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The Logic of Public Fear in Terrorism and Counter-terrorism

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Abstract

This paper attempts to do two things: to provide a summary overview of the ways in which the academic literature has tended to characterize the role of fear and psychological violence in the process of political terrorism and to advocate for counter-terrorism policies that recognize the importance of fear in this process and attempt to reduce this psychological response or, at least, to not exacerbate it. In completing these two tasks, I initially review the literature for discussions of the role of fear in both common definitions and theories of the use of terrorist violence. I then briefly draw upon the empirical findings of public opinion surveys and polls in the UK and US between 2001 and 2010 to illustrate this fear in practice. Finally, the paper concludes with the suggestion that both theories and real world observations point toward the idea that the most efficient form of counter-terrorism policy is one that mitigates levels of public fear.

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Notes

  1. It is not the intention of this paper to explore the various accounts of why violence is selected over legal, nonviolent alternatives. One simple account, however, suggests that terrorism is the tool of the politically weak and that it is employed as a last resort, only when actors are unable to alter the status quo via traditional, legal means of opposition. Thus, such actors employ violence as an alternative to electoral participation, lobbying, etc. (see Carr 1997).

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Acknowledgments

This research is conducted as part of the ‘Shades of Grey – Towards a Science of Interventions for Eliciting and Detecting Notable Behaviors’ project (EPSRC reference: EP/H02302X/1).

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Correspondence to Alex Braithwaite.

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Braithwaite, A. The Logic of Public Fear in Terrorism and Counter-terrorism. J Police Crim Psych 28, 95–101 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-013-9126-x

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