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The Psychological and Social Impact of Terrorism

Question:

Write about the Effects of Terrorism Fear on Australian Society.

As against the general perception, terrorism is not merely expressed in the field of reality, but it is expressed in the field of potentiality. All the past and present actions of terrorism only offer support for the future actions. The psychological consequences of terrorism were described after the attacks that took place in Munich in 1972. The political and social climate at that time was also in favor of recognizing the psychological victims of terrorism. However, it was also made amply clear that very soon the retaliation will follow (Aly, and Balnaves, 2005). In the early epidemiological studies, initially there was reliance on the knowledge that has been acquired during the military conflicts that took place in the 20th century. However, later on, many studies took place that concentrated on the psychological impact of the attacks taking place in Europe or related with the Israel Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, after the terrorist attacks that took place in the United States in September 2001, it was claimed that the world has changed forever. After these attacks, there was a new era of ideological conflict, which was described as the clash of civilizations (Asensio, 2000). There was a new state of consciousness as the people were starting to live with the 'war on terror'. Five years after these attacks, it was reaffirmed by President Bush that there were new boundaries of the war on terror. He stated that this war on terror was more than a military conflict. It was termed as decisive ideological struggle that was taking place in the 21st century.

The people in Australia were told that they should remain alert but not alarmed. The then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard had invoked the cultural kinship of Australia with the United States and said that Australia along with the rest of the free world, remains a target of the terrorists (Hancock, 2002). He said that the horrifying events that took place in the United States in September 2001 have drawn Australia, along with the rest of the world, in a new and mainly and predictable environment of security. The people of Australia were told that after the 9/11 attacks, ‘insecurity' was the new normal routine. The result of this situation was that insecurity took the form of a perpetual state of alertness from a situational emotional response and terrorism was started to be considered as unknown but impending doom (Hoskins, 2006).

The Response to Terrorism After 9/11

The result of this fear of terrorism among the people was that even ordinary situations like traveling to and from work and common objects like a back pack or a mobile phone were subliminally related with the threat of terrorism. Therefore the threat of terrorism that is articulated in the form of the images of the ordinary and banal is present in everyday life. All this has resulted in increased security at the airports, the persistent surveillance by the National Security Information Campaign, which urges the people of Australia to report any "probable signs of terrorism" by using the national security hotline even after six years of the launch of the hotline by the previous government (HREOC, 2004). Similarly there is progressive introduction of legislative amendments that were introduced in the interest of national security and invoke the image of terrorism which also increases the threat of terrorism in the imagination of the general public.


According to the usage of the general public, an extended meaning has been has been given to the term terrorism. Therefore, under public usage, this term refers to a state of terror as it does to the acts of terrorism. Probably, the most significant example of how the boundaries of terror and terrorism have collapsed under public usage is the widespread use of the term 'war on terror' that is used in context of what essentially is the war on terrorism (Huysmans, 2004). At this point, it is particularly interesting to note that the term 'terror' is used to describe a state of extreme or intense fear. In this way, the use of the term 'terror' in place of terrorism means that fear or terror has taken the form of the most pervasive element in case of terrorism. Or in other words, the people have been successfully terrorized by terrorism (Metherell and Banham, 2005).

After the, tragic events of September, 2001, there was a new linguistic terminology that was coined in this regard and it was exclusively used in case of contemporary discourse related with terrorism. Therefore the phrases like “war on terror”, “Islamic extremists”, “and coalition of the willing”,“ militant Islam and the axis of evil” can trace their origin to the political rhetoric related within September 11 attacks, and the subsequent response to these attacks and the result is that these phrases have become staple in the media discourse related with terrorism (Robin, 2004).

The Australian Government's Counter-Terrorism Measures

Hence, these new discourses of terrorism have become a way of expressing the change that has taken place in the world and also as the means that can be used to define the state of constant alert. Now, terrorism had taken the form of new metonym in the modern times when the term 'war on terror' is used to describe a perpetual state of alertness and also the widespread strategic operations, internal security measures, border control policies and public awareness campaigns. As a result of the most fear of terror, there has been the construction of the Western world that is constantly facing the threat caused by terrorism (Spence, 2005).

After the 9/11 attacks, the government of Australia has also continued to introduce a wide range of counterterrorism measures. These include more than 30 legislative amendments that have been made to the Criminal Code, Crimes Legislation (2006), Telecommunications Act, 2004, Australian Security Intelligence Organization Legislation and Customs Legislation, 2006. Apart from these legislative amendments, the government of Australia has also introduced new legislation for example the Anti-Terrorism Bill, 2004; National Security Information Bill, 2005; Surveillance Devices Bill, 2004 and Aviation Transport Security Bill, 2003. Among the more recent amendments that have been introduced to the Aviation Transport Security Bill in 2007, gels, liquids and aerosols are regulated and similarly this legislation also allows for frisk searches. The Anti Terrorism Bill had amended the present offenses mentioned in the Criminal Code in order to clarify that it is not required that a particular terrorist acts should be identified in order to establish that an offense has taken place (Stern, 2004). Similarly, after the London terrorist bombing in 2005, the Australian government has also announced some amendments to the terrorism legislation. As a result of these amendments, police powers to detain the persons who were suspected of sedition were increased (Berrebi, 2008). Similarly, it has been claimed by the experts that the risk profile of Australia has remained unchanged. At the same time, Australia has not experienced a terrorist attack that was similar to the oceans of 9/11, Bali, Madrid or London (Berrebi and Klor, 2006).


Being involved in a number of counter-terrorism strategies that are disproportionate to the real risk of a terrorist attack means that as an object of fear, terrorism directs public concern and it positions the general public as the potential victims of the threat of terrorism that is always present. The nature of the measures that have been introduced by the government of Australia in response to the London on being, like the ones related with interrogating and detaining these suspected terrorists, may appear to be unreasonably authoritarian and amounting to an unthinkable assault on the civil liberties enjoyed by the people at one time (Crelinsten, 1998). However, in the 'war on terror' that is considered as a global battle that is taking place across the world between good and evil, the strategies and policies that appear to be impossible at one time have suddenly become to be considered as rational if not prudent (Crelinsten and Schmid, 1992).

Exploitation of Fear by Political Institutions

During a crisis, the reason the negotiation of the risk items marginalized. As a result of the war on terror, the discourses related with sovereignty and national security played an important role in intensifying the fear of terrorism, and therefore in marginalizing the reason the negotiation of risk caused by it. The apparent incongruence that exists between the threat of terrorism, perceived by the public revealing the public opinion polls and the actual risk profile of Australia has resulted in a conclusion by some scholars that the fear of terrorism if fact amounts to a fear of nothing. In reality, the fear of terrorism has become an anticipatory fear relying on chimera: the state's ability impact and induce collective opinion by increasing the real threat of terrorism (Croissant, 2007). In this regard, Robin (2004) has stated that the fear of terrorism in the society is an irrational fear of impending doom. This fear depends on the ability of the institutions, media and political, to increase the threat of terrorism and also to create a sense of insecurity and anxiety among the people. This type of approach towards the fear reveals that in case of Australia, the fear of terrorism can be a reaction to an unknown danger that is transmitted through the society into the focus that has been placed on the prevention of terrorism. The views held by Robin are based on the fact that a terrorist attack has not taken place on the Australian soil and also on the assumption that the fear and anxiety of the society regarding terrorism is different from the threat or the chances of an actual attack by the terrorists (Eubank and Weinberg, 2008).

However, not being the fear of nothing, the fear of terrorism in society can result in a rational and real fear. That is the result of actual and lived experiences related to terrorism and how it affects the routine lives of the people. In order to counter the arguments that have been given by the supporters of political fear, it can be suggested that the fear of the society regarding terrorism is not merely the fear of terrorist per se or it is not only the perceived risk that the people may suffer physical harm during a terrorist attack. Instead, the conceptualization of the fear of terrorism is required to take into account the worry, distress and anxiety as well as the concern related with political and social influence of global terrorism and also the counterterrorism response at the local level. These responses are not uncertain and similarly they are not figments, but they are the responses that have and continue to be the real consequences faced by the people in the routine lives. Responses like increased discrimination, heightened security and the vilification of Muslims in Australia, along with social disharmony and manipulation of community may have some very real impacts.


Apart from it, there is a tendency among the media and the popular discourses related terrorism in Australia to prompt a debate concerning the presence of Islam in Australia, portrayed in the form of a clash between cultural values. This discourse was further, assisted by the comments that have been made by Federal politicians.

The ongoing media in popular discourse related to terrorism mentions the war on terror as a global battle that is taking place between 'us' and 'them' or the 'West' and 'others'. Under these circumstances, the others become objects of fear, suspicion and concern. Under these circumstances, the war on terror, not only becomes an even in space and time but also a metonym for a New World order that draws on the distinction that exists between 'us' and 'them' and the 'West' and 'others'. It also motivates a collective identity on the basis of the construction of 'us' as the victims and 'them' being the objects of fear suspicion and concern.

References

Aly, A., and Balnaves, M. (2005) The atmosfear of terror: Affective modulation and the war on terror, M/C Journal (Vol. 8).

Asensio, M. (2000). Choosing NVivo to support phenomenographic research in networked learning, Paper presented at the Second International on Networked Learnings, Lancaster, England.

Berrebi, C. (2008) ‘Are voters sensitive to terrorism? Direct evidence from the Israeli electorate’, American Political Science Review 102(3): 279–301.

Berrebi, C. and Klor, E. (2006) ‘On terrorism and electoral outcomes: theory and evidence from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict’. The Journal of Conflict Resolution 50(December): 899–925.

Crelinsten, R. (1998) ‘The discourse and practice of counter-terrorism in liberal democracies’, Australian Journal of Politics and History 44(1): 389–413.

Crelinsten, R. and Schmid, A. (1992) ‘Western responses to terrorism: a twenty-five year balance sheet’. Terrorism and Political Violence 4(4): 307–40.

Croissant, A. (2007) ‘Muslim insurgency, political violence and democracy in Thailand’, Terrorism and Political Violence 19(1): 1–18.

Eubank, W. and Weinberg, L. (2008) ‘Terrorism and democracy: perpetrators and victims’. Terrorism and Political Violence 13(1): 155–64.

Hancock, N. (2002). Terrorism and the law in Australia: Supporting material: Department of the Parliamentary Library.

Hoskins, A. (2006). Temporality, proximity and security: Terror in a media-drenched age. International Relations, 20, 453- 468

HREOC. (2004). Ismaa- Listen: National consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians. Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Huysmans, J. (2004). Minding exceptions: The politics of insecurity and liberal democracy, Contemporary Political Theory, 3 (3), 321- 322

Metherell, M., and Banham, C. (2005) Security clampdown for Australian buses and trains, The Sydney Morning Herald, p. 16  

Robin, C. (2004). Fear: The history of a political idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Spence, K. (2005). World risk society and war against terror, Political Studies, 53 (2), 284 304

Stern, J. (2004). Fearing Evil, Social Research, 71 (4), 1111-1117.

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