Demon States

Sometime in the early 1980's, terrorism ceased to be seen as a tactic and became a movement. Originally, the term referred to acts committed by a government against its own people, on the precedent of the French revolutionary Terror in the 1790's. Gradually, the word shifted its meaning, to denote violent resistance against governments; and most recently, Terrorism (usually capitalized) became the specter haunting the West, the armed fist of Islamic and Oriental despotism against democracy and Judeo-Christian civilization. This monstrous empire had its distinctive geography, with seats of peculiar evil in Damascus and Tehran, Khartoum and Tripoli. Terrorism thus construed was a force Out There that threatened our cities and streets: the nightmare was that it could someday "come to America."

While this vision was always flawed, the whole concept of terrorism as an alien and Oriental force seems particularly tenuous after the Oklahoma City bombing, which led many writers to recall the lengthy history of violence within the United States. However, the idea of terrorism as a Middle Eastern predilection still pervades Western attitudes, both at the popular and political levels. It is most in evidence following some terrorist spectacular like last year's attack on American forces in Saudi Arabia or (arguably) the downing of TWA Flight 800. At these times, the media are generally full of elaborate flow charts depicting...

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