Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose: The “New” Terrorism

The European Legacy 19 (5):543-555 (2014)
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The immediate perception after 9/11 was that we were entering a world of “new terrorism”: new actors, new tactics, new responses. And yet more than a decade later, it seems that not much has really changed, or that the changes have been contextual rather than structural. Authors have used the modifier “new” in many different ways, creating a contested and confused understanding of what terrorism is and how it appears in the world. The same applies to how one defines terrorism, examines its domains and forms, delineates its actors and strategies, or compares it to state violence and fear in international relations. This raises the question of why scholars, rather than agreeing on a definition of terrorism, have focused on its many contexts, applications, and psychologies, concluding that there is a substantial and significant difference between the old and the new terrorism. However, when one tests this notion of the “new terrorism” against the case of Al-Qaeda, one finds that the tactical changes, primarily technological, as well as those in motivation and organization, are hardly new, and that the structural, ideological, and political features of terrorism have remained fundamentally the same.



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