Jan van Blerk schreef zijn bachelorscriptie voor de opleiding Culturele Antropologie & Ontwikkelingssociologie over het woord ‘terrorisme’. Een beladen term, zoveel is duidelijk. Maar wat voor effect heeft het gebruik van het woord ‘terrorisme’ op de manier waarop we kijken naar terroristen? In deze ‘Uit het veld’ presenteert Jan in het kort zijn bevindingen.

Terrorism, it might be the most powerful word at the moment. However, what does it even mean? Moreover, exactly how is war waged against what has been called an essentially contested concept? My thesis “The Global War On Terrorism: A War Of Words?” (2016) provides us answers since a discourse where “analysts behave as if alleged terrorists are guilty until proven innocent” is outlined, questioned and critiqued.[1. Sageman, M. (2014) ‘The Stagnation in Terrorism Research’ Terrorism and Political Violence 26-4: 565-80.]

On reading through the NRC newspapers’ article “A Jewish perpetrator is hardly ever a terrorist“, I realized that the ‘Palestinian terrorist’ stigma needed to be analysed academically. The article suggests that Palestinians, the Orientals or Others, are more likely to be labelled ‘terrorist’ than their Jewish counterparts, who are portrayed as ‘perpetrators’. I became inspired to scrutinize the academic usage of the ‘Palestinian terrorist’ label while I called to mind the often quoted “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

Edward Saids’ framework of Orientalism relates to my thesis’ main research question: “To what extent does a neo-Orientalist framing of ‘Palestinian terrorists’ occur in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence?”. The key aspect of this framework, is that a Western, intellectually-rooted, understanding of a violent, irrational, antimodernist and usually Muslim/Oriental counterpart, seems to coincide with the present-day portrayal of terrorists.[2. Jackson, R. (2005) Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Said, E.W. (2003) Orientalism: Western Representations of the Orient. London, Penguin Modern Classics.] In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers attack, president G.W. Bush in his War On Terror, for example, claimed that America was targeted as a result of “irrationality, ingratitude, a clash of civilizations and a hatred for ‘our way of life'”.[3. Silberstein, S. (2002) War of Words: Language, Politics and 9/11. London, Routledge.] From this perspective, it seems that his war against the concept of terror takes after Samuel Huntington’s idea of a civilizational-clash where the civilized us, that is ‘the West’, faces threats from an uncivilized ‘Rest’, typically meaning the Muslim world.[4. Huntington, S. (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, Simon and Schuster.
Jackson, R. (2005) Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Malik, A.A. (2002) Shattered Illusions: Analyzing the War on Terrorism. Bristol (UK), Amal Press.]

Hence, corresponding with Saids’ impute of imperial European civil servants who relied on academic-engrained prejudice to sketch a mystic, sensual yet barbaric Oriental, I investigated if and subsequently how neo-Orientalist tenets appear in the scientific representation of terrorists. By means of a qualitative, text-based inquiry (discourse analysis) a unique anthropological linguistic evaluation of the ‘booming’ field of terrorism studies examined if and to what extent, the caricature of the Muslim-terrorist as crazy madmen, barbarians, emerges through a possibly academic-stirred war of words.[5. After Silberstein’s (2002) similar titled book “War of Words: Language, Politics and 9/11″.] Studied is whether the terrorist-expert is truly that unbiased, impartial and objective as they themselves believe they are.[6. Ringmar, E (2013) ‘”How to Fight Savage Tribes”: The Global War on Terror in Historical Perspective’ Terrorism and Political Violence 25-2: 264-83.]

Disturbingly, argued is that terrorism representors such as Freilich (2015), Silber (2010) and Frisch (2005) seem to alienate, or Other, their subjects, that is Palestinian terrorists, and their use of terror (neo-Orientalism). In line with that, my thesis addresses the many problems concerning a lack of a definition of terrorism and established is that the individual assessment of violence, as being good, bad or something in between, is actually a culturally-embedded evaluation. For e.g. to denounce terrorism on the assumption that it mirrors morally unjust behavior could be problematic since “morality is always the morality of a particular community”.[7. MacIntyre, A. (1984) After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press.] Therefore, I want to remind us that any public confronted with terrorist threats should bear in mind that a political designation of ‘unlawful terrorism’ might mirror symbolic violence as underlying reasons entailing delegitimization of dissident parties.[8. Bhatia, M.V. (2005) ‘Fighting Words: Naming Terrorists, Bandits, Rebels and Other Violent Actors’ Third World Quarterly 26-1: 5-22.] In other words, we need to be skeptical of generalized questions like “why should we negotiate with terrorists since their goals are death and suffering?”. Such an attitude might be the unfortunate result of entities depoliticizing ‘terrorists’ and their goals.[9. Ibid: 13.] Also emphasized is that the belief that terrorists do not adopt terrorism as a means but as an end relates to the risks of the counterterrorism campaign in promoting human rights violations. For e.g. the real-world consequences of rendering a war against those who “don’t represent any civilization” epitomizes a terrorist enemy who belongs to the “outside realm”, an animal.[10. To quote former U.S. secretary of defense D.H. Rumsfeld, 7 October, 2001 on terrorism being a “cancer on the human condition” (Jackson 2005: 49).] This, in turn, normalizes disproportionate retaliatory violence seen in Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay, prisons notorious for their “rigorous interrogation techniques”.[11. Jackson 2005:49/73, Silberstein 2002: 89. The part of “these assassins don’t represent any civilization” mirrors French President Hollande his response to the perpetrators behind the november 2015, Bataclan attack in Paris as he spoke about “barbarian acts”, “an act of war” instigated by “barbaric” Daesh (Islamic State).]

Language partially determines how we behave socially. For that reason another problem related to the term ‘terrorism’ is discussed; in that it seems to cherish stereotype classification of the groups most often associated with terrorism i.e. Islam and the Muslim community. Arab Muslims, especially after 9/11, are systematically considered radical devout Others.[12. Saeed, A. (2007) ‘Media, Racism and Islamophobia: The Representation of Islam and Muslims in the Media’ Sociology Compass 1-2: 443-62.] This justifies my elaboration of racist ideas such as “Why do the majority of Muslims hate us [the West]?” and “What is it in the Qur’an that justifies terrorism and hijackings?”. Such neo-Orientalist assumptions signify that terrorism always refers to the actions of Others and never those of Westerners and/or non-Muslims.[13. Esposito in Malik, A.A. (2002) Shattered Illusions: Analyzing the War on Terrorism. Bristol (UK), Amal Press.
Sageman, M. (2014) ‘The Stagnation in Terrorism Research’ Terrorism and Political Violence 26-4: 565-80.
Yamaguchi, K. (2012) ‘Rationalization and Concealment of Violence in American Responses to 9/11: Orientalism(s) in State of Exception’ Journal of Postcolonial Writing 48-3: 241-51.]