Vol. 15 No.6 (June 2005), pp.501-503

TERRORISM AND COUNTER-TERRORISM:  CRIMINOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES, by Mathieu Deflem (ed.).  Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004.  226 pp. Cloth.  £63.50 / €95.00 / $95.00. ISBN: 0-7623-1040-5.

Reviewed by Priscilla H. M. Zotti, Department of Political Science, The United States Naval Academy.  Email:  zotti@usna.edu .

TERRORISM AND COUNTER-TERRORISM:  CRIMINOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES is a collection of eleven essays brought together by editor Mathieu Deflem to present an overview of terrorism and counter-terrorism scholarship, in terms of social control, crime, and law.  The fifth volume in a series, entitled “Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance,” this work is the child of September 11, 2001.  The book showcases the contribution of criminological sociologists to the study and understanding of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

The first section discusses the theoretical foundations of studying terrorism and the viewpoint of criminological sociology.  The first author, Donald Black, writes in his chapter, “Terrorism as Social Control,” that the act of terrorism is a form of unilateral self-help.  In defining terrorism, Black states that self-help, the handling of a grievance with aggression, is a distinguishing characteristic.  Terrorism is highly violent, more so than other forms of self-help aggression like assault.  He goes on to define and distinguish terrorism as well organized, mass violence, and quasi-warfare.  Pure terrorism is a by product of the modern age as is international terrorism in which grievances and their aggression cross national borders.  The author’s goal is foundational, to establish definitions and terms as a building block of inquiry.

Richard Rosenfeld builds on Black’s work by considering the predatory nature of terrorism and the institutional components which assist the growth and development of terrorism. In other words, Rosenfeld adds a criminological perspective to Black’s sociological one. His chapter, “Terrorism and Criminology,” applauds the sociological approach to terrorism as social behavior.  Yet the weakness of Black’s work, from Rosenfeld’s viewpoint, is that it does not make use of the contributions of criminologists.  Rosenfeld argues that the use of predatory violence to accomplish moralistic goals is an aspect of terrorism which is missed by Black’s pure sociological approach.

In “A Reciprocal Approach to Terrorism and Terrorist-Like Behavior,” Gregg Barak espouses a theory of violent and nonviolent behavior that cuts across interpersonal, institutional and structural spheres of social organizations.  He applies this theory in his piece to three terrorist-like behaviors.  Focusing on “killer boys,” “suicidal terrorists,” and genocidal exterminators,” Barak broadens the definitional boundaries.   He links the three examples, proposing that in each the perpetrators and victims are dealing with issues of shame, esteem, and lost, repressed, or suppressed anger. [*502] Certainly a vantage point atypical of the political and religious motivations for international terrorism, Barak’s narrative makes the point that institutional and interpersonal failings can contribute to violence toward others. The definition of terrorism is sociological in nature and broad in application.

The second section of the book addresses methodological issues in terrorism research. The first chapter assesses the similarities and differences between crime and terrorism research.  Indeed, Gary LaFree and Laura Dugan survey the current state of the literature and glean similar and different constructs for terrorism and crime. The authors also explain that most crime data are based on official reports (such as the Uniform Crime Reports in the United States), self reporting, or victimization studies. Global event data sets, such as the Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services, have been created to identify and code terrorist events.  The State Department, RAND and other domestic and international organizations attempt to capture and codify terror.  The authors then consider the methodologies appropriate for analyzing these data sets and conclude that the similarities between crime and terrorism research should encourage criminologists to undertake more work in advancing the study of terrorism.

The remaining chapters of the methodological section call for better use of existing data and the creation of more useful data sets.  In the chapter, “Terrorism and Empirical Testing:  Using Indictment Data to Assess Changes in Terrorist Conduct,” the authors argue that the empirical assessment of rarely used data sets can advance the study of terrorism.  In “Counteracting Terror: Group Design and Response Modalities,” the author analyzes the United States government’s categorization of terrorist groups.  Concluding that the methodologies used are inadequate, the author proposes two models to better categorize terrorist activity.

The final authors in this section argue that, although the shift in federal funding after 9/11 to study terrorism is meaningful, it still represents only a small proportion of the federally funded research agenda.  In “Terrorism and the Federal Social Science Research Agenda,” the authors document the budgetary contribution to the social science study of terrorism before and after 9/11.  It is interesting to note that monies flow to agencies as diverse as the National Institute of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health as well as Homeland Security.

The next section of the book concerns counter-terrorism, ideology and security.  Two authors write here, both assessing various responses to the attacks of 9/11.  “Neoconservatism and American Counter-Terrorism:  Endarkened Policy?” addresses the case of Guantanamo Bay. Rather than analyzing the policy of detaining enemy combatants from a military or political perspective, the author considers the ideology of neoconservatism and elements of it, such as secrecy and elitism. The author argues that in the aftermath of 9/11, aggressively classifying documents as secret and using tools such as the Patriot Act support a neoconservative response. The author concludes that this response is an [*503] endarkened policy of governance which manipulates national security and fails the standard of legitimacy.  The author is blunt in his disdain for the counter-terrorism approach, as he views it, in Guantanamo Bay.  Another political piece is by Bonnie Berry in which she draws parallels between the right wing ideology of American politics and right wing terrorism groups.  Taken almost entirely from news sources, the piece is clear in its anti-Bush stance. This section of the book is more political than scholarly.

The remaining portion of the book concerns the construction of terrorism.  The first authors consider terrorism as a construct of moral panic.  Victor E. Kappeler and Aaron E. Kappeler analyze speeches by political and law enforcement figures to identify the constructs of political discourse.  Rhetoric, in terms of saving civilization, vilifying the enemy, and terrorism as epidemic, all serve to create dramatic dichotomies and distinctions for public consumption.  The authors argue that more research is needed to codify the language of leaders in the messages they send to the public at large.

In “the Challenge of Terrorism to Free Societies in the Global Village,” Paul Leighton calls upon criminologists to reinvigorate the understanding of crime in a free society and consider the new challenges that terrorism brings.  Leighton argues that criminologists could suffer from disciplinary inertia if they fail to think about terrorism differently in the post-9/11 world.  If criminologists view the war on terrorism as they have the war on drugs, their contributions to understanding could be minimal.  The author challenges others to think globally and to apply theoretical constructs to new situations.  Leighton persuasively makes the case that the challenges of understanding terrorism call for creative and inventive approaches.

The collection of writings in TERRORISM AND COUNTER-TERRORISM is diverse.  As editor, Deflem chose a wide-ranging group of authors, presenting varied work—some quite scholarly, some more theoretical, others more political.  Readers will have to choose which are the most useful for their purposes. Considered as a whole, this book reveals the schism existing among disciplines in their approaches to inquiry and study.  Perhaps it is not a schism, just varied perspectives which lack integration.  It is fascinating to understand the sociological and criminological views of terrorism, yet disheartening to see such little overlap among criminologists, sociologists, and political scientists.


© Copyright 2005 by the author, Priscilla H. M. Zotti.