Why should we break bread with terrorists?

JESSICA STERN Terrorism expert Stern, a research professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, has sat down with some of the world’s most violent men.

Jessica Stern seeks out vicious killers and terrorists. Her unblinking research often involves lengthy sit-downs with some of the world’s most brutal characters to better understand what drives them. Stern, herself a survivor of childhood violence, was surprised to discover that her own trauma gave her an edge in getting extremists to talk to her.

“I am fascinated by the secret motivations of violent men, and I’m good at ferreting them out. When I’m in a frightening situation, I can go into a kind of altered state. I do not feel afraid. I do not get angry. I am interested, a spy.”

Last year, the terrorism expert joined the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies as a research professor, and the fieldwork for her most recent book, ISIS: The State of Terror (HarperCollins, 2015), served as the backbone for one of her first courses, Guerrilla Warfare and Terrorism. She has also written on neo-Nazis, anarchists, animal-rights extremists, and white supremacists and has spent several years interviewing Radovan Karadzic, convicted for war crimes in Bosnia. One of Stern’s main focuses is the possible connections between trauma and terror, and she’s been working with a team at Boston Children’s Hospital on the risk factors for violence among Somali-refugee youth.

In every corner
BU's Global presence

Our students, professors, and researchers are scattered across ponds and oceans, cities and continents, all around the world. In a given year, there are some 300 research or educational activities unfolding in 90 countries. Below are just a few:

At the archaeological dig site of Teotihuacan in Mexico, David Carballo, an associate professor of archaeology, is studying ancient working-class neighborhoods to better understand migration and diversity patterns in modern cities.

Marine biology students have been researching corals in the mangrove forests of Belize, hoping to find insights for coral reef preservation efforts.

In a School of Public Health–led study, Daniel Brooks, an associate professor of epidemiology, is trying to find out why agricultural workers in a certain region in Nicaragua have such high mortality from chronic kidney disease.

Julie Michelle Klinger, an assistant professor of international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies, researches rare earths (a group of 17 chemical elements used in everything from cell phones to cars to cancer drugs) around the world and the political ramifications of their reported scarcity.

19 School of Public Health students are studying water, sanitation, and maternal and child health, as well as conducting a health-needs assessment, in the village of Pommern, Tanzania.

This past winter, Stern testified before the US Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, urging an expansion of college courses, such as those she’s now teaching at BU, to counter online recruiting propaganda.

“One of the major gaps in our response to ISIS,” she told the senators, “is the lack of investment in developing and disseminating effective counter narratives compelling to the millennial youth who are ISIS’s principal targets for recruitment.”