Demon StatesrnThe Construction of a Terrorist Networkrnby Philip JenkinsrnSometime in the early 1980’s, terrorism ceased to be seen asrna tactic and became a movement. Originally, the term referredrnto acts committed by a government against its own people,rnon the precedent of the French revolutionary Terror in thern1790’s. Gradually, the word shifted its meaning, to denote violentrnresistance against governments; and most recently, Terrorismrn(usually capitalized) became the specter haunting thernWest, the armed fist of Islamic and Oriental despotism againstrndemocracy and Judeo-Christian civilization. This monstrousrnempire had its distinctive geography, with seats of peculiar evilrnin Damascus and Tehran, Khartoum and Tripoli. Terrorismrnthus construed was a force Out There that threatened our citiesrnand streets: the nightmare was that it could someday “come tornAmerica.”rnWhile this vision was always flawed, the whole concept ofrnterrorism as an alien and Oriental force seems particulariy tenuousrnafter the Oklahoma City bombing, which led many writersrnto recall the lengthy history of violence within the IJnitedrnStates. However, the idea of terrorism as a Middle Easternrnpredilection still pervades Western attitudes, both at the popularrnand political levels. It is most in evidence following somernterrorist spectacular like last year’s attack on American forces inrnSaudi Arabia or (arguably) the downing of TWA Flight 800. Atrnthese times, the media are generally full of elaborate flow chartsrndepicting the dissemination of money and techniques fromrnparticular countries to international groups and individuals,rnwhose networks are drawn with loving care. This materialrnpermits governments to declare that action X can infallibly bernassociated with Group Y, which serves as a surrogate for nationrnZ; which in the correct circumstances can thus qualify itself tornbecome the target of American bombs or Gruise missiles.rnRemarkably, virtually nobody ever questions the attributionsrnPhilip Jenkins is head of the Religious Studies program at PennrnState University. His latest book is Pedophiles and Priests:rnAnatom)’ of a Social Grisis (Oxford University Press).rnof blame offered in such accounts, whether they derive fromrnthe elite journalists of the New York Times and Wall Street journalrnor from the talking heads on the Cable News Network, TedrnTurner’s very own News Lite. Do these people really know whatrnthey are talking about? And even if they did, would they be presentingrnthe unvarnished truth to the watching millions? Thisrnlack of critical assessment is striking because we now knowrnenough to say that for over a decade, a sizable proportion of therninterpretations of terrorism emanating from these same sourcesrnwas bunk. Real perpetrators of terrorism were by and large ignored,rnusually because they were seen, however improbably, asrnour friends, while other petty villains were constantly highlightedrnand exaggerated because they had offended the wrong peoplernand often lacked the military strength to prevent them fromrnbeing penalized (frequently for the crimes of others). Moreover,rnthese misinterpretations were well known to policymakersrnat the time. It may be, of course, that these problems are nowrnwholly resolved, and that governments and intelligence agenciesrnare telling the media the whole pristine truth about whatrnthey know concerning terrorist actions, but this seems improbable.rnPolitical distortions affect not only the grand picture of terrorism,rnbut also the investigation of terrorist acts. Contrary tornthe rhetoric of impartial science and forensic investigation,rnsuch reconstructions tend to be a profoundly political process,rnin which blame is attributed through a kind of intuition, subjectrnto political pressure. Results are arrived at through negotiation,rnand evidence is then highlighted or discarded to achievernand publicize a desired result. The resulting interpretationrnthen enters the realm of universally acknowledged fact, and inrnturn shapes future investigations: if I had not believed it, Irnwould not have seen it with my own eyes!rnThe difficulties inherent in understanding terrorism can bernillustrated from the terrorist wave that appeared to sweep overrnWestern countries in the mid-1980’s, and specifically duringrnthe one year of 1986. This was the time of such atrocities as thernJANUARY 1997/27rnrnrn