Presentation title: The Ethical Collapse of Aum Shinrikyo
Name: Alexander (Alex) George Burns
Discipline: Terrorism Studies
Key words: Aum Shinrikyo, Shambhala Plan, strategic culture, coercion practices, ethical collapse
Abstract: On 6th July 2018 the Japanese Government executed Aum Shinrikyo’s founder Shoko Asahara (born Chizuo Matsumoto) and six senior members of the Buddhist Tantra Vajrayana and Hindu-influenced religious cult. Six further members were executed on 26th July 2018. Aum Shinrikyo achieved notoriety for its sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway on 20th March 1995, which killed 13 people and injured 6000 others. This presentation synthesises relevant insights from the sub-fields of strategic culture and terrorism studies to examine Aum Shinrikyo from a new perspective: its initial rise, its ethical collapse, and its subsequent descent into terrorist violence (via its secretive development of chemical and biological weapons development that was compartmentalised to the upper echelons of the organisation). The specific coercion practices which occurred in Aum Shinrikyo that bound together its leadership and renunciate followers are identified and summarised. The religious cult’s utopian Shambhala Plan is reinterpreted in terms of: (i) fulfilling Asahara’s adverse experiences, career ambitions, and life chances, and (ii) facilitating both elite circulation and social mobility of its senior members at the expense of its renunciate followers, and in the broader socio-economic context of Japan’s ‘lost decades’ of deflationary growth. The combination of coercion practices and ethical collapse means that Aum Shinrikyo now has a greater significance beyond terrorism studies: the religious cult can be related to other potential case studies such as Enron, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Theranos, and the Madoff Ponzi scheme fraud.
Andrew Silke – always worth reading – and Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen have a new article out in Terrorism and Political Violence on the topic. Here’s the abstract:
In a context where widespread failings in the nature of terrorism research are well recognised—yet where the quantity of work is still enormous—is it possible to fairly assess whether the field is progressing or if it has become mired in mediocre research? Citation analysis is widely used to reveal the evolution and extent of progress in fields of study and to provide valuable insight into major trends and achievements. This study identifies and analyses the current 100 most cited journal articles in terrorism studies. A search was performed using Google Scholar for peer-reviewed journal articles on subjects related to terrorism and counter-terrorism. The most cited articles were published across sixty-two journals, which reflected the interdisciplinary nature of terrorism studies. Compared to other articles, the most cited articles were more likely to be the result of collaborative research and were also more likely to provide new data. Sixty-three of the top 100 articles have been published since 2001. The findings are discussed in relation to the evolution of terrorism research and current debates on progress in the field. (emphasis added)
A summary of my in-progress thesis from my mid-candidature review documentation:
Terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State pose a national security threat to Australia. Terrorist organisations that are able to grow in members and resources, and consolidate their power over a longer period of time require different policymaking responses from counterterrorism, defence, and national security experts. This thesis contributes to: (i) a new understanding of how such terrorist organisations formulate their strategies, allocate resources, and engage in decision-making to plan and conduct terrorist operations; and (b) the development of a new strategic cultures framework using case studies of Islamic State and Japan’ s Aum Shinrikyo.