Investigative Question

How has the post–Cold War world and globalization facilitated extremist and terrorist organizations?

Globalization and its critics have contributed to the rise and spreading popularity of extremist movements. Students can learn about twenty-first century developments related to globalization by addressing the question: How has the post-Cold War world and globalization facilitated extremist and terrorist organizations? Students should address this question and related topics with the complexity that it deserves. One way to explore these most recent world-wide developments is by investigating themes that characterize recent history and world affairs. Students should be encouraged to bring their studies up-to-date; to read and view primary sources that represent a wide variety of perspectives from people around the globe; and to analyze the historical roots of these recent developments....

Over the past twenty years, the world has oscillated between dreams of perpetual peace and the despair of enduring conflict. A new era began on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall tumbled, marking the Cold War's peaceful end — a denouement to a forty-year conflict that few had dared to entertain. That era seemed to end on September 11, 2001, when nineteen Islamic extremists sponsored by Al Qaeda in an effort to make a political statement, crashed civilian airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington D.C., murdering almost 3,000 civilians. Since 9/11, the hopes for a more peaceful world that the end of the Cold War spawned have been displaced by a resurgence of international conflict, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. . . .

Yet globalization, as most social scientists understand the term, involves more than simple economic integration. It implies the convergence of societies around a common version of modernity; it suggests that the world is shrinking and the peoples who inhabit it are becoming more like one another. Globalization empowers big, multinational business, but it has also brought the rise of transnational organizations. These include both activist networks such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace and, more troublingly, criminal and terrorist organizations that work across national borders.

This inquiry set addresses the global aspects of terrorism and terrorists' use of the internet and social media. Rather than exploring the specific grievances of terrorist groups, it addresses the wide range of terrorist groups in historical perspective and the evolution of terrorist methods of communication, recruitment, financing, and propaganda. To do so, it uses statistics and secondary sources rather than primary sources used in other sets. Because these sources, written by reporters and scholars, are contemporary with the events they describe and analyze, they are primary in one sense, but the writers' distance from the events and actors and their uniformly Western perspective resembles that of secondary sources such as textbooks. What in these sources is evidence or "fact" (the specific details), and what is interpretation? When students want to learn about contemporary events, what sources are reliable? How do students know the sources are reliable? This source set compares terrorist groups over the last 50 years, allowing students to see how patterns of terrorist activity have changed in some ways but remain continuous in others.

Modern terrorism as a political strategy began with Mikhail Bakunin and anarchists in Russia in the late nineteenth century (Source 2). Their strategy has been used and continues to be used by extremist groups and individuals inspired not only by Islamist ideas but also by ethnic nationalism, anti-colonial nationalism, anarchism, fascism, and communism (Sources 1 and 3). Religious conservative backlash against globalization did not produce modern terrorism, and it was not caused by Western global culture intruding on conservative non-European societies. The global phenomenon of "Islamism," meaning the various extremist groups that base their ideologies on a strict interpretation of Islam that most Muslims do not believe, is a modern creation of globalization. Islamist terrorists' primary goal is not to fight the United States and its "moral corruption" of the world, but to carry out a political revolution in their own countries. Most of their attacks take place in Muslim-majority countries or countries that border on them. As Source 1 shows, in the United States "white" and "anti-Muslim" extremists, who adhere to a form of ethnic nationalism, carried out more terrorist attacks in 2017 than "jihadi-inspired" and "Muslim" extremists. The 2019 terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand (Source 8) shows the transnational reach of this extremism.

Islamism and white extremism are the latest in a 150-year tradition of powerful modern political ideologies. Although the ideologies are shared by a wider circle, only a few believers use the very modern tool of terrorism to try to achieve their goals. Globalization has provided to modern terrorists communication tools, a worldwide audience, and financing, and these have reinforced terrorists' impact. Global migration patterns have produced large diaspora communities that terrorists use for recruits and for financial and operational support (Source 9). Terrorist groups collect and distribute money through the global financial system (Source 5). Globalization has increased the circulation and the value of oil, enriching people from parts of the Middle East, including some who send money to support Islamist groups. Global economic and security interests have also increased interference in some Muslim-majority countries from US and European states and corporations, in some cases providing a pretext for terrorist responses. The increasingly sophisticated use of the internet and social media by the Islamic State and recent white extremists highlights the central importance of global communications to modern terrorists (Sources 6 and 7).

Reading Question: How did global internet connections facilitate the planned terrorist attack by Said Namouh and Mohammed Mahmoud?

Teacher Background: Cristina Siserman wrote the article "A Global Perspective on the Protection of Privacy and Related Human Rights in Countering the Use of Internet for Terrorist Purposes" (Source 9) for a college-educated audience. English learners and students who read below grade level will likely be overwhelmed by the complexity of the sentences and some of the vocabulary she used. However, students do not need to understand every word of this excerpt to get the information they need from it. This literacy strategy gives them a specific purpose for reading and guides them through the process of collecting evidence from the source and using it to write an argumentative paragraph.


  1. Divide students into pairs or small groups and distribute copies of Student Handout 10.11b.

  2. Have students circle the words and phrases they think might be about the internet or social media.

  3. When students have finished, review the words/phrases as a class (orally or visually projected). Help them to determine whether the words/phrases are verbs/verb phrases or nouns/noun phrases, and record them in the proper column of the Evidence Collection Chart.

  4. Have students complete the chart. Circulate to help them when they struggle.

  5. Explain how to form an interpretation by reviewing the material in Part II of the student handout. Tell students to write answers to each of the steps. Circulate to help them when they struggle.

  6. When students have finished, have students share out their interpretations. Consider recording useful interpretations on the board. Stress that there will be many different interpretations that would be "correct."

  7. Have student groups or pairs complete the Evidence Analysis Chart and prepare to write their paragraphs using the sentence frames. After finishing the frames, each student should write out the paragraph properly on lined paper.


10.11b Terrorism Student Handout

10.11b Terrorism Teacher Key

  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.

  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.

Terrorism is a sensitive topic because of its connection to the 9/11 attack that killed so many, fears of future attacks, Islamophobia, and US political debates. Although this set is designed to defuse uninformed assumptions about terrorism by providing information about multiple terrorist groups and historical background on terrorist activity, the teacher may wish to talk about appropriate classroom behavior for discussing controversial issues, such as by disagreeing with the ideas rather than with the person stating the ideas and by avoiding stereotypes. Asking students to support their generalizations with evidence from the sources will help to set the classroom tone as well.