NEWS

Panteion University survey shows that a large majority of young people reject terrorism and the use of force to deal with violence

Which would be more likely to open up the «television windows» and get endless discussion started – Greeks’ condemnation or approval of domestic terrorism? The latter, of course, which is why that viewpoint was regularly aired – at least while the issue still dominated the news. Yet a survey of young people by the Social Psychology and Public Opinion Research Department of Panteion University under Professor Stamos Papastamou shows the truth to be far different from the stereotypical view that most Greeks agree with the convictions of terrorists. In fact, the poll showed that those surveyed reject every type of terrorist activity. The average age of those questioned was 19.5, chosen to represent most clearly the views of the public. This does not mean that all those who oppose terrorism think in the same way, nor that they oppose it for the same reasons. Besides, what do people consider terrorism to be? What is terrorism? «If you ask someone if they agree with terrorism, they will probably say they don’t. The thing is to see what is beneath the broad consensus,» says Papastamou. So the basic question in the survey was not «Are you for or against terrorism?» Instead, those polled were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with «anti-terrorism discourse.» This corresponds to the view that terrorism is a form of political action that undermines democracy, violates the basic principles of civilized society, tries to conceal its criminal nature behind unfounded political arguments and tramples on human rights. Of those in the sample, 72.4 percent agreed with «anti-terrorism discourse,» 12.8 percent disagreed and 14.8 percent took a middle position. However, about half (45.7 percent) also agreed with «anti-authority discourse.» In other words, they believe that individual rights and the collective security of citizens is at greater risk from the arbitrary exercise of power than from terrorist action, that terrorism is a phenomenon that is maintained by power to justify its own arbitrariness, and that the only effective way to combat it is to abolish social inequity and injustice. Consequently, Papastamou says, it is wrong to assume that those who reject terrorism form a united front that is in agreement with authority, given that it is much easier to express an opinion against terrorism than it is against authority. Asked how terrorism should be tackled, 78.4 percent of the sample rejected the use of extreme violence to deal with terrorism, namely the use of physical or psychological force during the interrogation of terrorism suspects or use of the death penalty to punish convicted terrorists. But a considerable number, about 20 percent, did not particularly disagree with the use of extreme violence. And an even larger percentage (87.3) disagreed with police surveillance of the public as a means to combat terrorism. But this view is mainly as regards Greek citizens. Those polled had different standards when it came to foreigners, with 66.2 percent agreeing with police surveillance of foreigners. At a time when uniting everyone against terrorism is the only solution presented by those in power, young people seem to agree. Of those questioned, 70 percent agreed with the de facto acceptance of globalizing measures to deal with terrorism, though another question in the poll, asking about deglobalizing measures to deal with terrorism, elicited agreement from 40.1 percent of the sample. In other words, those sampled agreed that terrorism is an issue to be dealt with separately by each country and that international agreements to combat it are a pretext for global domination by the United States. What does this mean? Does it mean that the young agree with the globalization of means to deal with terrorism solely because they realize it is not worth resisting this international policy? Papastamou notes that their «acceptance of the globalization of terrorism happens basically because they accept the dominant discourse that is issued by authority figures. If the poll had been conducted during the war in Iraq and we had asked the same question, there would probably have been a difference.» The apparent contradictions between the views expressed have psychological explanations. «People very often express different views in their different capacities,» explains Papastamou. For instance, many people think they are entitled to a personal view but that, as Greeks, they should support a different view. «It is difficult for me to agree in public with a minority opinion because there is a price to pay. But I know inside myself that agree,» he adds. Evil tendencies The notion that social deprivation is a basic factor in the development of transgressive behavior was rejected by 72.2 percent of the sample. The researchers attribute this response to the fact that many of those questioned belong in some way to «psychologically and socially deprived» groups; for example, they may be the children of separated parents. Responding to another question, 42 percent attributed terrorist behavior to an «innate tendency to evil,» preferring a moralistic and, therefore, anodyne cause. Similarly, 67.1 percent agreed that terrorism was a reaction to social injustice. When asked whether those charged with terrorist activities should be treated as common criminals, the majority (44.3 percent) agreed, while 19.2 percent said they should be treated as political prisoners and 4.8 percent as mentally ill. Interestingly, 31.6 percent of those questioned did not believe terrorist actions fit into any of the above categories. As for the abrogation of some human rights for the accused, the majority basically accept that some rights specified by the justice system – such as the right to be elected to public office – be abrogated. Those chosen for the sample were young people whom the researchers believed would be more open to the influence of the mass media and who often reproduce the views of those with whom they keep company. But it is clear, says Papastamou, «that there was some influence from all that has been said about terrorism, but, of course, we can’t know how much or how long it will last.» This research by Papastamou and Gerasimos Prodromitis will be published soon by Ellinika Grammata under the title «Terrorism and Power.»