Terrorism Essay


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Master\'s Degree in Media & Cultural Analysis

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Terrorism Essay

  1. 1. Politics of Representation Terrorism Index 1. Introduction 2 2. Defining ‘Terrorism’ 3 3. Understanding ‘Terrorists’ 6 Gerrits‟ Seven „Terrorists‟‟ Tactics of Publicity 8 The Role of the Media in the „Terrorist Crusade‟ 8 Violence as a Central Feature of „Terrorism‟ 9 4. The Construction of the „Terrorist Threat‟ – ‘Counterterrorism’ vs. ‘Terrorism’ / ’Terrorism’ vs. ‘Counterterrorism 10 5. Conclusion 12 6. Bibliography 14 Student – João Cotrim 1
  2. 2. Politics of Representation Terrorism 1. Introduction Since September 11th, 2001, the world has witnessed a radical change in the world order. Fear, anxiety, sentiments of repugnancy and hate, and, mostly, a deep sentiment of great uncertainty took their place and dominated, and still dominate, most of our daily lives. Since then, there have been much discussions and debates about the events that took place in that fatal date and consequent repercussions for the entire world. The events were classified as the worst „terrorists‟ acts, deeds that were ever seen and witnessed, much due to the role of a cultural good which has a central place in this mass-communications era – television. The power of the images of the two „hijacked‟ planes crushing against the Twin Towers and their subsequent fall, which every one of us has and will have in mind until the end of our lives, had a major part in producing all the sentiments that certainly all of us felt, at the time, and surely, still fill! The discussion about „Terrorism‟ has, thus, become part of our lives, while the media have become a central player in delivering the latest developments on this issue, and in keeping people informed and updated. One just cannot avoid it! Virtually, everyone has his personal point of view and particular way of looking at this concerning problematic, issue. That‟s why I chose this topic! It‟s a very contemporary issue and, thus, I believe it is worthy looking at it, studying and analysing it. In the next pages, then, I will focus on the points, which I consider to be the key icons that must be underlined and highlighted in order to fully understand the contours of „terrorism‟. Firstly, I‟ll try to define „terrorism‟. In doing so, I will bring up some accounts of authors about the theme. After that, I will concentrate myself in giving a perspective of the „terrorist‟ side. I will centre my attention in broaching what is called the “tactics of publicity” used by „terrorists‟, analysing the crucial role of the media in disseminating „terrorists‟‟ causes, as well as trying to understand the use of violence by „terrorists‟. Student – João Cotrim 2
  3. 3. Politics of Representation Terrorism In a third stage, my target will be in demonstrating the construction of the terrorist threat‟ theory. Once again, my analysis will be supported by accounts and thesis of some authors. Finally, I will try and sum up the ideas brought up in this essay in an adequate conclusion. 2. Defining “Terrorism” At the eyes of the all world, terrorism is, today, very much a concerning issue, which has invaded and dominated our lives, most particularly, since the attack on the twin towers in New York city, in September 11th 2001. Thus, it has been the centre of much discussion by many and has gained an unprecedented importance and dimension. Because it‟s such a complex, sensible, fragile and very much dreadful concept, it‟s not easy to broach it in a leaner way and, thus, it produces many concerns and questions about both the discourse of the state and the discourse of the „terrorists‟. Academics, politicians, security experts and journalists, all use a variety of definitions of „terrorism‟. Some definitions focus on the „terrorist‟ organizations‟ mode of operation, while others emphasize the motivations and characteristics of „terrorism‟, and the „modus operandi‟ of individual „terrorists‟. In their book “Political Terrorism”, Schmidt and Youngman presented numerous possible definitions for „terrorism‟, which they obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. From these definitions, the authors highlighted the elements which were majority cited. Thus, violence and force appeared in 83.5% of the definitions; political in 65%; fear and emphasis on terror in 51%; threats in 47%; psychological effects and anticipated reactions in 41.5%; discrepancy between the targets and the victims in 37.5%; intentional, planned, systematic and organized action in 32%; and, finally, methods of combat, strategy and tactics in 30.5% of all of definitions. In Graham Murdock‟s words, “terrorism is a term that cannot be given a stable definition” (Murdock, 1997:1652). In his view, television has a central role in producing such instability. Because television is the “central public arena” for talking and discussing Student – João Cotrim 3
  4. 4. Politics of Representation Terrorism about social and political life, it embodies, at the same time, the nucleus, the place where the disemboguement of many definitions, accounts and explanations of „terrorism‟ takes place. Many argue that the realm of politics has a particular and controversial way of broaching, analysing and, thus, conceptualising „terrorism‟. In Murdock‟s view, and I certainly agree with him, politicians always try to limit and simplify the definition of „terrorism‟ in the name of the state‟s political interests. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former U.S. representative to the United Nations, simply identified and defined a „terrorist‟ as a person who “kills, maims, kidnaps and tortures. His victims may be schoolchildren… industrialists returning home from work, political leaders or diplomats”. (quoted in Graham Murdock, 1997: 1653). On the other hand, and mostly due to their special deontology and the specific rule of impartiality, journalists are said to broach and use the term terrorist “when civilians are attacked” (Murdock, 1997: 1653). David Paletz and Danielle Vinson, in “Terrorism and the Media”, analyse and describe the theme of „terrorism‟ in a very interesting way. Thus, they identify many forms of „terrorism‟. The ones they believe to have most renown and prominence are: State Terrorism, waged against inhabitants of a state; State Sponsored Terrorism, against the people of the other states; and Insurgent Terrorism, also called by Schmid and De Graaf as “Social-Revolutionary, Separatist and Single Issue Terrorism, aiming at the top of society” (Schmid & De Graaf, 1982: 1), where the “violence is mainly perpetrated for its effects on others rather than the immediate victims” (Schmid & De Graaf, 1982: 2). Schmid and De Graaf also argue that because the word terrorism has, by nature, such profound negative connotations, maybe a more neutral term would be preferable. Thus, they suggest the word insurgent. As far as I‟m concerned, my argument is clearly this: western society, most dominated and influenced by the North American Culture and North American International Policy, constructed the term „terrorist‟. Many argue that such construction is merely the reflection of western‟s strategic political interests versus the eastern‟s ones, and most particularly, the Middle East‟s cultural power. Student – João Cotrim 4
  5. 5. Politics of Representation Terrorism The word terrorism has, undoubtedly, profoundly negative connotations, simply representing an attempt to qualify their actors has being evil, and thus, labelling the terrorists as the „bad guys‟. The question here is that labelling an action as „terrorist‟ denies political rationality to the actors and confers legitimacy on the state‟s response. The prevalent definitions of „terrorism‟ entail many difficulties. Because of that, alternative concepts with more positive connotations, such as guerrilla movements, underground movements, national liberation movements and commandos, are often used to describe and characterize the activities of „terrorists‟ organizations. Salah Khalef (Abu Iyad), former Yasser Arafat‟s deputy, one of the leaders of Fatah and Black September and responsible for a number of lethal attacks, including the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, firmly denied his actions as „terrorists‟. In trying to rationalize such actions, he used the tactic of confounding terrorism with political violence. In his words, then: “By nature, and even on ideological grounds, I am firmly opposed to political murder and, more generally, to terrorism. Nevertheless, unlike many others, I do not confuse revolutionary violence with terrorism, or operations that constitute political acts with others that do not.” (Boaz Ganor, 1997: 7) The major concern about this statement is that conceptualising political violence and terrorism as two different and unconnected phenomena makes the activity respectable and legitimate, where “the end justifies the means”. Regarding its inherents effects, „terrorism‟, certainly, poses a central dilemma for liberal democracies: either they can abide by the rule of law in which case their response may be ineffective or they can pursue an armed response in which case they may violate their own principles. The discussion about „terrorism‟ is, clearly, not pacific. As said before, it raises several questions, certainties, uncertainties and many kinds of sentiments towards it. It is hard, then, to arrive to an exhaustive and objective definition of „terrorism‟. But I would select a particular definition, which I believe to be the most appropriate and Student – João Cotrim 5
  6. 6. Politics of Representation Terrorism impartial attempt to broach such problematic issue. The proposal definition is as follows: ‘terrorism’ is the international use of, or threat to use violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims. 3. Understanding „Terrorists‟ As Robin Gerrits argues, in order to fully understand the purposes of a „terrorist‟ action, we must bear in mind “a fundamental triangular relationship in the „terrorist‟ strategy among the „terrorist‟, the target of the „terrorist violence‟ (the victims, such as British soldiers in Northern Ireland, the hostages in a plane, a killed banker), and the actual targets of the action, whose minds „terrorists‟ try to affect with their violence” (Gerrits, 1992: 30). The real targets of a „terrorist‟ action may be, then, a particular country‟s government, which the „terrorists‟ want to coerce, the public in general or a sector thereof, which is put in a state of apprehensive interest or fear. In Schimd and De Graaf‟s opinion, contrarily to state-practiced „terrorism‟, insurgent terrorists actively seek a fundamental element that, many believe, is the central basis for the success of their purposes - publicity. Although newspapers, radio, and television do play the most important part in the „terrorists‟‟ achievements, many authors strongly argue that publicity is a decisive icon in the „terrorist‟ strategy. Undoubtedly, without the enormous power of publicity in divulging and spreading their causes and motives, terrorists groups would be „suffocated‟ in the sense that there wouldn‟t be any space for such causes to survive and persist. Also, there is a big discussion about whether „terrorists‟ seek the media, due to their dependence on it, or whether they actively use and manipulate the media in a skilful and professional way. A large majority, then, believe that „terrorists‟ skilfully use the media and, most particularly, television (with the great power of image) to expose and spread their causes. To support such argument, William Catton used the so-heard theatre metaphor. In his words, “terrorist activity is basically a form of theatre. Terrorists play to an audience. Without the mass media, they would seldom be able to reach audiences as large as those from which they do now gain attention” (Catton, 1978: 712-713). Student – João Cotrim 6
  7. 7. Politics of Representation Terrorism M. Cherif Bassiouni, on the other hand, believes that the method of violent action pursues different ultimate goals, and, in their pursuit of such ends, „terrorists‟ employ psychological strategies. Bassiouni, then, divides such strategies into five categories: A. Demonstrate the vulnerability and impotence of the government. B. Attract broader public sympathy by the choice of carefully selected targets that may be publicly rationalized. C. Cause a polarization and radicalisation among the public. D. Goad the government into repressive action likely to discredit it. E. Present the violent acts in a manner that makes them appear heroic. (Bassiouni, 1981: 17) Another personality, Carlos Marighella, a much-cited Brazilian urban guerrilla, talks about another element, strategy used by „terrorists‟ in order to achieve their aims – demoralization. To quote his words: “The war of nerves is an aggressive strategy, in which information, spread by the mass media and orally, is meant to demoralize the government” (Marighella, 1972: 161). Like Marighella and many others, I clearly think that demoralizing and discouraging the authorities by practising violent actions is, indeed, a perfect weapon for „terrorists‟ to reach their political objectives, aims. The use of psychological weapons, then, is expected to bring the final goals of the movement closer to realization. As Gerrits says, “in order to achieve massive attitude changes, terrorists seek publicity, and they do this with carefully chosen tactics. The amount of publicity, especially mass media publicity, that terrorists manage to achieve with their deeds will often be seen as the criterion for the success or failure of an action” (Gerrits, 1992: 31). Another author, Bell, has said that “terrorists don‟t care how hostilely they are portrayed in the media, as long as they get the publicity they need. (quoted in Gerrits, 1992: 31). Student – João Cotrim 7
  8. 8. Politics of Representation Terrorism Gerrits’ Seven ‘Terrorists’ Tactics of Publicity In Gerrits perception, „terrorists‟ employ a serious of detailed tactics in order to obtain badly needed publicity and to receive the maximum attention of the print and broadcast press. Thus, he proposes a list of seven tactics, which serve the psychological strategies that in turn are supposed to bring about the final goals of the terrorist movement. The list, then, is as follows: 1. Planning actions for their news value 2. Undertaking supporting propaganda and recruitment activities 3. Choosing the most favourable time and place for publicity for actions and movement 4. Issuing statements 5. Keeping in contact with the press and giving interviews 6. Claiming responsibility for terrorist actions 7. Issuing messages through the meaning or symbolism of the target or the deed (Gerrits, 1989: 39) After having studied and analysed all of this accounts, one general definition can, surely, be drawn to best describe what a „terrorist‟ really is: a „terrorist‟, then, is, undoubtedly, someone who conjectures and employs all possibilities to achieve and obtain publicity in the most purposeful and rational way, measures and weighs them carefully, chooses a strategy with the publicity he/she can win in mind. Also, one cannot forget that the publicity attained is merely instrumental, simply serving the final aim of the „terrorist‟ movement. The Role of the Media in the ‘Terrorist Crusade’ One of the many ends of a „terrorist‟ deed is to embarrass, shake and demoralize their more powerful opponents, raise the morale of the „terrorist‟ group and its supporters, and, thus, demonstrating the strength of the movement. „Terrorists‟ deeds can cause the fall of a government, they can demonstrate the possibility of armed resistance, and they can also Student – João Cotrim 8
  9. 9. Politics of Representation Terrorism show and expose the vulnerabilities of those in power, of the authorities. Violent deeds underline the strength and resistance of the „terrorist‟ group. A „terrorist‟ action may also aim the gaining or enlarging of sympathy among the people for the movement, as well as, a radicalising of the people or the polarizing of the political situation to create chaos and fear. Like many others, I certainly believe that the realization and success of these outcomes, as well as the achievement of any psychological effect, all depend on publicity. In order to succeed their objectives, „terrorists‟ must reach people and manipulate their minds. And to do so, the best method is making people to see something. Here, the media play an extremely important role in divulging, disseminating and spreading news of such shows of force. Adams, for example, highlights and explains the radical change and turn that took place in the 1960‟s in the United Kingdom due to the introduction of the „magical box‟ – television. The consequence of such introduction was that authorities could no longer act as they wished and planned, because, from then on, anyone could see their outrage. Adams argued, then: “The RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] action on 5 October was not the first action of its kind by any means, but it was the first time that such brutality had been enacted in front of television cameras… The Killing of John Downes was different because it was seen by the media. The fact was that in the electronic age Unionism and later the British could not cover up all that was happening.” (Adams, 1986:25) In other words, in Adams‟ opinion, the coverage of television cameras of the event revealed itself as profitable for the movement. Violence as a Central Feature of ‘Terrorism’ By nature, „terrorism‟ implies the use of highly aggressive, horrible, inhuman and cruel practices, and, because the expression „terrorism‟ presupposes the use of violence, the „terrorist movement‟ gains, at the first place, a great number of harsh oppositers. Bearing Student – João Cotrim 9
  10. 10. Politics of Representation Terrorism that in mind, one should, nevertheless, make some fundamental questions in order to have a fully perception of the all situation, as well as, to understand much more clearly the motives which lead people stereotyped as being „terrorists‟ to commit and undertake all of the atrocities we all observe and hear through the media. Questions like, “what role do „terrorists‟ assign to violence?‟ or, “Do „terrorists‟ consider the violence they use a horrible but necessary instrument to change the status quo?” or even, “ Do they, in fact, consider and present violence as a noble, an heroic thing?” must be underlined and, indeed, analyse in a concerning manner! Undoubtedly, some „terrorists‟ see violent resistance as something noble and heroic! The following statement clearly shows that: “ I agree with the shooting of British soldiers and believed that the more who were killed, the better. I remember occasions when we heard late at night that a British soldier had been shot and seriously wounded in Belfast or Derry and we would hope that by the morning he would be dead. I accepted too the bombing of Belfast, and when civilians were accidentally blown to pieces, dismissed this as one of the unfortunate hazards of urban guerrilla war”. (McGuire, 1973: 9) On the contrary, when referring to the Irish/British conflict, Adams stresses that armed struggle is a necessary evil. In his words, then, “in the 6 counties armed struggle is a terrible but necessary form of resistance which is engaged in as a means towards an independent Ireland” (Adams, 1986:65). 4. The Construction of the „Terrorist Threat‟ - - ‘Counterterrorism’ vs. ‘Terrorism’ / ’Terrorism’ vs. ‘Counterterrorism’ For decades, but most notoriously since the breath taking events of September 11th, 2001, democracies worldwide, and most particularly, western democracies, have spend a great deal of time, energy and attention to the phenomenon, which they refer as the „terrorism threat‟. Unprecedented efforts have been taken in order to face, tackle and defeat such „threat‟. Student – João Cotrim 10
  11. 11. Politics of Representation Terrorism The attack on the „Twin Towers‟ in New York city and the Pentagon in Washington city marked a turning point in History, just has the events that caused the Two World Wars did! After September 11th, a worldwide movement, which expressed a hatred revolt against such repugnant events, took place. Today, at the beginning of the year 2003, and for the second time in History, we are facing an almost inevitable attack against Iraq, which is believed (invariably by the Americans) to produce and hide highly dangerous and lethal chemical weapons. Such attack could, then, cause what many conjecture as a Third World War. In this new emerging world order, era, strongly dominated by the „terrorism concern‟, one should, nevertheless, analyse how governments deal and treat such phenomenon! Many identify, and I surely agree with those, that there is a paradox in the way governments see and treat acts of „terror‟. Greisman, for example, points “a paradox that follows acts of „terrorism‟: individual, or non-state, terrorism, is generally seen as evil, while official, or legitimate, terrorism is relatively accepted (Greisman, 1977: 304). Others, like Hocking, talk about the use of the term „terrorism‟ as a political strategy by the governments. In other words, they say that the term was invented by western nations as a form of challenging and confronting the tremendous cultural power of certain regions of the world. Another term that is directly linked and related to „terrorism‟ is ‘counterterrorism’. Some argue that rather than being considered a discrete phenomenon worthy of analysis in its own right, the term has commonly been defined only in terms of its apparently reactive relationship to „terrorism‟. In other words, according to such theory, the term „counterterrorism‟ represents a mere reflection of a natural reaction by governments which were victims of „terrorists‟ deeds. In Hocking‟s perception though, and in a large extent I corroborate with her words, „terrorism‟, rather than being the basis for the existence of the term „counterterrorism‟, actually, it extols a process that goes the other way around. In other words, Hocking suggests that „counterterrorism‟ is not defined by its relationship to „terrorism‟, but rather, „terrorism‟ is defined by its relationship to „counterterrorism‟. „Terrorism‟ is, then, in fact, defined only by a reaction to it, that is to say that „terrorism‟ is an invented, used and manipulated term by governments, as well as a mere outcome of „counterterrorism‟ measures. To quote her words: Student – João Cotrim 11
  12. 12. Politics of Representation Terrorism “…. incidents may be responded to as terrorism through the activation of counterterrorism procedures, rather than on the basis of the recognition of determining features in the incidents themselves. That is, incidents are being defined as „terrorism‟ on the basis of a counterterrorist reaction to those incidents”. (Hocking, 1992: 88) As far as I‟m concerned, I strongly agree with the theory that much of the „terrorist threat‟ is surely constructed by western nations and by those who practice „counterterrorism‟. I firmly believe that the problematic of „terrorism‟ is very much nurtured and enlarged by western democracies, and merely represents the insecurity and fear of western values towards believes, religions, ideals and ways of dealing and conceiving life which are totally opposite to theirs. To me, then, „terrorism‟ is a form of describing a reality, a certain vision of the world which goes against the western values. Also, I think there is another obvious purpose in having chosen and used the word „terror‟, as it carries with it an extremely negative connotation. It is aimed to make people believe that such ideals, believes and, indeed, ways of dealing with life, are evil, repugnant and with no possible way of conceiving them as acceptable. It, certainly, has, then, obvious political purposes and ends. 5. Conclusion „Terrorism‟ poses many questions, vicissitudes and a series of complexities. It is no longer a problem of specific countries but an issue involving a number of international aspects. In other words, „terrorist‟ organizations, more than ever, may perpetrate attacks in a variety of countries; the victims of the attacks can be of different nationalities; the offices, headquarters, and training camps of „terrorists‟ organizations function in various countries; „terrorists‟ organizations receive direct and indirect assistance from different states, enlist support from different ethnic communities, and secure financial help throughout the world. On the other hand, in this telecommunication and mass-communication‟s era, television has a great power in delivering information and manipulating people‟s minds and Student – João Cotrim 12
  13. 13. Politics of Representation Terrorism opinions. Thus, western democratic governments use such power to make people believe that actions of insurgents, as Paletz and Vinson refer in “Terrorism and the Media”, are, indeed, actions of „evil‟ taken by terrible and repugnant people. In other words, in the world we live, western democracies try to make people believe that there are two opposite and entirely distinctive worlds, dimensions and realities: us versus them, where us represent the good side, the right side, the „blue‟ side, and them represent the wrong side, the dark side, the evil side. More than that, „our‟ western governments, insistently, try to make us believe that them are a constant threat that has to be pursued, cursed and vanished. In doing so, the ultimate result is a „darkening‟ and deepening of the negative connotation given to both terms „terrorists‟ and „terrorism‟. From the „terrorists‟‟ point of view, their actions and deeds are, then, an extremely powerful weapon, and the use of publicity and mass media – radio, television, and newspapers – constitutes merely a strategic instrument, vehicle, mean for propaganding and disseminating their causes and attain, achieve political ends. September 11th, 2001, marked a turning point in our lives. The perception of live itself has definitely changed for all of us. What is expecting us, then? Only time will tell! But, there won‟t be much longer before we have an answer. „Time‟, today, is also changing! Things happen, move and occur much more quickly, as we live now in an era of high standards of technology, which allows us to do things, such as communicating with each other, and see things, like witnessing events of such high dimensions as the New York city and Washington city incidents like never before. As President George Bush said, when referring to the war against „terrorism‟, “this is not a short-term war! It‟s a long-term war”. It‟s an effort, then, that only time will tell how long will it last, when will it end, and who will, in fact, prevail. Student – João Cotrim 13
  14. 14. Politics of Representation Terrorism Bibliography  G. Adams, Falls memories, 1982  G. Adams, The politics if Irish freedom, 1986  M. C. Bassiouni, Terrorism, law enforcement and the mass media: Perspectives, problems, proposals, 1981  J. B. Bell, Terrorist scripts and live-action spectaculars, 1978  W. R. Catton, Militants and the media: Partners in terrorism?, 1978  R. P. J. M. Gerrits, Huiver en Luister! Een verkennend, kwalitatief onderzoek naar het gebruik van publiciteit door terroristen in Europa, 1875-1975, 1989  F. Gregory, Protest and violence: The police response, 1976  H. C. Greisman, Social meanings of terrorism: Reification, violence, and social control, 1997  J. J. Hocking, Orthodox theories of “terrorism”: The power of politicised terminology, 1984  C. Marighella, Minihandbuch des Stadtguerilleros, 1972  M. McGuire, To take arms: A year with the Provisional IRA, 1973  G. Murdock, Encyclopedia of Television/Terrorism, volume 3/Q-Z, 1997  D. L. Paletz and A. P. Schmid, Terrorism and the media, 1992  A. P. Schimd & J. F. A. De Graaf, Violence as communication: Insurgent terrorism and the Western news media, 1983 Student – João Cotrim 14