Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Terrorism and Collective Memories: Comparing Bologna, Naples and Madrid 11 March

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Terrorism and Collective Memories: Comparing Bologna, Naples and Madrid 11 March

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001 and 11 March 2004, the international debate on terrorism has entered a new phase, in which many social scientists have felt an urgent need to apply sociological categories to better understand and analyze the nature and consequences of terror for the state and society. It has been argued that terrorism has entered a new era (Martin, 2003): the process of globalization has affected terrorism and new patterns of expressing violence are to be expected. The international dimension has profoundly changed the rhetoric of terrorism, viewed truly as a war of symbols and meanings (Tuman, 2003). In this context, the mass media play an increasing role by helping to amplify the symbolic meanings of the terrorist attacks through worldwide visibility. (1)

Within the theoretical dimension, a great effort has been made to avoid the risk of reifying terms such as terror, terrorism, and terrorist. Charles Tilly (2004: 5) notes that 'the word "terror" points to a widely recurrent but imprecisely bounded political strategy': he defines it as 'asymmetrical deployment of threats and violence against enemies using means that fall outside the forms of political struggle routinely operating within some current regime.' According to the author, the risk of occurrence depends on the circumstance that, even if terrorism is often an intermittent form of action used by groups engaged in other forms of political struggle also, one usually tends to consider it a typical strategy constantly adopted by a certain group of social actors.

Several definitions and classifications of terrorism have been proposed and discussed (Cooper, 2001). Since 11 September 2001 and 11 March 2004, new encyclopedias of terrorism have been published (Combs and Slann, 2002; Shanty and Picquet, 2003). Terror has been analyzed from different angles by using cultural trauma theory (Alexander et al., 2004; Smelser, 2004), the game theory (Sandler and Arce, 2003), and complexity theory (Urry, 2002); by examining the rituals of solidarity produced by the attacks (Collins, 2004); by using ethnography and auto-ethnographic writing to understand better the victims' point of view (Ellis, 2002); and by focusing on specific cases (Oliverio, 1998; Toggia et al., 2000)--just to mention a few. One approach possibly less widely considered has been that provided by the sociology of memory and, especially, by its cultural approach. But why should the sociology of memory tell us anything relevant on terrorism? This article will try to show that the sociology of memory leads us to focus more clearly from a long-term perspective on analyzing terrorism and therefore provides a better comprehension of the consequences of terror for society, the state, the victims, and their relatives.

In fact, the sociology of memory has the advantage of implying a diachronic perspective, which obliges the social scientist to reflect on the long-term damage to society caused by the terror attack. Obviously, when terrorism represents such a worldwide emergency as has happened since 11 September 2001, it seems more adequate to reflect on the nature of terrorism itself, on the victims' and the relatives' traumas, on the possible ways to prevent new attacks, and on the most adequate weapons to fight them. In the short-term perspective, both politically and scientifically speaking, immediately after a terror attack the most important thing is to find out by all possible means how to prevent further attacks and prosecute the terrorists. The problem of remembering and forgetting seems to rest in the background. However, as this article attempts to point out, the elements that play a relevant role in selecting a future legitimated version of a traumatic event are worked out in the years immediately after its occurrence. The future of the present usually takes shape in six months to one year. The remembrance or the forgetting of the event will assume a crucial relevance not only for the survivors and their relatives (which alone would be very important) but also for the whole society and, more specifically, for the future definition of the relation between citizens and the democratic state. …

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