Frank, Michael C.
Conjuring up the next attack : the future-orientedness of terror and the counterterrorist imagination
2015-04-09, Frank, Michael C.
Although terrorism is widely understood to be the politically motivated creation of fear by means of violence in a target group, the nature of that fear is seldom explained or even considered. The present article attempts to close that gap by proposing a definition of terror as the apprehension of (more) violence to come. Because every terrorist act is perceived to be part of a potential series, terror is oriented towards the future and involves the imaginary anticipation of prospective events. On the basis of this definition, I will examine the problematical role of counterterrorist discourse. As the statements of public officials and security experts in the run-up to, and during, the “War on Terror” demonstrate, the peculiar dynamic of terror is, seemingly paradoxically, reinforced by counterterrorist rhetoric. With its insistence on the escalatory nature of terrorist violence and its repeated prediction of even worse attacks, counterterrorism contributes to the evocation of terror in the sense proposed here.
At War with the Unknown : Hollywood, Homeland Security, and the Cultural Imaginary of Terrorism after 9/11
2015, Frank, Michael C.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration established a security discourse based on the paradigm of “uncertain threats,” characterizing the “war on terror” as a war against the “unknown.” From the point of view of this new security discourse, counterterrorism should not confine itself to the accumulation of data concerning the goals, strategies, and means of terrorist networks. It also depends on ingenuity on the part of security analysts in the imagination of possible present and future events. Besides analyzing facts, counterterrorism has to work speculatively through possibilities, to think in the subjunctive. Consequently, members of the Hollywood entertainment industry were invited by the Pentagon in October 2001 “to brainstorm about possible terrorist targets and schemes in America and to offer solutions to those threats.” The present article argues that the consideration of fiction as potential fact is symptomatic of the discursive response to terror, which oscillates between the real (actual incidents of political violence) and the imaginary (anticipated further attacks), both drawing on and contributing to what I propose to conceptualize as the cultural imaginary of terrorism. Although this dynamic became particularly salient after 9/11, it has a much longer history, going back to the first emergence of sub-state violence against public targets at the close of the nineteenth century, when several literary writers devised spectacular scenarios of attacks from the air or with biological weapons. What distinguishes these late-Victorian fictions from post-9/11 counterterrorist discourse, however, is that the latter has made the imaginary an integral feature of homeland defense and thus a basis for political practice.