Fighting "the Evil Scourge of Terrorism": From 'Jewish Terrorism' to 'Islamic Terrorism' in the United States, 1940-2017

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2019-11-08
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Anglistik, Amerikanistik
Advisor: Butter, Michael (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2019-09-23
DDC Classifikation: 320 - Political science
420 - English and Old English
800 - Literature and rhetoric
810 - American literature in English
900 - History
Keywords: Diskursanalyse , Diskurs , Amerika , Terrorismus , Mittlerer Osten , Islam , Araber
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This dissertation investigates how four central discursive agents – the U.S. government, academia, news journalism, and cultural productions – framed and conceptualized ‘terrorism’ from the 1940s onward. It shows how these four agents influenced each other, gradually spreading an understanding of ‘terrorism’ as a serious threat to national security further into American mainstream society. Beginning in the 1940s, the dissertation demonstrates that earlier conceptualizations of ‘terrorism’ understood the perpetrators as inherently rational actors with a clear political agenda and framed it as one minor aspect in larger issues of revolutions, rebellions, and guerrilla warfare. The project then investigates how the marginal status of ‘terrorism’ slowly changed in the 1970s when several high-profile incidents were increasingly understood as acts of ‘terrorism’ instead of, e.g., air piracy or simply hostage taking. In contrast to previous conceptualizations, the term also acquired an inherently negative connotation. From the 1980s onward, ‘terrorism’ dominated the political scene as various administrations vowed to fight it through war. Perpetrators were also increasingly identified based on ethnic and religious affiliation while references to political grievances decreased in importance. The dissertation then shows how framings of 9/11 and the ensuing ‘War on Terror’ as ‘Islamic terrorism’ targeting the United States for its superior democratic values were the result of a particular conceptualization of ‘terrorism’ which focused on Islam as an explanation for violence and postulated that ‘terrorism’ could only be fought through war. Another relevant finding of the project is that the Middle East, both the geographical region and the way it is imagined in American culture and politics, is central to notions about ‘terrorism’ in the United States. Negotiations of what ‘terrorism’ means at a particular point in time and to whom and why play out against the backdrop of American relations to the Middle East. Hence, while early framings of the issue focused on Jewish groups active in Palestine (and, eventually, Israel), in later years, analyses of ‘terrorism’ overwhelmingly focused on Arab groups and, more recently, Islamic perpetrators as main ‘terrorist’ threats – a construction which has only become cemented since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The dissertation thus also charts American engagement in the Middle East as a region which seemingly produced ‘terrorism’ against the United States while also analyzing how these ideas about ‘terrorism’ constructed the Middle East in the American cultural imaginary in return.

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