Terrorists, Victims, and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences

By Andrew Silke | Go to book overview

Preface

In the wake of the September 11 attacks and subsequent events in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the world's attention has turned to the question of how best to tackle terrorism. This focus will fade with time—and probably quicker than many expect—but for now the issue of how best to understand and resolve terrorist conflicts dominates much public thought and activity. One clear certainty at this juncture is that there are no easy and straightforward solutions to terrorism. However, research on the subject conducted over the past three decades has helped identify some of the key issues that must be faced in tackling the problem, and has discerned some of the important features of effective counter-terrorism policies.

Many obstacles block efforts to reach a reliable understanding of terrorism and its impact. At a fundamental level there is incredible discrepancy over what the term actual means and who can fairly be described as a terrorist and who cannot. 'Terrorism' is a fiercely political word and one that is both incredibly alive and dishearteningly legion. As a term, it is far too nimble a creature for social science to be able to pin it down in anything like a reliable manner, and the result has been frustrating and unending debate in order to reach an accepted demarcation of the boundaries of the word. This has been sorely felt within the social sciences, and Poland (1988) noted correctly that this failure to agree on an acceptable definition is 'the most confounding problem in the study of terrorism'. So intractable are the various contentions that Shafritz, Gibbons and Scott (1991) concluded sombrely that 'it is unlikely that any definition will ever be generally agreed upon'.

While an agreed definition is probably as far off as ever, the needs of this volume require at least the bones of a framework for focus. A few of the chapters that follow will touch again on the subject of definition in their introductions, but overall the volume follows the relatively concise outline provided by Martha Crenshaw, a political scientist with a singular expertise in the psychology of terrorism. Crenshaw has described terrorism as 'a particular style of political violence, involving attacks on a small number of victims in order to influence a wider audience' (Crenshaw, 1992).

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