The Current

Veteran reporter on how terror has changed in 50 years

Peter Taylor has spent five decades reporting on terrorism, conflict and political violence.
Peter Taylor's latest documentary, Reflections on Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines, looks back on his career and his extensive archive. (Peter Taylor)

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As the U.K. wrestles with how to confront homegrown terrorism after three attacks in three months, Peter Taylor believes there are lessons to be learned from the past.

Since 1967, the veteran BBC reporter has interviewed victims, perpetrators and security forces trying to stop terrorism, making over 100 documentaries along the way, including his most recent one titled Reflections on Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines.

Through his reporting, Taylor has always tried to understand the motivation behind terrorism and why young people "prepare to carry out acts that the vast majority of us would never ever contemplate."

He's been face to face with men and women responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. He's built relationships with them — most of whom were "remarkably ordinary," some of whom came from good backgrounds and were students.

"The stereotypical terrorist with horns on his head or her head is not always a reflection of the reality," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Taylor says defining a "terrorist" is difficult. He uses the words "terrorism" and "terrorist" with great care, as the terms are "a matter of judgment."

"The definition is in the eye of the beholders ... One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist," he explains.

He says many of the young Muslims in democratic nations like the U.K. and Canada feel "alienated, dislocated, not part of the society," which leaves them vulnerable to organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS that attract them with their "powerful ideology."

According to Taylor, when they see their fellow Muslims in the Middle East being killed by American and British drones, they carry out vicious attacks at home in an act of retaliation.

"To the vast majority ... that is abhorrent — the fact that it's simply regarded as a justification for striking back," he says.

"But you have to understand … why they do it because until we understand the motivation of the so-called 'terrorist,' we can't even begin to defeating them."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith.