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What Anthropologists Should Know about the Concept of Terrorism': A Response to David Price, A.T.

18(1) Author(s): Jeffrey Sluka, Noam Chomsky, David Price Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Apr., 2002), pp. 22-23 Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/10/2011 19:51
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rorismas a 'totalizingconcept' was pioneered by Israel, which followed the path takenby otherregimes of colonial occupation- the Frenchin Algeria, the Americansin Vietnam, A response to DavidPrice, etc. He also observedthat '[w]ith few excep18(1) A.T. tions the discourse of terrorism constituted is David Price's editorialon how anthropologists by an authorwhose main client is the government of a powerful state opposed to terrorism, might respondto the new 'war on global terrorism' led by the US and Britainis timely and but also anxious to shield itself from arguI ments aboutits own (quite routinelybarbaric important. would like to add a few observations for anthropologistsmakingdecisions and violent) behaviour'(1988a). He conabouthow to respondto the currentcrisis. cluded: 'The entire arsenalof words and phrasesthat derive from the concept of ter'Terrorism' - the concept rorism [is] both inadequateand shameful. The concept of 'terrorism'is not new, andthe There arefew ways of talkingaboutterrorism basic sociology of knowledge of the construc- now that are not corrupted the propaganda by tion and use of this termis providedin critical war even of the past decade.' studies by EdwardS. Herman(1982), Noam The role of anthropology Chomsky (1986), Hermanand Gerry O'Sullivan (1989), and AlexanderGeorge Anthropologistscan make a majorcontribution by exposing the concept of terrorism to (1991). No-one should accept the validity of the concept of terrorismwithoutreadingthese scrutinyand by demonstrating many social the books. and culturalcomplexities underlyingwhat is While the political concept of 'terror'was often simply telescoped into faceless 'terfirst articulatedwith referenceto 'the Reign of rorism'.The most outstandingcontemporary Terror'practisedby the Frenchgovernment anthropologicalstudy of terrorismis Joseba afterthe revolutionof 1789, Hermanand ZulaikaandWilliam Douglass' superbcritical use culturaldeconstructionof the terrorism Chomsky have arguedthatcontemporary myth of the concept is a political myth actively crein theirbook, Terrorand taboo: Thefollies, ated by the Reagan and Thatchergovernments fables, andfaces of terrorism(1996). This is in the 1970s and 1980s, who encouragedthe the first modernculturalanalysis of the idea of idea of a Soviet-backedinternational terrorist terrorism itself. Zulaikaand Douglass show how fear of terrorism fuelled by those with is conspiracyor 'network'.Reaganestablished the fight against 'terrorism'as the cornerstone vested interests- including academics,the of Americanforeign policy, and Hermanand media, filmmakersand novel writers,but Chomsky describehow the rhetoricof anti-ter- mainly a plethoraof governmentagencies, rorismevolved as a majorideological weapon right-wingthinktanks, and the multi-billionof the New Right. They arguethat this was dollar securityindustry(what Hermanand basically a new form of the old 'red scare', and O'Sullivan 1989 refer to as 'the terrorism thatboth the old 'red scares' of the 1940s, industry')- for their own purposes. No considerationwould be complete 1950s, and 1960s and the new 'terroristscare' which first emergedin the 1970s and 1980s, withouttaking into accountthe detailedethnobut which we see only now coming to full graphiesof armedindigenous,ethno-national, and religio-nationalmovementscommonly fruition,were createdto serve conservative describedas 'terrorists'.Such studies are a delpolitical ends. To the credit of our discipline, Sir Edmund icate task, and they have all rejectedthe Leach was among the first anthropologists this validity of characterizing violence as 'terbrave enough to criticize the abuse of the label rorism'. In her outstandingethnographicstudy 'terrorist'.In a lecturepublishedin 1977, he of Sikh militants,CynthiaKeppley Mahmood observedthat dehumanization otherpeople of (1996) confrontsthe issue of whetherthey are who do not conformto our values is a tragic to be defined as terroristsor freedomfighters. but common occurrence,and warnedthat this She observes that not only her subjectsbut is often one of the elements involved in also anthropologistsare 'accused of creatinga of labelling people as 'terrorists'.Leach was sen- pornography violence, of providingan "aessitive to the political opportunism that often thetic alibi"to terrorists,even of being terrorthe goes along with such exercises in dehumaniza- ists. Having transgressed taboo of never of tion, and he made the mimetic argument talking to "terrorists", never puttinga face (which Michael Taussig (1984, 1992) has also on the acts of violence we find so easily appliedto the historicallabelling of native revoltingon the evening news, we find ourpeoples as 'savages') that if those labelled 'ter- selves contaminatedand in some ways stigmarorist' are defined as less thanhuman,then tised by what we study.' In my own to every form of terrorismattributed them ethnographicstudy of popularsupportfor the IRA and INLA in NorthernIrelandI wrote becomes permissiblefor oneself. EdwardSaid was also among the first to that: 'The [British]governmentand security criticize the use of the concept of 'terrorism' forces portraythe IRA and INLA as 'terror(1986, 1988a, 1988b). He noted thatuse of ter- ists', 'criminals'and 'monsters'not only as a


deliberatemeans of denying their political legitimacy,but also as a means of legitimizing their own use of nakedpower and political, legal, and militaryrepressionto combatthem' (Sluka 1989:160).

Anti-stateterrorism pales into relativeinsignificance in size and scope against 'stateterrorism'- that is, terrorism practisedby states (or governments)and their agents and allies (cf. Rummel 1994, Sluka 2000). Hermanand Chomsky distinguishbetween the 'wholesale terror'practisedby states and 'retailterror' practisedby anti-stategroups.In their work, they have documentedthe centralrole of the United States and its allies - particularly Britain- in the rise of state terrorism(see also McClintock 1985). This perspectiveis also state terrorism,edited by supportedin Western AlexanderGeorge (1991), which shows that the global rise in terrorismover the past two or threedecades is closely relatedto US foreign policy. George concludes that 'The plain and awful truthis that on any reasonabledefinition of terrorism... the United States and its friends are the majorsupporters, sponsors,and perpetratorsof terroristincidentsin the world today... many,probablymost, significant instances of terrorismare supported,if not organized,by the US, its partners,and their client states.' Today,Chomskyarguesthatthe US representsthe hegemonic 'cultureof terrorism' (1988), providingthe centralmodel and leading example emulatedby every other nationinvolved in state terroraroundthe world. Many definitions seek to exclude state terrorismfrom consideration.Thereis no objective justificationfor this, andit is a politically motivatedsubterfuge.In this regard,two definitions of terrorismareparticularly useful. First,that the term 'terrorism'refers to 'the policy of using acts inspiringgreatfear as a methodof ruling or of conductingpolitical opposition' (cited in Nagangast 1994). Second, until recently the official US Army and Penal Code definitions defined terrorismas the use of coercive means aimed at civilian populations in an effort to achieve political, religious or otheraims. These are objective and useful definitions,which do not exclude the main (state) practiceof terrorism,and which reflect the fact that duringthe past centurycivilians, ratherthan combatants,have become the main targetsand casualtiesof war and otherforms of political violence (Nordstrom1997).

Terrorismas myth or propaganda

'Terrorism' emergingas humankind'smost is political myth. dangerouscontemporary Ashley Montagu(1997) arguedthat the reality of humanbiological diversityis mythologized as 'race'. Similarly,the reality of a world of massive and ever increasingpolitical violence is now being mythologized and dichotomized

as either 'terrorism'or 'anti-terrorism' (Bush's 'for us or againstus'). Just as 'races' do not exist, but classifications of humankinddo, so too terrorismas presentedby 61itesand the media does not exist, but classificationsof use political violence do. Propagandistic of the criminalizinglabel 'terrorism'manipulates public fears for political purposes- it removes the 'political' from political violence, excludes considerationof underlyingpolitical causes, and reduces it to mindless or 'evil' violence which cannotbe explained,understoodor justified. As international lawyer John Whitbeck (2001) observes: 'The greatestthreatto world peace today is clearly 'terrorism' not the behaviourto which the word is appliedbut the word itself... it is extremelydangerous, because people tend to believe that it does have meaningand to use and abuse the word by applyingit to whateverthey hate as a way of avoiding rationalthoughtand discussion and, frequently,excusing their own illegal and immoralbehaviour.' Should anthropologists approachterrorism as a given realityor as a constitutedmyth?It is both: an empiricalreality we are all boundup in, but also a myth maintainedby 'power 61ites'(Mills 1959) and governments,and supportedby academicsand the media (see Herman& O'Sullivan 1989). We live in a world full of political violence, and people everywhereare experiencingnew forms and levels of fear as a consequence.But if we seek an objective understanding this violence and of its causes, which we must do if we hope to reduceour fears and find effective means of building a safer and more peaceful world, must apply a criticalperspecanthropologists tive to the way in which 61ites,governments, the media and otheracademicsemploy the concept of terrorism,must energeticallycriticize those who subvertthe idea for propaganda purposes,and must ensure thatwe are objective, empirical,and honest in our own use of the concept. * JeffreySluka Massey University

Noam Chomsky andJeff Sluka'scomments make clear that stateterroris the prevailing terrorin the world, and Chomsky'sbrave actions clarify the difficult duties of scholars duringsuch times as these. UnfortunatelyAmericaremainsundera critsuch as the ical media blackout.Organizations Note: Below followsa first-hand AmericanCouncil of Trusteesand Alumni Editorial (ACTA), a Washington,DC-based organizaon reportby Noam Chomskywritten 24 tion with the proclaimedmission of being from afterreturning February, shortly 'dedicatedto academicfreedom, quality and where he defended a Turkish Turkey, accountability',are attackingdissenting publisheraccused of disseminating separatistpropaganda.Chomskyasked to scholars(see: while be triedalongside the publisher,who was, otherorganizationsthreatenanyone who quessubsequentlyacquitted. tions the 'waron terror'.One group, Americansfor VictoryOver Terrorism State terroris vividly in my mind, as well as recently our contributionto it. I was very glad to read (3/10/02) paid $128,000 for an ad in the New YorkTimes,declaringwar on critics whose the editorialand the forthcomingcomment on state terrorismby Jeff Sluka, both excellent. views, 'stem from either a hatredfor the I've been writingand speakingabout all of this Americanideals of freedom and equalityor a of constantlysince September11, as often before. misunderstanding those ideals and their I readthe editorialby David Price (AT practice'. Criticalvoices are also fighting to be heard. moment:on return 18(1)) at an appropriate Chomsky,Noam 1988. The cultureof terrorism.London: At a recent forum organizedby the Centerfor from Turkey,where I went to supporta pubPluto Press. - 1986. Pirates and emperors:Internationalterrorismin WorldIndigenousStudies, David Martinez, lisher who was facing prisonfor publishinga the real world. Claremont:Black Rose. few sentences of mine on Turkishrepression SecretaryGeneralof the Alliance of Separate state terrorism. George, Alexander(ed.) 1991. Western of the Kurds.'Because of the international Nations (Philippines)clariand Independent Cambridge:Polity Press. fied how this new war is targetingindigenous attention,the governmentwas embarrassed, Herman,EdwardS. 1982. The real terrornetwork: Terrorism fact and propaganda.Boston: South End in and withdrewthe indictment,also refusingto peoples (see: A numberof Press. sessions on anthropologyand the war on terror accept the demandof Turkishfree speech Herman,Edward& O'Sullivan, Gerry 1989. The 'terrorism' are in the works for the November 2002 meetactivists that they be prosecutedfor a co-pubindustry:The expertsand institutionsthat shape our view lished book (I was one of the co-publishers)of ings of the AAA. One panel organizedby Nan terror.New York:Pantheon. of Kim-Paikwill examine links between Cold Leach, Edmund1977. Custom,law and terroristviolence. bannedarticlesthatthey issued on the occaEdinburgh UniversityPress. Warthinkingand the currentwar on terrorism; sion of the trial. They are a remarkable group; Mahmood,CynthiaKeppley 1995. Fightingforfaith and Monica Schoch-Spanahas organizeda session inspiringin fact. nation: Dialogues with Sikhmilitants.Philadelphia: entitled 'Defending the nation?Ethics and I then went to Diyarbakir,2 which was an Anthropologyafter9/11'; while other sessions experiencethat is beyond my capacity to Discovering Anthropology: will examine the roles of anthropologists describe.I knew about it from humanrights A Resource Guide reports,scholarlyliterature,and other sources, duringtimes of crisis. As Chomsky and Slutkaclarify,it is incumbut it's always differentto see at first handfor Teachers and Students bent on us all to speak out againstthe narrow the incrediblecourageof the particularly people, despite the fact thatthey are living in a framingof America'snew war. * some of the worst ethnic cleansDavid Price dungeonafter discovering_contents.html ing and otheratrocitiesof the 90s. One of the Saint Martin'sCollege gifts I was given, after a talk to I guess thou23

Universityof PennsylvaniaPress McClintock,Michael 1985. TheAmericanconnection.Vol. 1: State terrorand popular resistance in El Salvador. London:Zed Books. Mills, C. Wright1959. Thepower elite. New York:Oxford University Press. Montagu,Ashley 1997. Man'smostdangerousmyth:The fallacy of race. 6th edition.WalnutCreek:AltaMiraPress. Nagangast,Carole 1994. Violence, terrorand the crisis of the state.AnnualReview of Anthropology23: 109-136. Nordstrom,Carolyn 1997. A differentkindof war story. University of PennsylvaniaPress. Philadelphia: Rummel,R.J. 1994. Death by government.New Brunswick: Transaction Books. Said, Edward1986. America and Libya. LondonReviewof Books 8 May: 3. - 1988a. Identity,negation and violence. New LeftReview 171: 46-60. - 1988b. The essential terrorist.In E. Said and C. Hitchens (eds) Blaming the victims:Spuriousscholarshipand the Palestinian question,pp.149-159. London:Verso. Sluka, Jeffrey 1989. Hearts and minds, water andfish: Popular supportfor the IRAand INLAin a Northern Irish ghetto. Greenwich,CT:JAI Press. - (ed.) 2000. Death squad: The anthropologyof state terror.Philadelphia: University of PennsylvaniaPress. Taussig,Michael 1992. Terroras usual:WalterBenjamin's theory of history as a state of siege. In Taussig, M. The nervoussystem, pp.11-36. London:Routledge. - 1984. Cultureof terror- space of death:Roger Casement'sPutumayoReportand the explanationof torture.ComparativeStudies in Society and History 26: 467-497. The word itself is Whitbeck,John 2001.'Terrorism': dangerous.TheDaily Star (Lebanon)7 December; http// 01lb.htm. and Zulaika,Joseba& Douglass, William 1996. Terror taboo: Thefollies, fables, andfaces of terrorism.New York:Routledge.

sands of Kurds(and plenty of police agents), was the first Kurdish-English dictionary,given to me by several studentswho had helped compile it, right in frontof the TV cameras brave (and police cameras).A remarkably thing to do in thatregion, or even in Istanbul, which is not underdirectmilitaryrule. In addition,last night I talkedaboutstate terrorin Haiti, and the crucialUS contribution to it; and the night before, stateterrorin the Mideast,again with a decisive US * contribution. Noam Chomsky Professorof Linguistics MassachusettsInstituteof Technology
1. For furtherbackgroundsee: Owen Bowcott, 'Chomsky wins case for Turkishpublisher:Istanbulcourtdrops charges afterUS authorflies in to challenge prosecution over pro-Kurdish essay'. The Guardian,14 February2002. located in southeastTurkey,where the 2. Diyarbakir, securityforces are engaged in counter-insurgency operationsagainstarmedmembersof the KurdishWorkers' Party(PKK).

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