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Critical Studies on Terrorism
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The terrorist subject: terrorism studies and the absent subjectivity
Joseba Zulaika a; William A. Douglass a a Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA Online Publication Date: 01 April 2008

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‘aggression’ – or the concepts that are then used to define ‘terrorism’). As a final conclusion. 1. ‘The finds seem to reject much of the conventional wisdom about terrorists’ (Sageman 2004. Zulaika and W.Critical Studies on Terrorism Vol. critical terrorism studies Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 Introduction In the most comprehensive research guide to concepts. Douglass Critical Studies on Terrorism Center for Basque Studies. p. April 2008. although he assumes that at some point ‘such conceptual confusion in the area must begin to severely hamper progress’ (Silke 2004. No. let alone its cultural and political contexts. The horrible images and facts were evident.A. 189. 186. He perceives a field that is still young (about 99% of its publications post-date 1968) and remains plagued by a number of problems (such as that as much as 80% is condemnatory and prescriptive). During the 1990s. desire. only one article was dedicated to al-Qaeda. After examining terrorist networks.edu ISSN 1753-9153 print/ISSN 1753-9161 online © 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10. theoretical and conceptual foundations’ (Horgan 2003. 1. 207). pp. He wonders whether ‘a fresh start’ is not needed. No. p.informaworld.com . in starkly different conceptual and rhetorical terms. Silke states the obvious. despite the fact that the published literature continues to expand exponentially. 27–36 SYMPOSIUM Critical 1753-9161 1753-9153 RTER Studies on Terrorism. In 2004. suicide. It relies on the work of too few individuals. 1. theories and literature on terrorism studies ever written. but also that the very ‘general framework [that] is chosen for definition’ (p. 1. subjectivity. in 1988 Alex Schmid complained that the field suffered not only from conceptual disarray (a lack of agreement regarding the basic concepts of ‘violence’. terrorism studies has reached ‘something of a war-weariness among established researchers over the definitional quagmire’ and that ‘researchers seem to have resigned themselves to accepting the current state of uncertainty’ rather than engaging in ‘the somewhat wasteful definitional debate’. ‘political’. whereas nationalist/separatist groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) received most of the research effort. Jan 2008: pp. p. University of Nevada. Vol. 0–0 Terrorism The terrorist subject: terrorism studies and the absent subjectivity Joseba Zulaika* and William A. Silke went on to observe that although such conceptual disarray might have presented a massive obstacle in other fields. 188. 8) was at issue. Douglass J. detective fiction. If the indictments by Schmid and Silke *Corresponding author. John Horgan sums up the literature of the psychology of terrorism and the search for a ‘terrorist personality’ with the observation that ‘its presuppositions are built on unsteady empirical. Marc Sageman remarked that. but the experts perceived the nature of the violence. purpose. ‘It is generally agreed that terrorism lacks an agreed conceptual framework’ (Silke 2004. 208). and is dominated by political scientists (Silke 2004. discourse. 23). Email: zulaika@unr. 194). Andrew Silke summarized the more recent trends in terrorism research during the 1990s and came to the conclusion that ‘the situation … is even worse today’. NV. Reno.1080/17539150701844794 http://www. 96). 191. USA Keywords: terrorism literature. p. is rarely carried out by teams of researchers.

Cuba and Algeria could be taken as models of liberationist violence. the regional significance of their activities has been radically altered and diminished. left-leaning. The intention of Critical Terrorism Studies to aspire to knowledge understood ‘as a social process constructed through language. of the thing itself – both in the starkly concrete ‘reality’ of the event and the starkly abstract ‘unreality’ of its premises and consequences. ideology or social organization. A consequence of post-9/11 terrorism is that it has made the very existence of such groups appear obsolete – by placing them squarely in the context of the global ‘War on Terror’. Zulaika and W. through opposition to liberal states that represented historical oppression. Jackson (2007. p. How do we label that event? Under what premises and limitations are we allowed to even speak about it? What is the really real of suicidal terror? Who is this terrorist subject? How do we study it? Yet perhaps we should not become overly obsessed with the so-called ‘definitional quagmire’ since. p. besides Osama bin Laden and his close confidants. legal and moral consequences inherent to the semantics of terrorism have become the cornerstone of the George W. pp. now terrorism is the prime mover in American politics – driving military strategy. 182). discourse and inter-subjective practices’ (Jackson 2007. 228). Mohammed Atta. Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 . Far from the phantasmagoria of the Ronald Reagan period.A. have recently insisted on the state-centric. for the Bush administration counter-terrorism has become the single agenda in its global policy. pp. the USA is now the ‘new promised land of terrorism’ (Zulaika and Douglass 1996. Some of the basic premises of what is sometimes described as the ‘old terrorism’ – nationalistic in the narrow sense of a quest for a nation-state. now the only valid referent in the international media appears to be al-Qaeda. consider the situation after 9/11. and the domestic agenda. 35. it had ‘no independent institutional anchor’ (Gerges 2005. Madrid. After 9/11. of al-Qaeda it could be said that. problem-solving nature of much of what passes for terrorism studies and which is embedded in state institutions. and even if analysts such as Bruce Hoffman have underscored the changing meaning of terrorism (Hoffman 2006). the very idea of ‘insurgency’ and the antinomy between ‘terrorist/freedom fighter’ seem to have become largely obsolete. The classical distinctions and links between terrorist groups and political parties (Weinberg and Pedahzur 2003) are not helpful for understanding how al-Qaeda operates. the leader of 9/11. and London by Islamists appear to have made almost obsolete much of the literature on groups such as the IRA or ETA. Terrorism is now the monster transformed into an omnipresent risk that so dominates American life that nothing else makes sense without reference to it. These methodological and epistemological difficulties are not unrelated to the political implications of terrorism as a field of both knowledge and agency.28 J. history. in the past Israel. most disciplines debate furiously and endlessly their defining conceptual premises and paradigm. The problem with terrorism studies has more to do with how to diagnose the very nature of the beast. 236–243). 39). did not consider himself a member of any organization. There is little doubt that the military. among others. p. national policy and legislation. 246) is thus a welcome alternative. Douglass refer to the state of affairs in terrorism studies in the 1980s and 1990s. The attacks on New York. It has long been noted that much of the field is ‘counterinsurgency masquerading as political science’ (Schmid and Jongman 1988. If. In the current discourse of the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’. after all. embedded in a larger social network – seem not to apply to the new Islamist manifestation which transcends any concrete nation. progressive. Bush Administration’s post-9/11 policies. 244–251) and Gunning (2007. pp. As we foresaw in the mid-1990s.

so willing to embrace suicide. Should our writing help to constitute1 further terrorism discourse or rather critically undermine and resituate it? Terror and Taboo was a clear instance of the latter. Hayden White labelled this ‘tropic’. the epistemological gatekeeper that determines which ideas are allowed currency and what sciences may be constituted. and how it hinders rather than helps the search for solutions. discourse may create its own reality. For certain some facts are there (the alleged plotters are clearly up to something). are we not allowed to ask: what is the reality itself? Or rather. since more important than the violent act itself is the reaction to it. what are the categories and allegories. so unapologetic about becoming a moriturus as the means of liberation? Terrorism has become the Foucaultian ‘épistémè’ of our times. metonym. Excavating the genealogy of this culture. 210) taking into account the subjectivity and the desires of the terrorists. Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 Necessary naming: the realities and limits of discourse analysis The media confronts us daily with the ‘realities’ of terrorism. All of this points to the rhetorical dimension of terrorism discourse. as each side perceives political advantage in the very existence of the other. naming the real of the post-9/11 type of terrorism – these are the preliminary and primary challenges of a Critical Terrorism Studies. Far from being a mere mirror of events. synecdoche. let alone the violence. A crucial requirement of the discourse is the creation of the ‘myth of exceptional grievance’ whereby Americans must be seen as the primary victims of terrorism. This is equally true for the terrorist actor. investigating its conceptual premises and ritual strategies. namely. post-9/11 counter-terrorism discourse has fulfilled our worst fears. as well as those of the counter-terrorists. whereby the public’s interpretation of potential threats can be manipulated. based on the ethnographer’s proximity we had experienced as anthropologists among ‘terrorists’. delving into its political goals and rhetorical contexts. seemingly mad. centred on the rhetorical nature of counter-terrorism and. An assessment of the rhetorical aspects of the phenomenon requires close attention to the writing of terrorism and the narrative plots in which the arguments are couched. Such rhetorical dimension. the presence of tropes (metaphor. who is this terrorist subject. but they take shape against a background of threats and fear that then become constitutive of the events themselves. If the book predicted 9/11 in its ‘Epilogue as Prologue: The Apotheosis of Terrorism Foretold’.Critical Studies on Terrorism 29 Yet. There is a long history of politicians turning terrorism to their advantage. that is. p. are shrouded in classified secrecy. We are by now used to apocalyptic terrorist plots and heightened states of alarm which days later are demonstrated to be overblown. the actions and the rhetoric that give the dragon its shape? Even more significantly. perhaps by invoking Vico’s advice that ‘the first science to be learned should be mythology or the interpretation of fables’ (Vico 1968. becomes even more critical in a situation in which the activities of the terrorists. Thus. Counter-terrorism is equally rhetorical in that a primary concern for officials in their ‘War on Terror’ is the public perception of their actions. the impact can be produced as much by the discourse as by the immediacy of the threat. on the disastrous reality-making power of a discourse that worked off the fears of taboo and imaginary apocalypse. This can lead to the not uncommon situation in which the alleged enemies feed rhetorically into one another’s interests. irony) used in ‘the process by which all discourse constitutes the objects . Jackson (2005) examines in depth the massive post-9/11 discursive investment in the new war on terrorism. more significantly. our arguments. that the link between actions and goals is mediated by interpretations. as well as with the discursive nature of many of the ‘facts’.

Discursively. Zulaika and W. The Unabomber managed to bring the traffic in California airports to a halt simply by sending a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle that said that within a week he would blow up an airliner (while sending another to the New York Times stating that the threat was a ‘prank’). A case in point is the reality and dialectics of threats. In Terror and Taboo (Zulaika and Douglass 1996) at times we approximated this position. he writes that the likelihood of dying from it is about the same as from the impact of a falling asteroid or an allergic reaction to peanuts (Mueller 2006. The same threat can be dismissed as irrelevant and makebelieve. but it can still be deadly serious – a non-event that was at once utterly terroristic. on interpretation. the attack on President Reagan became a ‘terrorist’ act. namely. while the 1979 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report claimed that there had been 3336 terrorist incidents since 1968. Until the 1970s. whereby attention is paid to the conceptual premises. In short. In a notorious case that underlines the link between violent events and statistics. pp. even if the tropics of terror have become constitutive of its very reality. there is thus a constitutive relationship between terrorism and statistics. and the like). yet is perceived by the public in such apocalyptic terms.30 J. 15–24). the challenge for Critical Terrorism Studies is how to account for the disparity. Such tropics of terror. a non-event. The very meaning of the act that constitutes a threat is entwined with perception of it. The terrorist subject: read my desire Recently. a key ingredient of terrorism discourse and performance. terrorist subjectivity and the ways in which terrorist desire may paradoxically advance its agenda through nonevents. What did lend credibility to the Unabomber was that he had shown in the past his capacity to . 142). or else as deadly serious. Douglass Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 which it pretends only to describe realistically and to analyse objectively’ (White 1978. Kennedy was just that – an ‘assassination’. the 1980 report claimed that in fact there were 6714 over the same period. on who perceives it. 13). threats. and the very illusion of sequence of narrativity. according to which the category subsumes the being itself. If objectively the danger is so minimal. John Mueller has demonstrated convincingly how ‘overblown’ the threat of terrorism is. depending on context. What about the vaunted threat of terrorists deploying weapons of mass destruction? The actual capacity for them to develop a nuclear device is considered by the experts to be extremely low (Mueller 2006. no ‘terrorist’ incident would be possible. Specifically. what is the historical imperative and subjective perception that has required such a discourse? Is there anything but statistics and discourse? It is time to contemplate objects that do not fall under any category – the subjectivities of the terrorist actors themselves. But such a reality check does not address key components of the terrorist phenomenon – those having to do with the imaginative and subjective aspects of the threat. This was the result of subsequent inclusion of ‘threats’ and ‘hoaxes’ in the statistics. assassinations. The assassination of President John F. This requires investigating that most tabooed of topics. bomb explosions. 2. if there was no statistical category of terrorism. The dominant tropic space in contemporary political and journalistic discourse is ‘terror’. The technological sophistication of the 9/11 attacks rested upon box cutters. the New York Times Index and the London Times Index had no statistical indices for ‘terrorism’ and therefore there were no ‘terrorist acts’ (only kidnappings. emplotted stories. should be of primary concern to a Critical Terrorism Studies. pp. The actual reality of a catastrophic threat might be mere ‘prank’.A. But. p.

that is. If it can be said that modern nations are the product of counting. But. yet who else knows that they are not acting seriously this time?2 The actual evidence of terrorism may be lacking. We are forced to take into account the subjectivity of the terrorist plotters – their humiliations and desires. their ‘death instinct’ and potential for madness – and not only their actual deeds. p. The logical suture is empty of content while at the same time it determines the autonomy of the series of numbers. as unconvincing as they might be if actually scrutinized and pondered. their burning antagonism against the Occident in general. The category subsumes the being. there is a different reading of Frege by Jacques Lacan who. as well as the detective function. As noted above. Hence. supplies the logic of a paradoxical function whereby a supplementary element is ADDED to the series of signifiers in order to mark the LACK of a signifier that could close the set. Feared terrorists might be simply ‘playing terrorist’. The Islamic apocalyptic threat feeds off of the recent history of other acts of terrorism having taken place. Frege’s numbers. The view that interpretation is desire – for both the actor and his/her audience – cannot be ignored in terrorism studies. and it is in itself devoid of content. Detective fiction teaches us that the tough cop is always outsmarted by the apparently ignorant detective who ends up resolving the case by bringing into the equation the murderer’s desire. . in the post-9/11 world what matters is the set defined as ‘terrorist’ – this is the ‘addition’. To begin with. and that which is impossible to think from the logical functioning of numbers whose sets are closed or ‘sutured’ by such limitation. on the contrary. as well as from the fact that we can safely guess their intentions. the actual evidence might be missing (zero). That derives from Lacan’s logical insight that for counting to be possible: the set of numbers must register one category under which no objects fall. terrorism is a prime instance of the power of statistics to constitute rather than calculate the phenomenon. the suturing point that differentiates them from us. as pointed out by Joan Copjec. of collating diverse peoples into citizens. its ever-present threat.Critical Studies on Terrorism 31 Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 outmanoeuvre the police and engage in lethal action. The detective’s problem is not unlike that studied by Gottlob Frege regarding set theory. The entire theory of set numbers hinges on the internal limit of the series. (Copjec 1994. 171) Regarding terrorism. is also premised in this inability to close the field. The category is that of the ‘not-identical-to-itself’. the number of objects subsumed by it is zero. it is the ‘zero’ of set theory that allows for the internal limit. assume that the categories of counting create the objects that fall within them. (Copjec 1994. Suture. in brief. p. yet we can still infer its reality from the traces left by the desire of the potential actors and the interpretations given by their audiences. are still so frightening when perceived through the imputed and imponderable subjectivities of the potential terrorists. the counting and naming performances assume foundational powers. The endless waiting for terror. The paradox of set theory is articulated by logicians as the inability of an infinite series of numbers to effect their own closure. This is how we have become accepting of alleged terrorist plots that. as in the detective’s case. 174) This non-empirical ‘addition’ that closes the field is what confers a differential quality to ‘our’ side. argues ‘that there are real objects that are not reducible to any category’. yet the public feels that there are reasonable grounds to be scared.

178). as does the ignorant policeman. but rather ‘desire must be taken literally’ (Copjec 1994. read my terror. namely. This requires that we take the terrorist subject himself/herself as a primary and autonomous locus of investigation. martyrdom or catastrophe for its perpetrators) both for ‘them’ and for ‘us’. Intrinsic to desire is the inner gap that results from the absence of a final signifier and which calls for interpretation. something that might lead to somehow ‘justifying’ what is unjustifiable. Only through the intervention of one’s own desire can analysis interpret what ‘terrorism’ is telling us. p. In Lacanian vocabulary. can only be understood through the analyst’s desire. the real of desire – desire that is ruled by the law of the negative. Douglass Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 One can read terrorism as a detective would. The detective. Interpretation being the work of desire. it is not the evidence that has to be taken literally. The mere act of paying attention to what the terrorists have to say is a fateful step towards perhaps making an effort to understand their motives. like the psychoanalyst. The point is that a performance in the space of such deep play leaves so many traces and unaccounted-for alternatives that it can never be fully described. between the evidence and that which the evidence establishes. that the evidence does not tell us how to read it. a distance.A. that what enraged bin Laden is the US military presence in his native Saudi Arabia. which means that there is something that is not visible in the evidence: the principle by which the trail attaches itself to the criminal. there is no way to learn about him or her. in terrorism. the never-ending threat it poses. 176) Terrorism experts and commentators are for the most part like the realist policemen gazing at the evidence. As a result. of ignorance. The premise is that: There is a gap. depends in the end largely on the interpretation given to it. which for him amounts to occupation of sacred lands by an invader. unable to see that the entire thing consists in taking into account the internal limit or zero that makes the series possible. the terrorist’s real. But these are footnotes to a public debate overwhelmed by the perception of utterly senseless nihilism on the part of the terrorists. Who wants to be confronted with the maddening paradoxes of suicidal desire? . Zulaika and W. the gap between the ‘facts’ and that which they confirm. what it conceals. The terrorist’s actions might be saying: read my desire. There is more to the evidence than the evidence shows – the way it is given. The detective pays attention to the law of limit. one has to take into account the logic of desire whereby lack turns into excess. p. But if to just pay attention to the terrorist is to already give in. yet unable to read the paradoxical logic of the desire that fuels it. has to read what remains hidden. and that the very meaning and perpetuation of the catastrophe. the ‘zero’ that closes the series. this does not mean that the interpreter is not seeking objectivity. The will of the terrorist does not figure in our discourse. as in detective fiction. blinded by the literalness of the corpse. the real is always lurking about ready to intrude in the symbolic. namely.32 J. and not as does the plodding policeman. It is the all too present logic of taboo obtaining here: since terrorism is unspeakable Evil. let alone projecting yourself into the terrorist’s subjectivity. of course. you must avoid any contact with it or even contemplation of it. Some expert might know. To understand the horror and the erotics of terrorist martyrdom. even if interpretation thinks under the effect of desire. it implies acceptance that one does not know everything. Still. through the subjectivity of the terrorist. The terrorist’s desire. Can you appease Adolf Hitler? But it is one thing to seek understanding and quite another to justify. whereby lack turns into excess and whereby interpretation establishes the evidence’s meaning (success or failure of the violence. of the point at which all the premises fail and therefore have to be relinquished. (Copjec 1994.

but never the goal of the action. and Bloom (2005). in yesterday’s terrorism. Willingness to risk one’s own life for the embraced cause has been a feature of militant groups everywhere. differs since it is culturally conditioned. less as a political act than as straightforward revenge for having had her life destroyed? How do we explain the Tamil woman who exploded the bomb that killed both her and Sanjay Ghandi – surely not in terms of Islamic theology. If you are prepared to forego personal survival. backed up by the willingness to resort to violence. When the object becomes to produce dozens or hundreds of fatalities. we are no longer speaking of violence understood in purely symbolic terms. Conventional wisdom has explained the phenomenon of suicide terrorism in terms of religious fanaticism. despite even draconian security measures. the concealed packet of explosives directed by a human brain. as a crucial element. the ‘political’ message of militant activism was framed by copious writing. As far as that goes. In this regard the ‘suicide bomber’ is but one more limited and one-dimensional creation of counter-terrorism discourse. who volunteers to strap on a bomb and take some of the enemy with her. The work of Pape (2005). however. against all odds. whether political or military. but the ‘fallen comrade’ was at best an unwanted by-product of the struggle. psychological imbalances. Yet what do we make of the Chechen woman raped by Russian soldiers and bereft of her deceased husband. but against the near overwhelming force of the state. but it was a willingness accepted as the final unavoidable possibility. by spectacular actions staged primarily to be read as a message to the media. how do we explain the sacrifice of the posthumous awardee of the Congressional Medal of Honor who. lays down his life taking out the machine gun nest that was killing his buddies? What all three have in common are the personal decision to eschew survival in order to realize a higher goal the essence of which. It seems easy to ascribe suicide bombing to Islamist jihad with its preferred prospect of eternal bliss as reward. Suicide bombing points squarely to the subjective dimension of terrorism. Reuter (2002). Yet we seem to have moved into a new phase in which. purpose. Part of the reason that ‘old terrorism’s’ efficaciousness was limited was because its perpetrators sought to survive. or take out critical components of your adversary’s command structure. the imperative to escape is in play. social isolation. brothers and sons. appears capable of penetrating the crowd or even targeting the enemy’s key operatives. dismisses each one of these explanations as unfounded: most of the suicide terrorists have emerged from secular groups (not religious). deep poverty. To fail to address the terrorist subject is to incapacitate our analytical exercise irrevocably. in short. Thus. among others. including risking one’s life. The state’s computerized laserdirected ‘smart bomb’ gets trumped by the ‘smartest bomb’. and suicidal terrorism 33 What appears most shocking about the ‘new’ type of terrorism is its primary reliance on the activist’s wilful acceptance of his/her own self-immolation. The suicide bomber. Risking one’s life was a crucial component of the militant’s agenda. Terrorism is always the ‘weapon of the weak’ versus the ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Resort to terrorist means was largely an attempt at constructing an alternative discourse. then you have raised the ante enormously. or as the product of domestic competition. never the most salient message of the action itself. we now have the more efficacious suicide bomber. Any plan of attack is weakened if. as a means for articulating to the public a set of historical grievances and demands. Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 . one more form of madness ascribed to the Other. Schwitzer (2006).Critical Studies on Terrorism Chance. in order to effect instrumental as opposed to symbolic violence.

‘by non-feed-back behavior is meant that in which there are no signals from the goal which modify the activity of the object in the course of the behavior’ (Rosenblueth et al. p. This does not deny that the individuals who choose suicide are likely to have experienced some deep personal trauma (Speckhard and Akhmedova 2006). If formless chance behaviour is key to terrorism. Intimately associated with this logic of non-feedback chance are the ethics of personal martyrdom. logically implicated with the innocence and impotence of the victims. This does not mean of course that terrorist behaviour is devoid of purposes. domestic competition may account for some behaviour in the Palestinian case but overall is not adequate.34 J. parasitic on the existence of nuclear arms. Zulaika and W. the terrorists have created a purposeful system but with no recourse to immanent feedback and purpose. If the strength of a conventional army is its organizational formality and hierarchical complexity. It is a way of saying: this action is so out of control that I will not even spare my own life.3 The terrorism literature distinguishes between the victim that is the ‘target of violence’ and the wider group that is the ‘target of terror’. is what makes terrorism so frightening. students of al-Qaeda have ‘concluded with the crucial role played by weak acquaintances that provided the critical bridges to the jihad’ (Sageman 2004. 172). The threat posed by terrorism is. the effectiveness of an insurgent armed group is its organizational informality and its chance-based strategy of deliberate formlessness (Douglass and Zulaika 1990). the hostages cannot influence the behaviour of the skyjackers whose ultimate target of terror lies outside of what is happening on the plane. Yet what is typical of terrorism is the use of a non-feedback strategy.A. and subjectively enacted by the terrorists as a form of personal transcendence and innocence. in order to call attention to and achieve the goals. Personal suicide is the one action that unmistakably conveys to oneself and others such a message of no return. 19. ideal-typically. 1943. Not surprisingly. Douglass their profile does not fit the profile of the suicidal individual. a situation of no way out. in the final analysis. It was Iraq’s potential for nuclear arms that justified invasion of it and the ongoing war. a comparison between the economic indicators of the countries producing suicide terrorism and those that do not shows that poverty is not a convincing explanation. If ‘transcendence’ derives initially from the logical terms of higher external purpose. is a strategy that plays Russian roulette with the general public in order to convey the message of random terror and thereby provokes uncontrollable fear. but their sheer normality’ (Hassan. quoted in Silke 2003. p. 4). p. portrayed by the Bush Administration as the main front in the ‘War on Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 . Such ‘purposelessness’ once the course of action has been put in place. Indeed. If feedback is required for teleological behaviour. ‘What is frightening is not the abnormality of those who carry out the suicide attacks. the investigation of purpose and feedback become crucial fields for studying the entire phenomenon. Italics in original). p. 97). 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks take place as the result of organized campaigns in a given time. There is an ‘externality’ to the chance logic of terrorism from the viewpoint of the victims. its subjective implication is that the actors relinquish any control over the purpose of their own lives. The premise of non-teleology covers thus not only the fate of the victims but also of the perpetrator. But it is the politics of what Sigmund Freud termed the death instinct that must be studied in order to understand what bin Laden meant when he stated in his declaration of war on America: ‘These youths love death as you love life’ (quoted in Wright 2006. It is a military strategy premised on deliberate nonteleology. ‘Terrorism’. On the basis of the subdivision of purposeful behaviour’s aspects as teleological (‘feedback’) and nonteleological (‘non-feedback”).

Hoffman. potentially. F. New York. J. W. no matter whether or not you like the government s/he is trying to change (p. 238–257. NY: Free Press. Richardson (2006) seems a good example of a well-informed study that in the end aims at further reconstituting the field in its narrow sense on the grounds that: ‘A terrorist is a terrorist. In a seminal paper that preceded the development of cybernetics. Writing the war on terrorism: language. 2. States of terror: Begoña Aretxaga’s essays. 244–251. p. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.. Aretxaga’s ethnographic analysis underscores the ways in which terrorist violence and state violence produce each other phantasmatically. The search for the terrorist personality. On the interpretation of terrorist violence: ETA and the Basque political process. The core commitments of critical terrorism studies. Inside terrorism. J. Iran so threatening to the West is that they may fall into the hands of a terrorist group such as al-Qaeda... and Zulaika. victims and society: psychological perspectives on terrorism and its consequences. Babies and bathwaters: reflecting on the pitfalls of critical terrorism studies. J. no matter whether or not you like the goal s/he is trying to achieve. Borradori. 2007. which he describes as ‘that strange behavior where a living being. Gerges. 23. 2005. Mueller. Notes Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 16:31 8 September 2008 1.. 2003. “itself” works to destroy its own protection. MA: MIT Press. p. M. R. 6 (3). among other dynamics. Thus terrorism may be seen as the symptom of Western nuclearism and its readiness for destruction on a global scale. European Political Science. Cambridge.4 It is the task of a Critical Terrorism Studies to bring together these symbiotic links between nuclear power and terrorism within a larger cultural and political context. Rosenblueth et al.. to immunize itself against its own immunity’. The authors borrow the expression ‘playing terrorist’ from Begona Aretxaga. Horgan. Jackson. 2006.Critical Studies on Terrorism 35 Terror’. 1990. 229). 236–243. p. B. 10). ed. 2005. Chichester: Wiley. Copjec. 2005. J. What makes the possession of nuclear arms by North Korea and. cited in Borradori 2003. B. Bloom. New York. and that they considered it ‘a concept necessary for the understanding of certain modes of behavior’. Chicago. the links between Western nuclearism and fundamentalist terrorism. Silke. 1994. 2003.. We need to address the mutual feedback between the terrorist and the counter-terrorist by looking into. ‘a structure and modus operandi which produce both the state and terrorism as fetishes of each other. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 3. Terrorists.. initial or final’. References Aretxaga. R. 4. . 2007. New York. 32. 94). NY: Columbia University Press. This play of terrorism is what makes the State (with a capital S) and Terrorism (with a capital T) so real. University of Nevada. Philosophy in a time of terror: dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Jacques Derrida has described these relations through the law of ‘autoimmunitary process’. The far enemy: why jihad went global. 2006. and why we believe them. In: A. NV: Center for Basque Studies. Reno. IL: University of Chicago Press. Read my desire: Lacan against the historicists. Comparative Studies in Society and History. G... an activity she attributed to young Basque street saboteurs as well as to the Spanish state. Gunning. Dying to kill: the allure of suicide terror. Douglass.. 19) stated that: ‘Purposefulness … is quite independent of causality. politics and counterterrorism.. in quasi-suicidal fashion. constructing reality as an endless play of mirror images. always eluding us’ (Aretxaga 2005. European Political Science. 2005. Jackson. Overblown: how politicians and the terrorism industry inflate national security threats. J. organizing political life as a phantasmatic universe where the ‘really real’ is always somewhere else.. (1943. 6 (3). a modern disorder that in his view threatens the life of participatory democracy and the legal system (interview with Jacques Derrida. NY: Columbia University Press.

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