In September 2011, I attended a conference entitled, ‘A Decade of Terrorism and Counter-terrorism since 9/11: Taking Stock and New Directions in Research and Policy’, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK. Here, I gave a talk entitled ‘Unknown Knowns: The Subjugated Knowledge of Terrorism’. You can watch a video of my lecture, and other lectures from the conference, here.
The aim of my talk was to try and explain some crucial puzzles I have become aware of recently. Primarily, I was trying to explain why Terrorism Studies and Peace Studies have remained largely divorced, despite the fact that they both study the same thing? That is, they both study violent political conflict, but most of the research and scholars who focus on understanding and resolving violent political conflict within Peace Studies remain largely unacknowledged within the Terrorism Studies field. What might explain this state of affairs?
And why it is that most terrorism scholars, politicians and the media don’t seem to ‘know’ that terrorism is most often caused by military intervention overseas, and not religion, radicalization, insanity, ideology, poverty or such like? And how do they not know it when even the Pentagon has known it for years? For example, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board stated in the late 1990s that there is “a historical correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States”. Following this, an article entitled “DOES U.S. INTERVENTION OVERSEAS BREED TERRORISM?“ by Ivan Eland set out to examine the historical record. After extensive research, Eland concluded: “The large number of terrorist attacks that occurred in retaliation for an interventionist American foreign policy implicitly demonstrates that terrorism against U.S. targets could be significantly reduced if the United States adopted a policy of military restraint overseas.” This finding supports a veritable mountain of other research, including a recent ESRC-funded project on the motivations of jihadists. The question is: why isn’t this knowledge – and much more besides – more widely known, especially among Terrorism Studies scholars?
In my talk, I discuss many more examples of such ‘unknown’ knowledge in Terrorism Studies, before going on to explore the specific mechanisms and processes by which certain forms of knowledge are sometimes suppressed, hidden or ‘subjugated’ within the field. Next, I explore some of the consequences of such suppressions and exclusions. Apart from maintaining a kind of dominant commonsense about terrorism, I argue that the presence of subjugated knowledge means that the Terrorism Studies field exists in a highly unstable condition where certain forms of knowledge are simultaneously ‘known’ and ‘unknown’. In this unstable state, eruptions of subjugated knowledge sometimes emerge to destabilize the dominant terrorism discourse. I conclude by suggesting that Critical Terrorism Studies has a real opportunity to de-subjugate knowledge through various forms of discursive struggle.