These and many other questions about the now six-year-old ‘war on terror’ have been examined by Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, in his latest book Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown.
Published by Continuum Books on 25 October, Professor Furedi’s thought-provoking book argues that what we really need to worry about is not what terrorists do but our reaction to it. It argues that Western society lacks the cultural and intellectual resources to deal with this threat. For example, politicians who frequently claim that ‘our way of life’ faces an existential threat find it difficult to explain just what that way of life is and why it is worth defending.
Professor Furedi also explores how, as society has become increasingly apprehensive about the future, it has reached the point where it regards itself as a vulnerable target. This defensive response is influenced by many causes, the most important of which is the difficulty society has in endowing conflict and the threat it faces with meaning. Professor Furedi argues that the words used to describe the threat of terrorism – unimaginable, incomprehensible, beyond meaning – further serve to deflect our understanding of the issues at stake.
Professor Furedi said: ‘Unlike in previous wars and conflicts, today our sense of terror precedes and extends beyond acts of terrorism. Official reaction is driven by a narrative of fear that invites us to regard terrorism as incomprehensible, senseless and beyond meaning. Such a response based on confusion authorises acts of speculation and fantasy as legitimate forms of threat assessment. This dramatisation of security transmits a sense of helplessness that inadvertently offers society’s enemies an invitation to terrorise. The good news is that it is not very difficult to diminish the impact of this threat through changing the way we engage with it.’
Invitation to Terror will be launched at the Battle of Ideas, London, Sunday 28 October, where Professor Furedi will participate in a public debate.
Earlier this year Professor Furedi presented a paper to a New York audience that examined the components of what constitutes the experience of fear in contemporary society.
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