Postgraduate Lives: 'Terrorism is a horrible topic'

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The Independent Online

Rona Dolev, 29, is completing her PhD on 'Parenting under the threat of terrorism' at Dundee University

Rona Dolev, 29, is completing her PhD on 'Parenting under the threat of terrorism' at Dundee University

When I started researching parenting and terrorism in Scotland, I thought that people wouldn't be too bothered - terrorism is not a part of their lives. But I found that 80 per cent of Scottish children aged between six and eight know what terrorism is, and 50 per cent of parents worry that their children will be hurt in a terrorist attack. This shows that there is no straightforward relationship between the level of "real" exposure to terrorism and the fears that parents have for their children's wellbeing.

I'm from Israel, where terrorism is such a salient part of everyday life. I came to Scotland to do my undergraduate degree in psychology. I'd been on holiday at home and when I returned to Dundee I saw that there was a post as a demonstrator that would fund my PhD. I had a weekend to come up with a topic and a research proposal, which was a bit hectic. When I began to read the literature I realised that very little attention had been paid to parents, which is strange because how parents cope affects their children.

Terrorism is such a politicised term. In my thesis, I define it as any attack or threat of attack aimed at civilians with a political motivation. I started my PhD in 2001, the week before 9/11. I had planned to focus on terrorism in Israel, but 9/11 really changed things. So I opened up my research to look at the effects of exposure to terrorism on parents and their children in Israel, the US, Northern Ireland and Scotland, in collaboration with psychologists from these four countries.

The questionnaires were done in 2003, so that's quite a while after 9/11, but a large number of parents in Scotland are still worried about terrorism. The most important source of information is the media. Its coverage can be very graphic and repetitive, and children think that what they see is happening close to them, and they ask a lot of questions.

While the Lockerbie disaster was a terrorist attack on Scottish soil, it was aimed at destroying an American airliner, rather than attacking Scottish people, and this is an important distinction because often a terrorist threat is closely related to issues of national identity. After 9/11, people across the States became fearful, as the attack was perceived as an attack on America, so every American was potentially in danger. But Lockerbie was not perceived as an attack on Scotland, so it didn't trigger the same psychological responses as terrorist attacks in other countries. None of the Scottish parents in my study made any reference to Lockerbie.

I'll be finishing my PhD in a few months and will probably stay in Academe. At conferences, I've observed a thirst for knowledge on terrorism. But it is difficult to focus on so horrible a topic - I think about terrorism all the time while I'm working. In some ways, I have become desensitised, but I do feel shock and distress, just like everyone else.