This chapter provides an overview and analysis of global terrorism. Its main argument is that any understanding of terrorism must come to terms with its global root causes. The first part emphasises the importance of locating terrorism in its social and historical context if it is to be properly understood. The second, whilst acknowledging the contested nature of terrorism, offers a working definition of what terrorism is. The third addresses some of the reasons why terrorism is such a controversial subject. The fourth elaborates how terrorism has been transformed under conditions of globalisation. The final part clears up some misconceptions surrounding terrorism's root causes.
Contemporary terrorism in context
More than five years after the tragedy of 11 September 2001 and President Bush's declaration of the ‘war on terror’, the threat of terrorism is more pervasive than ever. Since September 11, attacks have occurred against commercial and civilian targets across a diverse terrain including Britain, Jordan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Turkey. At the same time, although they have not attracted as much attention, less spectacular terrorist strikes have imposed similarly serious economic, social and psychological costs on communities in sub-Saharan Africa and in Central and South America. The net effect of this pattern of violence has been a steady supply of media-friendly outrages that have kept terrorism at the forefront of the Western imagination and turned counter-terrorism into a new organising principle within domestic and international politics (see Table 27.1).