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The Power of Terrorism. By Andreas Bock

In short by Jan Peter Gülden

In his article, Andreas Bock critically examines the widespread notion that Islamist terrorism has made our lives more dangerous than ever before. Empirical data does not support this assertion. Playing with people’s fears and creating uncertainty are a deliberate part of the terrorists’ strategy. In Bock’s view, Islamic terrorism has managed to strongly influence our perceptions since 9/11. As a result, it appears more present, stronger, and more dangerous than it really is. He points out firstly that the likelihood of falling victim to a terror attack is small in comparison with other dangers, and secondly that from the historical point of view, for society to have such perceptions is not a new phenomenon. The actions of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany or the radical Zionist Irgun group in Israel were perceived by the public at the time to be an immediate threat to life, too.

Bock proceeds to present a definition of terrorism that distils two key aspects from more than 150 definitions: terrorism always pursues political or public objectives that are based on a particular ideology. These objectives radically challenge the existing political and social order. He also argues that a decisive factor with regard to the terrorists’ aims is how much direct support they can muster in the targeted society. 

Attacked states are constantly searching for the right way to deal with terrorist threats. But the intuitive response of using large-scale force and repression, which has been tried many times in the past, threatens to backfire on the defenders. The author provides empirical examples showing that when a state uses military force and repression, the body of support for terrorists automatically increases, and their threat potential grows. Terrorism only has to lose, in order to win.

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