Transnational Discourses of Terrorism, Humanitarianism and Sovereignty

  • Rachel Seoighe
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Compromise after Conflict book series (PSCAC)


The war in Sri Lanka has largely been understood internationally through the framework provided by the state: a ‘terrorist problem’ rather than a war of self-defence by an aggrieved and persecuted minority. In the final phase of the war, the hegemonic framework of understanding applied to ‘Eelam war IV’ was one of a humanitarian rescue mission, necessary to liberate the Tamil population from the LTTE terrorists. This chapter examines the lexicon developed, adapted and adopted by the Sri Lankan state: a lexicon that borrowed heavily from global discourses formed by world powers and originating in international political institutions. Describing the sources, content and linear development of the conflict ‘script,’ I interrogate its effectiveness in mobilising the majority population and deterring international pressure as the violence of the ‘final war’ reached catastrophic levels. Beginning with an analysis of the construction of international discourses and their propensity for adoption and appropriation, this chapter offers a critique of the “portability” of these discourses (Khalili 2007, p. 12). The Sri Lankan example illustrates the legitimising effect of global discourses as they spread across national boundaries, largely insusceptible to the particularities of each conflict situation. Transnational discourses are available to states as narrative building blocks. In Sri Lanka, relying strategically on the lexicon popular within the ‘international community’ itself allowed the state to seek global sympathy, solidarity and the space to finish the war by using enormous violence against the Tamil people.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Seoighe
    • 1
  1. 1.Middlesex University, UKLondonUK

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