“Aber Jabber”: New Terrorism Studies Dust-Up

Back to our regular non-symposium blogging schedule… Not since Hoffman and Sageman went at it has terrorism studies seen a public bitch-slapping quite like this. OK, so it’s only been a year or so, but come to think of it, I haven’t read anything quite this harsh since Daniel Jonah Goldhagen tried to convince us all that Germans are just genocidal freaks. In the latest issue of Studies in Conflict and Terrorism,  David Martin Jones (University of Queensland) and M.L.R. Smith (King’s College London), write in “We’re All Terrorists Now: Critical – Or Hypocritical – Studies “On” Terrorism“, about the new school of “critical terrorism studies” based out of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth:

ABSTRACT: This article reviews the new journal Critical Studies on Terrorism. The fashionable approach that this journal adopts towards the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism maintains that a “critical” and “self-reflexive” approach to the study of terrorism reveals a variety of shortcomings in the discipline. These range from a distorting overidentification with the Western democratic state perspective on terrorism to a failure to empathize with the misunderstood, non-Western, “other.” This review examines whether the claims of the critical approach adds anything, other than pedantry and obscurity, to our understanding of the phenomenon. It concludes that it does not.

I was wondering when this might happen. The authors go on to describe the “congealed prose, obscure jargon, philosophical posturing, and concentrated anti-Western self-loathing that comprise the core of this journal’s first edition.” Ouch. The article’s behind a pay firewall, but here’s the conclusion:

In the looking glass world of critical terror studies the conventional analysis of terrorism is ontologically challenged, lacks self-reflexivity, and is policy oriented. By contrast, critical theory’s ethicist, yet relativist, and deconstructive gaze reveals that we are all terrorists now and must empathize with those sub-state actors who have recourse to violence for whatever motive. Despite their intolerable othering by media and governments, terrorists are really no different from us. In fact, there is terror as the weapon of the weak and the far worse economic and coercive terror of the liberal state. Terrorists therefore deserve empathy and they must be discursively engaged.

At the core of this understanding sits a radical pacifism and an idealism that requires not the status quo but communication and “human emancipation.” Until this radical postnational utopia arrives both force and the discourse of evil must be abandoned and instead therapy and un-coerced conversation must be practiced. In the popular ABC drama Boston Legal Judge Brown perennially referred to the vague, irrelevant, jargon-ridden statements of lawyers as “jibber jabber.” The Aberystwyth-based school of critical internationalist utopianism that increasingly dominates the study of international relations in Britain and Australia has refined a higher order incoherence that may be termed Aber jabber. The pages of the journal of Critical Studies on Terrorism are its natural home.

Jones, D., & Smith, M. (2009). We’re All Terrorists Now: Critical—or Hypocritical—Studies “on” Terrorism? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 32 (4), 292-302 DOI: 10.1080/10576100902744128

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2 thoughts on ““Aber Jabber”: New Terrorism Studies Dust-Up

  1. Ouch.. But so true. In Europe, Contemporary Security Studies is now dominated by critical schools such as the newly-formed (2006) Critical Approach of Security in Europe (C.A.S.E.) formed mainly around the "Paris School".Altough I think this critical reflexion to be relevant at the theoretical level, I’m profoundly convinced that the first step would be to apply its very principles to itself: self-reflexivity, relativism, and so on. More importantly, their vision of today’s counterinsurgency as a "colonial practice and discourse", though not so irrelevant, is filled with inaccuracy. In particular, I find it very disturbing that Critical epistemology is too "textual" and not sufficiently "contextual".Best, Stéphane TAILLAT

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