by Amy Levin and Abby Ohlheiser 

Lately media outlets have been telling us what Americans believe, from how much we think we should be taxed, to how much we like Muslims. Even how (much) we believe in God. What Pew or Gallup haven’t capitalized on yet is Americans’ obsession with terrorism.  How many of us believe in it—as a great danger to society, for instance—or how do we collectively define it—say, as a feature of particular world regions or cultures? Not unlike past eras when Americans developed their own definitions of Marxist, Communist, fascist, or anarchist (not anything good, mind you), in our current era we confidently call individuals with non-conformist, “subversive” ideologies “terrorist.” Sure, there is a technical definition for the word, but like any of the above descriptions, the more we use terrorist, the more obscure its meanings become. Why are certain political institutions reconstructing the definition of terrorism? Which forms of power succeed in remolding the word’s transformation?  What are the implications of invoking terrorist discourse?

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