Anxiety about terrorism: do scapegoating and revenge offer resolution?
After 9/11 US national security was high on the agenda, and people were fearful; 72% of US citizens reporting anxiety over perceived imminent attacks. Later bombings in Madrid and London and the rise of al Qaeda from centralised group to ‘amorphous’ network added to the collective disquiet. In her recent article in Critical Studies on Security Caron Gentry explores the role of anxiety in society, politics, counter-terrorism and the construction of Western self vs. radical Islamist ‘other’.
Anxiety: an emotion which can split or unify society to form ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ groups signifying ‘self’ and ‘other’. Post 9/11 emotions ran high and political anxiety began ‘the global economy of fear’ and a notion of liberal progressive West vs. radical irrational Muslim terrorist. In the war on terror, radical Islamists became the object of blame; scapegoats on whom to reap justifiable and violent revenge.
The ultimate ‘other’ was Osama bin Laden, a ‘master terrorist’ epitomising the ‘known unknown’ intangible threat of al Qaeda; a terrorist net underlined by religion posing big challenges to national security. Desire for vengeance, justice and a resolution to anxiety was all placed on his head but after his assassination and victorious celebrations, anxiety persists and the threat from an evasive enemy remains.
The enduring image of a ‘terrorist’ conjures instant parallels to fanatical Muslims, fundamentalism and jihad. Anxieties over high risk in the face of an unquantifiable threat have influenced government into pro Neo-Orientalist aggressive strategies. The assassination of bin Laden signified anxiety driven revenge but was futile in arresting further acts of terror. To conclude Gentry refers to the philosophy of Levinas, “terrorism must be conscientiously dealt with – not reacted to. Levinas’ liturgy ends (the useless) retaliation and revenge by asking for a different conceptualization of a powerful self and a re-humanizing of the scapegoated Muslim other.”
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