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Terrorism and the State: A Critique of Domination Through Fear.

Despite the great media interest in terrorism in recent years, William Perdue's Terrorism and the State has not been reviewed in any mainstream journal or national newspaper. It was issued by a publisher that charges library-oriented high prices (here, $42.95) and provides modest follow-up support (including copy editing and advertising). Yet that is not the main reason this book has fallen still-born from the press. The problem with Perdue's book is that it frames the terrorism issue outside the mainstream paradigm and will necessarily repel or even be incomprehensible to, mainstream editors and reviewers.

In the mainstream paradigm, the West is the victim of terrorism both because of its openness and because of the envy and hatred of the subversive forces of the world (Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Libya, and, in the Evil Empire years in the vision of Ronald Reagan, Claire Sterling, and A.M. Rosenthal, the Soviet Union). The focus of Western officials, experts, and media is therefore on insurgent and left terrorism, with selective admission of state terrorism by politically convenient villains.(1)

Instead of adopting this supremely biased Western model of terrorism, Perdue analyses and rejects it as a blatant ideological apparatus designed to rationalize Western state terror. For Perdue, the main form of terrorism is "regime terrorism," a "higher terrorism" managed by the leading Western states to help them mobilize the world's resources and people to serve their own interests. They employ their superior power to advance and protect the transnational system that they dominate and "to keep the world safe from change" (pp. 16, 18). These states use a wide array of means to dominate through fear. Thus, Perdue includes under the rubric terrorism not only straightforward regime terrorism, but also the warfare state and its operations, racial terrorism, settler terrorism, surrogate terrorisms, and a vast array of other forms of state intervention (listed on pp. 42-43).

Concept and Ideology

As Perdue notes, terrorism is "a label of defamation, a means of excluding those so branded from human standing" (p. 4), and it is a powerful one. He situates it not only in an ongoing structure of power relations, but also in a history of domination and supremacist thought. In an earlier age of imperialism, slavery was legitimized by various racist ideologies, and terrorism is in the same tradition of serviceable dominant ideologies. Essentially, terrorists are those who stand in the way of the West: it is "a form of international deviance," a resort to uncivilized forms of violence. These outsiders and deviants:

are often portrayed as irrational or crazed, exercising a twisted thirst for blood.... History is reduced to the behavior of notorious persons (whether good or evil) locked in an international morality play.... Combined with appeals to nationalism, faith, and other traditional symbols, the war on terror unites the social audience against the forces of barbarism and heresy (pp. 8-9).

Perdue notes that each anticolonial movement has been delegitimized as terrorist and that each enemy resisting the United States, such as the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, is quickly given the terrorist label. He also points out that the "paranoid style of anticommunism projected on a world scale" has conveniently linked domestic opposition to U.S. intervention and foreign communist terrorists. He also stresses the flexibility of usage of terrorism in a regime of modem propaganda servicing the state, illustrated by the emergence of "narcoterrorism," tying Reds and enemies of the state to drug suppliers, and merge all the enemies into a compote of negative symbolism (pp. 10-11). Meanwhile, of course, in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and in the case of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s, the Establishment media ignore or downplay the very real links between the CIA and other government agencies - the immediate Western tools of state terrorism - and the drug trade.

Perdue provides a good account of the academic" construct of terrorism, showing how nicely aligned it is with the demand of the Western establishment for an exclusive focus on threats and violence from below, simultaneously ignoring regime terrorism. He calls this the "order paradigm of terrorism," which "is clearly committed to a control perspective" P. 14). Occasionally, discussions of state terrorism by mainstream analysts mention notorious regimes (Hitler and Stalin, but never Pinochet or Botha) or primitive African communities. "Absent from this entire type of inquiry is an analysis of Western state violence, much less the global relations that give it form" (p. 15).

Regime Terrorism

Perdue's broad account of regime terrorism describes both its multileveled characteristics and its invariable reliance on control through fear. He includes internal wars through death squads and pacifying armies, but he also embraces all the external manifestations of the warfare state, which reflect "a real developmental stage in the productive forces" (p. 23). The resultant imperial terror, aided by a bellicose patriotism, is by far the most important form of terrorism. It rests on, and is simultaneously a part of, the ideology of a dominant global system, designed to open and serve transnational investment. It is a partner of a growth (as opposed to distributional) model of development. "Thus, what is |modernized' is a system of global inequality, and what is |developed' are the dependency relations of peripheral underdevelopment. This, simply put, is real terrorism" (p. 42).

Most of Perdue's later chapters are case studies of various forms of regime terrorism. His approach is unusual since he treats the testing and threatened use of nuclear weapons as a form of state terrorism. For the Western establishment, the threat of nuclear terrorism is confined to the possible acquisition and use of such weapons by Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and other enemies of the West. Perdue argues, however, that "real nuclear terrorism is already here," manifested by actual possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons by Western governments pursuing their alleged national security interests. For the West, only its members have legitimate security interests and the imperial demands of the dominant states' elites are readily made into "security" questions. Yet this is the self-serving perspective of the powerful; in fact, the nuclear powers have transformed "the whole of humanity into nuclear hostages," always in the name of keeping the peace, but as part of a system of domination by fear (p. 83).

Racial terrorism is analyzed in a chapter focusing on the apartheid system of South Africa. Perdue puts that system into a historic and global context: a racialist tradition; the long record of South African oppression and aggression; the tie-in of South Africa's needs and the Red menace; and the various modalities of U.S. and other Western support for racial terrorism. Perdue's other chapters on forms of state terrorism cover the British in Ireland (Chapter 2), the Israeli-palestinian conflict ("settler terrorism," Chapter 7), Iranian state terror under the Shah and pre- and post-Shah developments (Chapter 8), and the U.S. attack on Nicaragua as a case study in surrogate terrorism (Chapter 9). These chapters are rich in historic and global context, unusual in the terrorism literature.

The most original chapter in this series is on Libya and terrorism, entitled "|Terrornoia' and Zonal Revolution" Chapter 6). Terromoia is, of course, Western frenzy over terrorism, which reached its zenith in the Reaganorchestrated anti-Qaddafi campaign of 1981 to 1987. Perdue reframes the issue, making Libya the victim of Western terrorism, for two main reasons: its (and particularly Qaddafi's) serviceability as a target of opportunity, and, most important, Libya's own independent development and support for programs, movements, and regimes not fitting the global requirements and development model being enforced worldwide by the United States and its allies.

The Selling of International Terrorism

Perdue also has a very good account of "the selling of terrorism" (Chapter 3). He describes how the media readily adopt the official identification of terrorists, confine the discussion to ways of meeting a self-evident terrorist threat, and ignore Western terror or make it into "counterterror." He shows how really gullible the Western media are, swallowing lies, small and large, with some of these belatedly and unapologetically corrected in the back pages.

He stresses that terror stories concerning the "proper" terrorists are highly salable and "commodified" in the Western media, not only meeting the standard of high marketability in a commercial media setting, but also serving well the ideological interests of the transnational corporate economy. Commodified terror stories build audiences and sell commercial messages, and also serve to mobilize people and justify attacks against threats to global corporate interests.

As Perdue points out, the commodification of terrorism - confined to cases fitting systemic needs - also comes very easily to the mass media by virtue of their ownership, frequent conglomerate linkage, and literal membership in a mutually supportive global corporate system.

Perdue effectively ties the Western media's selling of terrorism into the long debate over a New World Information Order (NWIO). He notes how the extremely self-serving Western media perspective on terrorism is transmitted through powerful Western-dominated agencies to the entire world as the view on terrorism. This is a compelling proof that a NWIO, which would not frame important issues solely in accord with the demands of dominant Western power, is desperately needed. A section on the stereotyping of Arabs in the media reinforces this point.

Perdue also provides an extended case study of the Reagan-era demonization of, and attacks on, Qaddafi and Libya, showing in detail the media's extreme bias and service as a propaganda agency of the state. He examines the 1981 "hit squad" episode and various others designed to make Libya the model of a modern terrorist state, in an interesting and persuasive account of real terrorism portrayed in the U.S. media as a response to terrorism.


William Perdue has written a very good book that deserves close reading and wide distribution and debate. It reverses the dominant Western frame of discussion, locating the most intimidating and destructive forms of terrorism in the Western states and their clients and in the needs of the global political economy dominated by the West. Perdue shows convincingly how the West and its intellectual and media agents have transformed the victims of terrorism into the terrorists, in a great feat of system-supportive word management and intellectual legerdemain. His work has the additional merits of providing historic and institutional context, describing the semantic and ideological background of Western practice, and tying the whole picture together as part of a global system of control.

At times the argument is weakened by an excessive pursuit of historic by-ways and linguistic and ideological fine points, and there is an occasional surfeit of rhetoric and sociological jargon. The copy editing of the book is also sadly deficient. Yet this is an important and useful work that raises questions that would be openly debated in a truly free society. The book has a contribution to make to an understanding of the Bush policies of selective opposition to "naked aggression" and insurgencies in Angola, Israel, Lebanon, Central America, the Gulf, and elsewhere. In fact, it provides a superb background for understanding the Gulf War, which fits the notion of a higher terrorism employed once again by the West to smash a threatening independent locus of power in the Third World. The neglect of Terrorism and the State by mainstream reviewers and analysts of terrorism is based more on its merits than its weaknesses and illustrates the process by which the imperialist paradigm maintains virtually uncontested sway.


(1). The Western model, die institutional apparatus that prepares and disseminates it, and the extent to which the mainstream experts confine themselves to Left and insurgent terror, are spelled out in detail in Edward S. Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan, The "Terrorism" Industry (New York: Pantheon, 1990).

Edward S. Herman teaches media analysis at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA 19104-6367) and is editor of Lies of Our Times; his most recent book, with Gerry O'Sullivan, is The "Terrorism" Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror (New York: Pantheon, 1990).
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Author:Herman, Edward S.
Publication:Social Justice
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1992
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