Talking about terror: Counterterrorist campaigns and the logic of representation

Arjun Chowdhury, Ronald R. Krebs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Counterterrorist state forces and terrorist insurgents compete to control not only territory and populations but language. The success of counterterrorism, therefore, hinges crucially on representational practices. Defeating terrorism in the long run requires both undermining the legitimacy of political violence and its purveyors and opening space for the pursuit of a less violent but still legitimate politics, and these are fundamentally rhetorical projects. Yet the literature has not shed much light on either the range of conceivable counterterrorist representational strategies or on states' particular representational choices. This article presents and illustrates a typology of counterterrorist representational strategies. It argues that state leaders should ideally delegitimize the extremists' means while politicizing some of their aspirations. Leaders often do not pursue this rhetorical path, however, due to the constraints imposed by existing understandings of terrorist organizations and especially by foundational discourses. These arguments are explored empirically through studies of the Indian, Spanish, and Turkish counterterrorist campaigns. The article concludes by extending the framework to clarify why the militarized rhetoric of the so-called 'War on Terror' is counterproductive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-150
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Counterterrorism
  • Discourse
  • Representation
  • Rhetoric
  • Terrorism


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