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New Left Review I/171, September-October 1988

Edward Said

Identity, Negation and Violence


As something to be talked and written about, as a phenomenon with nearly hysterical descriptions and pronouncements routinely added to its name as a mobilizing theme for politicians, armies, navies and air forces, ‘terrorism’ has now lost a good deal of its power. A mere matter of months ago thousands of Americans cancelled trips to Europe because they feared the terrorist threat; in April 1986 the United States raided Libya during the prime time tv news in order, it was said, to deal with the terrorist threat posed by Libya (on a pretext—the bombing of a West Berlin disco—which has since proved not to be Libya’s doing). All during the period from 1983 through 1985 and 1986, ‘terrorism’ claimed public attention on a scale hitherto unknown. At the behest of the us administration—amplified by dutiful, unreflecting media—numerous governments made pronouncements about, and any number of moves against, terrorism, so much so that during this period the Secretary of State elevated terrorism to the status of ‘number one’ foreign policy problem for the United States and, he went on to suggest imprudently, for the world.

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