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Aryeh Neier America’s New Nationalism I START WITH A DEFINITION OF TERRORISM: IT IS VIOLENCE AGAINST those with whom one does not necessarily have a quarrel in order to make a political point. One o f terrorism ’s purposes and consequences is to inspire fear and other reactions that are disproportionate to the actual danger. This was an explicit goal of the nineteenth-century inventors of terrorism. They referred to terrorist acts as “the propa­ ganda of the deed.”W hat mattered most to them was the propaganda. The deed was a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is not difficult to understand why terrorism was not known prior to the nineteenth century. Its invention reflects the emergence of a media of mass communications. In an earlier era, the means for disseminating propaganda through such deeds did not exist. Indeed, it is possible to be more precise about the connection between terror­ ism and the media. It was the invention o f the telegraph at mid­ century that made it possible for news to travel rapidly to distant places. That was also the m om ent when terrorism came on the scene, first in czarist Russia, but then in many other places. It did not take revolutionaries of various sorts long to figure out the uses they could make of the new opportunities for propaganda made possible by the advance in technology. In our era, thanks to a more recent technological innovation, satel­ lite communications, the media can instantly disseminate images world­ wide of the carnage caused by terrorist acts in Baghdad, Bali, Jerusalem, Karachi, Moscow, or New York. The propaganda value of such deeds is much greater than ever before. Unfortunately, the consequence is that social research Vol 71 : No 4 : W inter 200 4 1015 terrorism has heightened appeal for those ready to do harm to those unknown to them as a means to advance their own political causes. The propaganda effect of terrorism, combined with the fact that one may be a victim of terrorism even if one never takes part in any controversy that matters to terrorists, seems to me among the factors that contribute to the disproportionate reaction it produces. Ifwe think about the matter rationally, most of us are aware that the actual possi­ bility that we will fall victim to terrorism is remote. Many dangers, such as those attributable to diseases, accidents, or ordinary crimes are far more likely to victimize us. Yet these do not cause a comparable level of public concern and appear to have a much lower priority in the making ofpublic policy. The international community’s expenditures on efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example, are a small fraction of the sums devoted to trying to protect us against terrorism. Accordingly, determining why terrorism looms so large in policymaking requires further inquiry. The inability to safeguard ourselves against terrorism by remaining aloof from issues that m atter to terrorists is clearly an important factor, but it does not seem a sufficient explanation. Perhaps another factor is our horror that there are those who are willing to do harm against those with whom they have no direct quarrel. It says som ething that is m ost disquieting about hum an nature that people should be willing to maim or kill those who are not their antagonists m erely for the sake of political advantage. Moreover, I believe that the contemporary phenom enon of suicide bombers heightens the horror. It suggests that we have no means to deter such crimes. Punishing the malefactors does not work if they are willing to take their own lives in the process o f doing harm to others to make a political point. It is worth noting that the response to the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II suggests that they also inspired extraordinary reactions. The suicide attacks began in October 1944, at a point when it was apparent that Japan would lose the war. Yet American forces did not disclose publicly that they had been subjected to such terrifying attacks until April 1945, six months later. 1016 social research The terrorist attacks on Septem ber 11...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1015-1022
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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