Wars of Fear: Coming to Grips with Terrorism

By Guelke, Adrian | Harvard International Review, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Wars of Fear: Coming to Grips with Terrorism


Guelke, Adrian, Harvard International Review


ADRIAN GUELKE is Professor of Politics at The Queen's University of Belfast.

In August 1998, a series of events prompted a new wave of concern about terrorism. The bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed hundreds of people; in the town of Omagh, the most deadly attack of the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland occurred; a pipe-bomb exploded at a Cape Town Planet Hollywood, injuring scores of tourists. However, these three events had nothing in common, despite a false claim of responsibility in the Cape Town case that appeared to link the attack to the US response to the embassy bombings. In fact, the very term terrorism misleads by its implication that certain acts of violence can be treated as a single phenomenon, notwithstanding their different origins and the variety of motivations of their perpetrators.

The Definitional Mystery

Also problematic is the absolutism of the term terrorism. Despite the different contexts in which violence occurs, and the varying inclinations of perpetrators to jeopardize the lives of innocent bystanders, Western governments have tended to use the term to demonize any violent group. Although in practice, Western liberal democracies make moral and political distinctions between the use of violence in different situations, the concept of terrorism remains an obstacle to their doing so. Authoritarian regimes elsewhere have found the power of the word just as irresistible.

Why terrorism remains one of the most misleading words in the English language is best demonstrated in a historical context. The dictionary definition is "the use of violence so as to strike with terror or to create a climate of extreme fear." Given the imprecise nature of this definition, the word terrorism has endured several interpretative phases over the years. Originally, in the 18th century, the term primarily characterized brutal actions of the state. For example, during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, terrorism described the widespread guillotining of the aristocracy and other citizens. Only during the 19th century did the definition of terrorism expand to include violence from below, such as the hostile acts of anarchists and the indiscriminate killing of landlords and their agents during Irish agrarian conflicts. Another meaning of the word terrorist that gained prominence during the period was an alarmist or a scare-monger. Although that particular usage is now obsolete, it could be applied to much current writing on the subject of terrorism; however, the revival of earlier meanings would only compound the definitional confusion that exists today.

Today, terrorism mainly denotes the activities of small groups engaged in campaigns of clandestine political violence. Yet a moment's reflection suggests that of all forms of brutality, by far the most terrifying is that of the original 18th century variety, exercised openly by heavily armed agents of the state. Some writers on terrorism favor this concept of state terrorism as a tool of analysis because they believe that the term should encompass regimes which brutalize their own citizens. However, the notion of state terrorism remains problematic for two main reasons. First, it is often confused with the notion of "state-sponsored terrorism" promoted in the United States by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. During the 1980s, the phrase state-sponsored terrorism did not apply to regimes that intimidated their own citizens per se; but instead to those which supported terrorist groups operating in other countries. Thus, the United States labeled the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein a terrorist state, not for using chemical weapons against Kurds within Iraq, but for assisting the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in its hostile acts against Turkey. Second, for reasons explained later in this article, the concept of state terrorism generally encompasses only extremely brutal regimes without any redeeming characteristics. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Wars of Fear: Coming to Grips with Terrorism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.