The Terror Process

In the book, “Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction” by Charles Townshend, Townshend states that there is a process to terror; the process in which states and sub-state actors can be implicated. The process consists of three major elements:

  1. Seizing attention.
  2. Sending a message.
  3. Coercing a response.

The first step involves seizing attention – either the attention of the government, the public or another targeted audience. Terrorism, in that sense, requires an audience. It is a show of destruction. It captures an audience and it creates fear, hysteria, alarm, a sense of vulnerability and even excitement and fascination with the event.

The second step is to send a message – either through the act of violence itself (e.g. propaganda by deed or, say, calling a radio station mid-attack and stating why it is happening) or with an official statement, letter or other delivery message (e.g. a martyrdom video featuring a list of demands or reasons for committing the attack).

The third step is to coerce a response. The terrorists objectives might not be to coerce a positive response in relation to their demands, but to coerce governments into making rash decisions or statements that compliment the terrorists strategy and ideology. Any response may be calculated to be favourable to the terrorist organisation: win-win.


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