“Terror” is a complex word that refers both to physical violence and to the emotional response produced by that violence. While this dual meaning has persisted for centuries, the term’s connotations have shifted in the modern era in relation to the perceived source of such force. In contrast to earlier usages that reference punitive measures of the state, such as political violence and persecution, terror is now used to name threats posed by nonstate actors. Though amplified in the United States after 9/11, this shift began in the context of conflict with militant left and liberation struggles throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the rearticulation of radicalism with anti-Americanism and terrorism during the 1970s, and the advent of wars on drugs, crime, and terror in recent decades. The result is a notion of terror that is shorthand for an abstract, state-sanctioned war against a multivalent idea (terrorism) and an ambiguous actor (the terrorist). This meaning obscures the history of state violence administered in the United States, and increasingly across the globe, to control and dominate particular populations. As such, the rhetoric of terror narrows the discourse of dissent and debate toward state-sanctioned ideologies and otherwise permissible views, beliefs, and actions.


This essay may be found on page 240 of the printed volume.

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