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Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

Leiden University via Coursera


Terrorism has arguably been one of the defining factors of our age. It frequently makes headlines, threatening or attacking governments, private business and ordinary citizens. And in many parts of the world, it has been one of the most important threats to peace, security and stability. But what does this exactly mean? What is the nature of this threat? Who or what is threatened, how, by whom and why? What can be done about it or how can we at least limit the impact of terrorism and make sure that terrorists do not make headlines and manage to scare us?

These are just a handful of questions that will be addressed in this course that consists of three parts. First it focuses on the essence of terrorism as an instrument to achieve certain goals, in addition to an exploration of this phenomenon and the difficulties in defining it.

The second part provides an overview of the state of the art in (counter) terrorism studies. Since ‘9/11’ terrorism studies have grown exponentially, reflecting the rise in perceived threats. But what has academia come up with? What theories, assumptions and conventional wisdom has it produced that could be of help in understanding terrorism and dealing with it? The most interesting results are examined and compared with empirical evidence with the aim to either stress their importance or to debunk them as myths.

The final part looks into the implications and possibilities for policy making. The course ends with a module specifically designed to address one of today's most topical issue: the foreign fighter phenomenon.


  • Welcome & the essence of terrorism
    • In this module, you can find all the information you need in order to be able to successfully complete the course.

      After you have familiarised yourself with the course, we move to the content of week 1. You will learn about the definition of terrorism. What exactly is terrorism? Who and where are its victims? After completing this module, you will understand why it is so difficult to arrive at a generally accepted definition of this term.
  • Researching Terrorism and Counterterrorism
    • In this module, you will learn more about terrorism and counterterrorism studies. It is a relatively new field of study that owes much to research in related disciplines. You will get an overview of where the key centres and scholars are located. Also, you will understand the three main approaches that are used in this academic field and recognize their strengths and weaknesses.
  • 5 Assumptions on Terrorism
    • The subject of terrorism often falls prey to unfounded assumptions. Media, politicians, but also scholars frequently make far-reaching claims about this topic, such as the notion that terrorism is caused by poverty. In this module, we will critically investigate some of these assumptions to see if they are indeed true, partly true, false or perhaps even a myth (a widely held belief that is nevertheless still false).
  • 5 Assumptions on Counterterrorism
    • In this module, we will continue the work of module 3 and look into five assumptions on counterterrorism. It is highly relevant to keep investigating assumptions that underlie CT-policy, both from an effectiveness perspective (is it really countering terrorism?) but also because these policies often have a large impact on societies and might also have unintended consequences.
  • Dealing with Terrorism and the Future
    • After having tested these assumptions, we will make up the balance sheet. What are some of the remaining “un- and underresearched” topics in (counter)terrorism studies? We will also explore the concepts of fear management and resilience. Finally, we will look into the future of terrorism: what can we expect in the years to come?
  • Making Headlines Today - Foreign Fighters
    • The final module of this course will look into a highly topical and politically sensitive issue of today: foreign fighters. Since the beginning of the civil war, high numbers of foreign fighters have joined the struggle, including many from Western countries. In this module, we will see who these people are and why they are going. Also, we will discuss to what extent these fighters pose a threat and which policy options are available to address this phenomenon.

Taught by

Edwin Bakker

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4.8 rating, based on 25 reviews

Start your review of Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

  • Nichlaus Panou completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Well structured course, very good professor.

    The course opens the way for futher study on the matter.

    Recommended for anyone who wants to have a relatively clear aspect of the issue.
  • Anonymous
    This course helps and alert nations about the dangers of terrorism,the course,how it can affect the economy
  • RoosWilhelm

    RoosWilhelm completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Well-structured, very interesting course. Likeable prof, interesting guest speakers, good and insightful discussions with the online moderators. Investing some extra time (on the essays, the additional videos, articles and the movies recommended by prof Bakker) will not only give you a basic understanding of the concept of terrorism but will also change your perspective. Recommended.
  • MAMartin

    MAMartin completed this course, spending 6 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Very clear introduction to the state of the subject. As with all peer-reviewed writing tasks, the ones here were fairly crude; any reasonable effort gained a tops score but within these constraints they were worthwhile.
  • Sergey Monin

    Sergey Monin completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Excellent course on terrorism, everything is free unlike many other classes on Coursera: the exams and peer review works. Highly recommend
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great course that empirically tests a number of myths around the world on terrorism and counterterrorism. The literature is up-to-date and the videos are very engaging. Very good instructor and would definitely recommend this course.
  • Mohammad Sajjad Haider

    Mohammad Sajjad Haider is taking this course right now, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    The course gets a bit boring for my liking as it gets too theoretical. Could have been reduced to lesser number of lectures.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Excellent professor, good structure with weekly quizzes, two essays and a final exam. Very interesting subject approached nicely. There will be a new session soon, I recommend it to everyone.
  • Profile image for Tanja De Bie
    Tanja De Bie

    Tanja De Bie completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Very good academic approach of the subject, showing a state of the art of research . Useful to debunk some myths with an evidence based approach. European in style.
  • Profile image for Antonio Valdetaro
    Antonio Valdetaro

    Antonio Valdetaro completed this course.

    Professor Bakker did it right, and stimulate all people around the world to get attention to this problem, and to collaborate to improove knowled to all of us.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Very good course. Well-structured, open approach, good community. The professor actually responds to input from the students every week.
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