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Dr. Feste’s Book on Terminating Terrorism Covers Key Points with Wisdom, Insight, and Clarity

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February 15, 2019

Karen Feste, Director of the Conflict Resolution Institute at the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies, has just reissued her book “Terminate Terrorism — Framing, Gaming, and Negotiating Conflicts,” at a time when we really need to improve our skill set for dealing with terrorism and with significant inter group conflicts in several areas of the world.

Her insights into the forces that work together in various settings to create both inter group conflict and targeted and intentional terrorism give us approaches to use to both better understand those situations and to guide those situations and settings to less damaging outcomes.

She has done a wealth of both direct research into a couple of important conflicted settings and extensive analysis of some of the best research that is being done in a number of academic and policy settings on those issues.

That research has enabled her to detect patterns of interactions and thought processes that exist in those settings, and to set up possible ways of working with the patterns that exist to generate future Peace and reduce terrorism as a threat in relevant settings and situations.

The Institute for InterGroup Understanding believes that we are all creatures of instincts — and that our instincts create both discernable and predictable patterns of behavior that we need to use to better guide our future behaviors in the interests of both enlightened values and inter group Peace.

The Institute agrees with the premise and belief that history both repeats itself and rhymes, and the Institute books argue that the repetition is so consist that it allows us to predict the future with great accuracy when we perceive and understand the instinctive factors that are being activated in any situation or inter group setting.

Dr. Feste’s books do not explicitly address instinctive behavior, but do outline very consistent behavior patterns that seem to have instincts at their core.

She explains how groups in conflict evolve from emotion into an awareness that resolving conflicts is actually in the best interest of their group. She quotes Jonah Lehrer about the structure of our mind as being relevant to the entire process.

Whenever someone makes a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by inexplicable passions. Even when a person tries to be reasonable and restrained, those emotional impulses secretly influence judgement.”1

Dr. Feste teaches that those natural and emotionally wired reactions to acts of terrorism and violence precede the mental operations and structured though processes that we need to use in conflict settings to frame the situation that we face and to create a context we can use in order to use game theory techniques and approaches to resolve the negative and damaging behaviors in our various conflicted inter group settings where terrorism has become relevant.

She does a wonderful job of explaining that sequence and process.

She explains the need for us to explicitly understand conflict perspectives, conflict dynamics, and possible settlement pathways in each setting as part of the resolution and response process for each conflicted inter group situation.

Her research into several major inter group terrorism situations in Ireland, Israel, The Middle East, Cuba, and the U.S. has rich veins of detailed analysis of the key factors that triggered interactions in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and even Cuba with details of those interactions that will make anyone reading the book who was not on the ground in those actual settings significantly better informed about both events and relevant factors and issues for those situations.

The Iran history sections of her book create great context for why we continue to have such challenging interactions with that country even today. The Iran situation makes significantly more sense when you read her descriptions of the detailed history between the United States and Iran for major portions of the last century and describes both who the key players have been and why they did what they did relative to those interactions.

She looks at each of the settings where terrorism was used in the context of this book to explain how and why terrorism was chosen by the people who chose it as a tool in each situation.

Her clear descriptions of the tools of the terrorist — from structured kidnapping and hostage taking to various kinds of bombings to group motivation and communication approaches designed to create social anger and unrest — are offered in the context of why each set of terrorists used each set of tools in each setting — and also described how well those tools met their goals with each use.

Her clearly articulated and described insights into the conflict termination and resolution process — beginning with an assessment of conflict settlement ripeness based on mutually hurting stalemates and evolving through turning points in each setting and then through negotiation readiness levels for each group, and then finally through the need for people in each setting to somehow achieve a level of Interest-Based Bargaining if they are going to have any possibility of success in conflict resolution in any setting — is a brilliant outline of a context to use to achieve the terrorism alleviation goals of her book.

She very clearly explains and describes how and why the negotiations and interactions between groups tend to be hung up at various points along that process, and she explains that settings that get hung up on earlier levels of inter group anger can end up in perpetual conflict with no resolution possible until the groups move past those points.

That wonderful set of insights can actually be supported and enabled by some of the tools that are built into the Institute for InterGroup Understanding website and books.

Instinctive behaviors relating to group identity and loyalty are key.

We can’t make Peace in any setting without a clear sense of who the relevant parties are in each setting relevant to those issues and those processes.

We go to war as countries. We also go to war as tribes and we go to war in various levels of civil wars as aligned groups with a shared identity versus other groups in that setting with a different foundational identity.

We are instinctively wired in very powerful ways to support our group and to be loyal to our group, and Peace in any setting requires us to have our group achieve the goals that we perceive will actually benefit our group.

Far too often, people trying to make Peace in a country like Syria miss the key instinctive alignment reality and tend to approach the challenge as though the desired outcome of the negotiations is to achieve a success for the Syrian People.

Those efforts fail, because there really is no Syrian People.

Those efforts are doomed to fail, because they do not deal with the reality of who people believe themselves to be in each setting.

There are half a dozen major tribal groups in Syria. The people in each of those groups define themselves as members of that group and each person in those settings has intense and fierce loyalty to their own group and not to the nation of Syria.

That reality is indisputable — even though people in our media and in our government who are describing the situation often go to great lengths to pretend it is not true.

The Kurds of Syria are Kurds to their core. They will fight and die for the Kurdish people and each member of that group who is defending their group will feel ennobled by their loyalty to their group.

Likewise, the Alawites of Syria are, at their core and in their essence, Alawites. The Alawites are a tribe. They perceive themselves to be a people. The Alawites of Syria have managed to gain power over the entire country through an interesting series of historical events, but their internal loyalty is to Alawites and not to Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis or Druze.

Each group in Syria is loyal to itself. The Christian tribes want their own tribes to survive and prosper.

The Arab tribes want clear domain over their own cities, towns, and turf, and want their own group to survive and prosper.

The Kurds desperately want to survive — and they also want domain over their own town and turf.

Long term resolution and inter group Peace for Syria will depend entirely on having each group be recognized as being the legitimate and conscious choice of their group members, respected and honored as a group and a people, and then given safe protection relative to the other groups in the area for the next level of governance for the country.

Evil things are being done as the result of fully activated Us/Them instincts today.

The Alawite tribe who currently controls the central government has definitely been dropping barrel bombs and possibly using poison gas on people from other tribes.

The barrel bombs are never dropped by the Alawites on their own tribe. Our instincts to divide the world into Us and Them and do terrible things to people we define in times of war to be Them could not be more clearly activated.

The Alawites clearly see the other tribes as Them — and our instinctive reaction is to feel no guilt for any damage we do to them.

We need to remove the Alawite motivation to do those horrible things in order to achieve ethnic cleansing in their cities by building a solution set that protects all groups and gives the Alawites control over their ancestral and current occupied turf.

We know how to do that kind of division by group.

Switzerland did it centuries ago by splitting their three tribes into Cantons that each have ethnic group governance that feels right at an instinctive level to each group. Switzerland could not be more tribal — but they have learned to use a governance model that protects each tribe.

Yugoslavia just went down a similar path and split into tribal nations. Czechoslovakia has very recently resolved internal inter tribal conflicts by splitting along tribal lines and having the Czech tribe and the Slavic tribe each run their own nation.

The likelihood of those tribes killing each other in any of those settings is extremely low once those divisions are done.

The Sudan started down a similar path of group division, but The Sudan only got halfway to safety.

They separated the Arab tribes from the African Tribes, but they did not separate a couple of African tribes who hate each other from each other — and great violence and very intentional damage and evil has resulted from that failure. They need to go another step and they need to let each of the remaining major ethnic groups have their own turf in that country, with some external policing to happen to protect individual people as the parts divide.

They will never negotiate those conflicts away. There is no negotiation that will persuade a Kurd not to be a Kurd.

In settings like Syria, the ultimate solution relative to local governance in each setting needs to be to reflect the deep instinctive need we have to be part of a group and to both support our group and oppose other groups who we perceive to be Them and a danger to our group.

A practical solution set of future alignment and interactions models that is available to those groups in those conflicted settings is found in Chapter nine of The Art Of InterGroup Peace book.

That chapter explains the continuum of possibilities that exist for groups in conflicted settings, beginning with a ceasefire and truce at one end of the continuum and complete mutual assimilation and blending at the other end of the continuum.

In the space between truce and assimilation, there is a range of inter group alignments that include treaties, agreements, confederations, mergers, integration, and assimilation.

Each of those approaches can work in various settings, but the approaches with the most relevance to the world today are in the middle of the continuum.

Switzerland has chosen Confederation. That can be a very good model, because it creates some of the leverage and scale of being a nation without forcing people from various groups to give up their language, culture, or control over basic levels of their own governance, rules, and regulations.

Our country spent a number of early years as a confederation — held together by The Articles of Confederation.

Our current constitution has elements and echoes of that model. The various states continue to have rights and powers at several levels, and there are people in our country whose instinctive sense of being Us has alignments with that particular set of group identity.

In any setting, the people have the ability to come together and create group behaviors and identity based on a number of triggers. In addition to ethnicity, race, family, and various kinds of clan identity, we have strong instinctive tendencies to band together if we feel a threat or a danger that can be resolved by being a group.

The group alignment trigger used by The Institute for InterGroup Understanding to help create alignment and support in any setting has Danger as the foundational motivation tool.

The base level of the alignment pyramid — directly echoing Dr. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need motivation factors — is danger. Danger is an extremely powerful motivator and people who feel danger tend to act to help reduce that feeling.

The alignment trigger directly above danger on the pyramid is common enemy. We have a very powerful tendency to align when we believe that a common enemy exists. Our leaders who want us to be aligned, often use the sense of a common enemy existing to motivate us to be supportive of their efforts.

The pyramid is explained at several points in the InterGroup books.

The alignment motivation trigger on the pyramid just over common enemy is Team behaviors. We have very strong instincts to be on teams. We love being on teams for multiple levels, and we have strong instincts to be loyal to whatever team we support or are on.

Leaders who want to create organizational success in any setting often activate team instincts to help achieve that success.

The alignment motivational trigger above team activity is to have a group identity or sense of Us.

We all feel the need to be part of an Us.

We feel more secure when we are part of an Us — and we tend to feel loyalty and good will to our Us.

We have an extremely high level of flexibility in creating that particular alignment. Our core and foundational Us is almost always our family and core local ethnic group, but we have the ability to also be a U.S. Marine or a Southern Methodist or even an IBMer in ways that give us both direct identity and alignment with fellow members of our group.

People who want to lead an area or setting often build an identity for their group that meets the needs of identifying who is and who is not an Us with that definition.

The motivation level above a sense of Us on the hierarchy of alignment triggers is common gain. Collective gain that will result from us being in a group can be a strong motivator for being in the group and supporting the group.

Getting rich or having a pension plan or having a career can all be sufficient to cause people to align with a group and to help the group succeed.

The alignment trigger that sits at the top of the pyramid comes in a couple of versions. The top trigger is mission/vision or leader loyalty.

We have strong instincts to be supportive of our group mission, vision or core belief. We feel enabled and empowered by our personal alignment and support for our foundational beliefs.

People are willing to die in some settings for their core beliefs. People are willing to do heroic things for those beliefs — and are sometimes willing to do both positive and negative things to other people to get them to be supportive of those beliefs.

The other top of the pyramid motivation trigger is loyalty to a leader.

We are strongly instinctively hierarchical. We build cultures instinctively in every setting. And we have hierarchies in every setting. We have alpha people in every setting, just like wolf packs and lion prides have someone alpha in each setting.

We have presidents, generals, captains, and chiefs for every group.

Our corporations have CEOs. Every ship has a captain. Every culture that has put ship into the ocean has felt the hierarchical need to have a captain for the ship.

We tend to feel right supporting and following our captains — and some cultures make leader loyalty a top priority expectation, value and behavior.

That whole process is supported by the fact that we have alpha instincts that get activated easily when a leader is in place. We are wired to have positive neurochemical rewards for being alpha and people who achieve alpha positions in various settings generally have an extremely hard time giving them up.

People often love being alpha so much that people in alpha roles will sometimes kill other people and create very negative inter group situations so that their own groups continue and expand their alpha role.

The alpha leaders of lion prides and wolf packs and horse herds often have to be badly damaged or even killed before they give up that role with their group.

For other settings, only males tend to fill that role. Horse herds have lead mares and lion prides tend to have lead lionesses but the group alpha tends to be male. As people, we have an equally strong tendency for our female group members who have achieved alpha status in a setting to receive those neurochemical rewards and to favor continuing to hold that status into the future.

What that set of instinctive factors relative to the power of alpha instincts and leader loyalty does for us in countries like Syria is add a level of complexity to the next level of development for the country. The man who is currently president of Syria will need a role going forward that works at an instinctive level for both him and the members of his tribe.

Dr. Feste addresses part of that issue by being extremely clear that the people in each setting will need to figure out how to use “Interest Based Bargaining” thought processes to create solutions that work for each setting and sufficiently meet the needs of the people in that setting to agree to end the conflict.

The Interest Based Bargaining approach recommended by Dr. Feste includes each of the parties very intentionally understanding their own issues and then also understanding the issues of the other group well enough to create solutions that fit the situation each group is in.

The Win/Win chapters of the InterGroup books point to that same end game and to a very similar process.

We are all creatures of instincts — and that characteristic of who we are leads us into behavior patterns, thought processes and emotions that we can predict, understand, and then utilize in enlightened ways to create inter group alignment and Peace.

The Karen Feste book, “Terminate Terrorism — Framing, Gaming, and Negotiating Conflicts” — takes us down those paths

in wise, insightful, and important ways.

It is well worth reading.



1) Lehrer, Jonah. How We Decide. 2009.