n African Security Review - The T-word : conceptualising terrorism - : feature

Volume 15, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1024-6029
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September 11 2001 has put the spotlight on terrorism, and it has been at the apex of the international security agenda ever since. Politicians, lawmakers, scholars and others have been debating the meaning and definition of terrorism for many years. Numerous myths and misconceptions persist on this highly debated issue. With the aid of historical case studies, this article aims to demonstrate how broad a concept terrorism has become. It focuses on its subjective and value-laden interpretation and hence the difficulty of arriving at a universally acceptable definition. The author introduces the concept of 'colonial terror', which depicts a distinct form of state terrorism perpetrated during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Like many before her, the author concludes that the definition and meaning of terrorism lie in the eye of the beholder. <BR>There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism. One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. In each case it is clear how to proceed. Pursuing the literal approach, we begin by determining what constitutes terrorism. We then seek instances of the phenomenon - concentrating on major examples, if we are serious - and try to determine causes and remedies. The propagandistic approach dictates a different course. We begin with the thesis that terrorism is the responsibility of some officially designated enemy. We then designate terrorist acts as 'terrorist' just in the cases where they can be attributed (whether plausibly or not) to the required source; otherwise they are to be ignored, suppressed or termed 'retaliation' or 'self-defence'. (Noam Chomsky)

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