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Terrorism and State Repression: Strategic Choice and the Domestic Normative Context


The scholarly debate on the effectiveness of terrorism has revolved around large-n studies, which include many different types of militant groups, and the analysis of key historical case studies. While this work has greatly advanced our understanding, it does not reflect the fact that the scholarly and policy salience of this issue since 2001 derives from a particular form of terrorism – jihadist violence against western countries. Acknowledging that the literature does analyse the United States after 9/11 (Abrahms 2006), I suggest that it may benefit from a broader focus on contemporary cases. This chapter analyses the impact of contemporary jihadist terrorism, with a particular focus on clandestine networks in western Europe. I draw on those scholars who offer a relatively broad interpretation of the question, when does terrorism ‘work’? A fine-grained analysis of some of the more ‘modest’ effects of terrorism, I argue, can contribute to how we analyse terrorism’s overall effectiveness or strategic impact. The chapter examines whether jihadist terrorism has triggered ‘disorientation’ in European societies or provoked governments into making repressive responses that could aid the continuity and growth of the jihadist movement. The main question to be examined is: what factors influence whether or not terrorist violence leads to a repressive response from governments? In addressing this question, I consider the extent to which we can understand state responses to terrorism from a rational choice perspective, before going on to highlight the importance of the domestic normative context in the target state and society. Terrorists and counter-terrorists do not interact in a vacuum, but rather a state’s response to terrorism is filtered through certain societal norms, which shape whether or not terrorist violence leads to a repressive response from governments. To illustrate the diverse conditions that can affect this process, I analyse British and French responses to jihadist terrorism. The analysis focuses in particular on these countries’ domestic operational responses to terrorism, which is one of the key domains where potentially counterproductive repression could take place.

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Foley, Frank. 2018. "Terrorism and State Repression: Strategic Choice and the Domestic Normative Context." In When Does Terrorism Work? ed. Diego Muro. London: Routledge. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781317300977/chapters/10.4324%2F9781315648422-15

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