As a discipline, criminology tends to treat terrorism as an objective phenomenon, to be mapped, explained, and managed. Scholars informed by more critical strains of the discipline, however, argue that orthodox criminology is reductive and uncritical. Relying on normative definitions of terrorism, orthodox analyses reproduce assumptions of powerful institutions, thus collaborating and furthering a system of social control marked by increased authoritarianism. Cultural, critical, and constitutive criminologies call for a more politically engaged criminology, which recognizes that power is inherent to knowledge production. How terrorism is socially constructed and framed is of primary significance, since terrorism is not a given, ontological fact, but rather a power inhered designation. The framing of terrorism through multiple, intersecting, discursive systems impacts radically how we make sense of the world. Cultural discourses (including media representations) intersect with and reinforce other institutional narratives, giving rise to a dominant script, which provides us with a framework for understanding terror. Examining the cultural and social discourses that constitute this script is not an end point; rather, it is a way into cultural power. It is a means to critically assess cultural myths and ideological frames that are crucial in shaping our perceptions of safety and security, victims and perpetrators, and more. Cultural meanings work their way into our consciousness, engendering a framework for interpreting events and identities, compelling us to understand the world in particular ways, obliging us to consent to real world policies. Much of the analysis in this vein examines the representation of terrorism and counter-terrorism through Edward Said’s lens of Orientalism. This approach highlights the ways in which terrorism has come to be conflated with Muslim identity, while it also highlights the binary structuring of this “Muslim as terrorist” script, which creates dualistic categories of us versus other, rational versus irrational, modernity versus anti-modernity, and so on. These binaries create essentialized visions of Islam and Muslims as chaotic, violent, and disorderly, who pose an apocalyptic threat to the West. Imagined as Islam’s binary opposite, the West is framed as being perilously at risk from an entire category of people who are discursively transformed into essentialized suspect communities. These framings come to be institutionalized in the form of anti-terror policies and practices. As an example, the War on Terrorism slogan and the accompanying Orientalist imagery of the Muslim terrorist, was integral to lending legitimacy to international military action, the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, the use of torture, and more, post-9/11. Prevailing framings—dehumanizing and devoid of real context—were the scaffolding on which such policies and practices could be built. Indeed, undergirding the ever-increasing nexus of authoritarian, repressive counter-terrorism measures, is a cultural repertoire of Orientalist meanings that provide the cultural conditions necessary for us to consent to increasing social control. The material and often-brutal consequences of these policies are felt most keenly by those who are caught in the expansive, amorphous category of “Other.” This suffering is largely out of the frame, and instead, we are invited to think of the state response as a logical and necessary step to ensure our safety. Understanding how abstract discourse comes to be embedded in institutional practice is crucial if criminologists are to take seriously the question of (in)justice. This necessitates resisting the troubling dominant discourses that frame terrorism, and it means that we must reflexively be aware of our own role in perpetuating “knowledge” and a cultural climate within which real people suffer.
Before 9/11, the literature on terrorism and international organizations (IOs) was largely event driven. That is to say, the modest nature of the debate reflected a modest empirical record of IO engagement in responding to terrorism. Moreover, this period saw a correlation between the way states acted against terrorism through IOs and the nature of subsequent debates. Famously, states were (and remain) unable to agree on a definition of “terrorism,” precluding broad-based action through IOs. The findings presented in this literature were furthermore often quite bleak. The immediate post-9/11 period, however, was much more optimistic. This period saw an unprecedented increase in action against terrorism in IOs, primarily through the Security Council resolution 1373. Resolution 1373 elaborates a broad—and mandatory—agenda for counterterrorism cooperation. This resolution has had significant and ongoing consequences for the ways IOs are utilized in the effort to suppress terrorism. Furthermore, this and other IO engagements with terrorism brought about an increase in scholarly interest in the area, even giving rise to a sense of optimism in the literature. Thus, from the pre- to the post-9/11 period, there are elements of both continuity and change in the way scholars have discussed terrorism in the context of IOs.
Before the late 1960s, terrorism was commonly viewed as an internal problem that belonged to the realm of policing rather than foreign policy. The Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s airplane hijackings in Europe, combined with the 1972 Munich Olympics wherein eleven Israeli athletes were captured and held hostage by Black September, gave rise to some foundational counterterrorism policy features; for example, no negotiations with terrorists. But it was not until the 1983–1984 attacks on its embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut that the United States began to see terrorism as a policy concern. The terrorist attacks of September 11 also led scholars to become increasingly interested in integrating work on international terrorism into international relations (IR) and foreign policy theories. The theories of IR, foreign policy concerns of policy makers, and terrorism studies intersect in areas such as the development of international law governing terrorism, poverty, economic development, globalization, military actions, and questions of whether deterrence is still possible in the age of decentralized terrorist groups and suicidal terrorism. Despite decades of research on terrorism and counterterrorism, some very basic and important gaps remain. Issues that the academic literature on foreign policy or terrorism must address include the effects of the evolving organizational structure of terrorist groups, illegal immigration, the radicalization of European Muslims, and the phenomenon recently identified as “swarming.”
The internet has emerged as an important medium for terrorists. Two key trends can be discerned from cyberterrorism: the democratization of communications driven by user generated content on the internet, and modern terrorists’ growing awareness of the internet’s potential for their purposes. The internet has become a favorite tool of the terrorists because of the many advantages it provides, such as easy access; little or no regulation, censorship, or other forms of government control; potentially huge audiences spread throughout the world; anonymity of communication; fast flow of information; interactivity; inexpensive development and maintenance of a Web presence; a multimedia environment; and the ability to influence coverage in the traditional mass media. These advantages make the network of computer-mediated communication ideal for terrorists-as-communicators. Terrorist groups of all sizes maintain their own websites to spread propaganda, raise funds and launder money, recruit and train members, communicate and conspire, plan and launch attacks. They also rely on e-mail, chatrooms, e-groups, forums, virtual message boards, and resources like YouTube, Facebook, and Google Earth. Fighting online terrorism raises the issue of countermeasures and their cost. The virtual war between terrorists and counterterrorism forces and agencies is certainly a vital, dynamic, and ferocious one. It is imperative that we become better informed about the uses to which terrorists put the internet and better able to monitor their activities. Second, we must defend our societies better against terrorism without undermining the very qualities and values that make our societies worth defending.
Frank Foley and Max Abrahms
Since 9/11, terrorism has been widely perceived as the foremost threat to the United States, its allies, and the broader international community. Political scientists have historically paid little attention to the study of terrorism and counterterrorism; in the subfield of international relations (IR), the focus of research of the dominant realist tradition was on great power politics, not on substate violence. In the post-9/11 world, IR scholars have begun to show interest in the causes and consequences of terrorism. Studies undertaken since October 2001 have been increasingly quantitative, employing a mixture of descriptive and inferential statistical analyses. Yet this heightened scholarly attention has yielded few uncontested insights. Fundamental methodological, empirical, and theoretical questions about terrorism have become the subject of intense discussions. The definition of terrorism in particular remains problematic. Scholars also debate over the virtues of large-n studies versus case studies, the accuracy of terrorism events data, and al-Qaida’s place within the history of terrorism. In the case of counterterrorism, much of the literature has followed policy trends rather than developing empirically grounded theories. Two strands of counterterrorism literature are country case studies and discussions on the relative merits of different policy instruments. There has been increased interest in systematic studies of counterterrorism effectiveness and the nascent development of theories on the sources of counterterrorist policies in recent years, which raises the possibility for theoretically informed and methodologically aware debates in the study of state responses to terrorism.
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.
Paul D. Miller
Afghanistan has twice been thrust front and center of US national security concerns in the past half-century: first, during the Soviet-Afghan War, when Afghanistan served as a proxy for American efforts to combat Soviet influence; and second, as the frontline state and host for America’s global response to al-Qaida’s terrorist attacks of 2001. In both instances, American involvement swung from intensive investment and engagement to withdrawal and neglect. In both cases, American involvement reflected US concerns more than Afghan realities. And both episodes resulted in short-term successes for American security with long-term consequences for Afghanistan and its people. The signing of a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries in 2012 and a bilateral security agreement in 2013 created the possibility of a steadier and more forward-looking relationship—albeit one that the American and Afghan people may be less inclined to pursue as America’s longest war continues to grind on.