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Academic, Writing

Working paper: The Terror Scare: War on Terror Mythology and Moral Panic


‘Moral judgment about the historical events with which War on Terror narratives have become associated has become implicit in the mere act of referring to them. As a result of the currency it has gained through widespread usage in the mass media, irrespective of its patent lack of objectivity, usage of the proper noun ‘War on Terror’ has become obligatory, making moral judgment impossible to avoid. Because its characteristic bias favours the neoconservative policies of the Bush administration, the necessity of using the proper noun ‘War on Terror’ has forced any reference to the events with which it has become associated to implicitly conform to the process of framing narratives in terms legitimizing military aggression and state terrorism carried out in violation of international law. While numerous attempts have been made in the decade and a half since to make sense of the 9/11 atrocities using the framework established by ‘War on Terror’ narratives, their implicit moral judgment frustrates impartiality, much less to say understanding. The ideological narratives associated with the Western response to the 9-11 attacks have displayed characteristics that are far more accurately cast as moral panic. A number of key characteristics points inexorably towards this conclusion: 1) the conflation in War on Terror narratives of object and relation; 2) the function of War on Terror narratives as a propaganda trope; 3) the processes known to sociology as the ‘production of deviance’ and social psychology as ‘moral disengagement’; 4) the way those responsible for creating WoT narratives reconstruct themselves as cures to problems for which they are the primary cause; 5) the systemic and deep-seated cognitive dissonance characteristic of WoT narratives between rhetoric and actions. On the basis of the above, this article argues that the entire period is more accurately described as a Terror Scare, a moral panic over terrorism and the first truly global moral panic.’

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