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Fighting an Antaean Enemy: How Democratic States Unintentionally Sustain the Terrorist Movements They Oppose

by Tom Parker, Department of Political Science, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Terrorist groups have yet to attract the same level of academic interest as other social movement organizations (SMOs), although they are well suited to the analytical approach pioneered by Ted Gurr, Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. Social constructivism offers a valuable frame with which to assess state responses to terrorism. Carlos Marighela argued that one of the principal goals of the urban guerrilla was to goad the state into a spasm of overreaction that would undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. This article takes Marighela’s concept one step further, arguing that by adopting repressive counterterrorism policies, democratic states ‘‘socially construct’’ more resilient, more aggressive terrorist organizations. Like Hercules’ antagonist Antaeas in Greek mythology, terrorist groups draw their strength from their surrounding environment. Successful counterterrorism strategies erode popular support for terrorism and unsuccessful ones contribute to it. This paper examines the experiences of five democratic states— the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Israel—from this perspective and concludes that when confronting terrorism, the greatest challenge of all is to adopt and maintain a measured response to terrorist outrages.

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Burkle Center for International Relations