What is Terrorism?: The Political uses of Fear and Trust
How can we think politically about terrorism? Is terror a dimension of politics, or, does it mark the end of politics? Is terrorism something that can be thought about and engaged politically, or, is violent state action the only feasible response to terrorism? Terrorism has been an intimate part of modern politics since the French Revolution. However, since the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States and the rise of “Islamic radicalism” globally, the relationship between politics and terror has taken on a new dimension. In this course we will critically examine these new developments in global politics. Beginning with the historical origins of modern terrorism as a democratic force during the French Revolution, the course moves to a set of contemporary theoretical texts on terrorism to help students cultivate critical distance from the current war on terror and begin a thoughtful exploration of the topic. The course then considers how fear and trust effect politics and produce certain types of citizens. The goal in this middle section is to critically explore the ways contemporary security states use fear as a political tool. The course concludes by analyzing the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism: how it arises, its aims, the intended and unintended consequences of its occurrence, and its utopian aspirations.
The main questions of the course include: Is terrorism ever justified? To what extent does a politics of fear and the contemporary security state structure succeed in its responses to terrorism? What is the relationship between a politics of fear, the development of security states, and the resurgence of nationalist politics we have witnessed across the world in recent years? Are there ways to think about fear, trust, and politics that point to possibilities for democratic forms of political engagement in an age of terror?