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Mary S. Barton and David M. Wight

The US government’s perception of and response to international terrorism has undergone momentous shifts since first focusing on the issue in the early 20th century. The global rise of anarchist and communist violence provided the impetus for the first major US government programs aimed at combating international terrorism: restrictive immigration policies targeting perceived radicals. By the 1920s, the State Department emerged as the primary government agency crafting US responses to international terrorism, generally combating communist terrorism through diplomacy and information-sharing partnerships with foreign governments. The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis marked the beginning of two key shifts in US antiterrorism policy: a heightened focus on combating Islamist terrorism and a willingness to deploy military force to this end. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led US officials to conceptualize international terrorism as a high-level national security problem, leading to US military invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, a broader use of special forces, and unprecedented intelligence-gathering operations.

Article

Terrorist violence appeals to and pivots on the creation and dissemination of fear. In that respect, it hinges on public perceptions and threat manufacturing to have policy impact. Scholars have long recognized that terrorist actors appeal to multiple audiences, including the public audience. By sowing fear, actors hope that the public will put pressure on the target regime to enact policy concessions to militants or that policymakers, fearing the erosion of public support, will bend to the terrorists’ demands. Recognizing this, it behooves scholars to delineate the mechanisms that shape perceptions and parse the different types of emotional and cognitive responses that terrorist violence arouses. Violence inculcates a range of public responses, most notably, anxiety, fear, anger, and perceptions of threat. These responses may vary with individual demographics, such as gender and age, but are also guided by the political environment in which individuals are embedded. Variegated emotive responses have important policy consequences as distinct emotions are associated with different policy demands. On the whole, psychological reactions to terrorism underlie the effectiveness of terrorism and have downstream social, political, and cultural ramifications.