Chapter 14 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 14 – Can States be Terrorists?

Kieran McConaghy

  1. Why might actor centric definitions of terrorism be problematic?
  2. Think about the broad range of actors that use terrorism and the other activities that they engage in. Is ‘terrorist organization’ a good term for capturing the complexity of these organizations? What other impacts might there be of applying the term ‘terrorist’ to an individual or organization? How might this be open to abuse? Think about the power of the term terrorism and what the implications of an actor being labelled terrorist might have for its members, its supporters, and those who are presumed to be supporters. What would happen in the case of violent attacks where the perpetrator remains unknown?

  3. Why has there been such little research on state terrorism compared to non-state terrorism?
  4. To address this question, remember how the concept of terrorism emerged and how it was popularized. It might also be useful to consider the role that states have played in shaping legal definitions of terrorism and popular understandings of what terrorism is. Think also about where the funding for research on terrorism comes from. States have a clear incentive to highlight non-state terrorism and to avoid having any of their own actions branded as terrorism. It is also worthwhile thinking about the range of other concepts and labels that might overlap with what we could call ‘state terrorism’.

  5. How is ‘state terrorism’ different to ‘non-state terrorism? How clear is the distinction between the two phenomena?
  6. For the first part of this question, think about the ways that state organizations and non-state organizations differ and the ways that might change their use of terrorism.  Think about key things like legality, domestic and international legitimacy, size, and material resources.  How might be the repercussions differ for state and non-state groups found to have engaged in acts of terrorism? For the second part, think about what makes terrorism effective; the psychological impact it has on audiences.  Consider how the audiences might differ in some instances of state terrorism compared to non-state terrorism. Reflect on the range of ways that states can engage in, facilitate, promote, encourage, and allow terrorism. 

  7. Why have some scholars chosen to reject ‘state terrorism’ as a concept?
  8. There are a range of factors here for you to explore. Is the concept of terrorism still analytically useful if it describes the work of both state and non-state actors? Is there room for a concept of ‘state terrorism’ in a field that already has lots of terminology to refer to kinds of illegitimate violence by the state?  What might the concept of state terrorism add, if anything?  If ‘terrorism’ has pejorative connotations, what is the impact of applying it to states?

  9. What are the main obstacles to research on state terrorism?
  10. Think about what difficulties academics and NGOs might encounter in the course of researching state terrorism. How easy is it to research something that states are doing their best to conceal? Are states that perpetrate terrorism likely to be open and honest regarding their activities? Consider the ways in which state funding of research might influence academics in their choice of research topic. What impact might the division over the term ‘state terrorism’ have on research on the topic?