go about "measuring" terrorist acts, and Schmid's greatest concern is the creation of such databases. The unfortunate aspect of this quantitative approach to the study of state and non-state violence is that the violence is de-natured, its context is removed and the reasons for its occurence are ignored. A chart with "terrorism occurrences" showing a upward trend hides the reasons for what is really happening, and a very shallow understanding of violence can be obtained. Alas, this is very much Schmid's approach and that of the CSTPV.


Contact, References and Resources




  1. State Terrorism - A Thing of the Past?, LSE Event, 15 January 2008.