Is Terrorism a Serious Threat to International and National Security? NO: The Myth of Terrorism as an Existential Threat

In Richard Jackson & Samuel Justin Sinclair (eds.), Contemporary Debates on Terrorism. Abingdon OX14, UK: Routledge. pp. 80-87 (2018)
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In contemporary academic, political, and media discourse, terrorism is typically portrayed as an existential threat to lives and states, a threat driven by religious extremists who seek the destruction of Western civilization and who are immune to reason and negotiation. In many countries, including the US, the UK, and Australia, this existential threat narrative of terrorism has been used to justify sweeping counterterrorism legislation, as well as military operations and even the use of tactics such as torture and indefinite detention. In this chapter I outline the components of the existential threat narrative, and explain how critical terrorism scholars have critiqued this narrative on two main grounds: that it is based on false empirical claims about the nature, scale, and motivations of modern non-state terrorism, and that counterterrorism policies and practices based on this narrative have had extremely destructive consequences for individuals, communities, and states—in some cases, causing far more destruction than terrorism itself. In the final section I offer some suggestions for the direction of future terrorism research in light of these critiques of the existential threat narrative.
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