Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-58z7q Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-11T10:39:33.097Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

6 - Terrorism and counterterrorism

What is at risk?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Layla Skinns
University of Cambridge
Michael Scott
University of Cambridge
Tony Cox
University of Cambridge
Get access


Social scientists tell us we live in a ‘world risk society’. But what does this mean post 9/11? By any account the risk to our collective security and, no less importantly, our subjective sense of security, was altered radically by the tragic events of that day. Of course terrorism was far from unknown before 9/11, but it did not occupy the public imagination in the way it has done since. Risk commentators were quick to add terrorist threat to the catalogue of environmental, health and engineering risks, and natural catastrophes already said to characterise the world risk society. But the risks born of terrorism are very different from those posed by climate change and ’flu pandemics. If risk is to avoid becoming an undifferentiated amalgam of unnamed perils we need to think a little harder about what or who is at risk.

This is all the more important because seeking security from terrorism has the quality of a trump card. Play the security hand and countervailing interests, not least our civil liberties, lose out. Despite their rarity, acts of terrorism pose a risk of catastrophic harm that inclines us to accept whatever policies seem to offer some prospect of protection. Although counterterrorist measures may discriminate unfairly and erode civil liberties unwarrantedly, the urge to reduce risk prevails. Balancing liberty and security assumes a zero-sum game in which by eroding liberty we can reduce risk. In place of balancing we would do better to think about the whole range of risks associated with terrorism and consider how seeking to avert risk may have the effect of introducing new hazards. By focusing on the obvious risks – threats to life and property, and subjective insecurity or terror itself – we risk overlooking the fact that countering terrorism carries its own hazards: risks to political and economic life; risks to social cohesion, community and race relations; risks to rights (rights to freedom of speech, privacy and freedom of the person) and risks for the rule of law. Add to this the risk of marginalising and alienating those we target and we arrive at the paradoxical situation that counterterrorism policies may make further attack more, not less, likely. So we need to consider what risks are really at stake when we seek to counter terrorist risk.

Risk , pp. 109 - 130
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Cornall, R 2007 The effectiveness of criminal laws on terrorismLaw and Liberty in the War on TerrorLynch, AMacdonald, EWilliams, GAnnandale, NSWFederation PressGoogle Scholar
Edwards, C 2009 Resilient publications/resilientnationGoogle Scholar
Feldman, D 2006 Human rights, terrorism and risk: the role of politicians and judgesPublic Law 364Google Scholar
Home Office 2009 Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Scholar
Mueller, J 2005 Simplicity and spook: terrorism and the dynamics of threat exaggerationInternational Studies Perspectives 6 208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O’Malley, P 2004 The uncertain promise of riskAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 37 323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ramraj, V. V 2005 Terrorism, risk perception and judicial reviewGlobal Anti-Terrorism Law and PolicyRamraj, V. VHor, MRoach, KCambridgeCambridge University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosenfeld, R 2004 Terrorism and criminologyTerrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Criminological PerspectivesAmsterdamElsevierGoogle Scholar
Sunstein, C. R 2003 Terrorism and probability neglectJournal of Risk and Uncertainty 26 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tversky, A.Kahneman, D 1974 Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biasesScience 112 61Google Scholar
Ackermann, B 2006 Before the Next Attack: Preserving Civil Liberties in an Age of TerrorismNew HavenYale University PressGoogle Scholar
Cole, D 2003 Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on TerrorismNew YorkNew PressGoogle Scholar
Dershowitz, A 2003 Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the ChallengeNew HavenYale University PressGoogle Scholar
Hewitt, S 2008 The British War on Terror: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism on the Home Front since 9/11LondonContinuumGoogle Scholar
Ignatieff, M 2004 The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of TerrorEdinburgh University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lynch, A.MacDonald, E.Williams, G 2007 Law and Liberty in the War on TerrorAnnandale, NSWFederation PressGoogle Scholar
Posner, R 2004 Catastrophe: Risk and ResponseOxford University PressGoogle Scholar
Sunstein, C 2004 Laws of FearCambridge University PressGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats