Terrorism and counter-terrorism have historically evolved in various forms. Terrorism has increasingly diversified in terms of the objectives that are pursued, and counterterrorism efforts have likewise proliferated across a range of institutions. Criminologists have contributed to the study of terrorism and terrorism-related phenomena by focusing on terrorism as crime or deviance and counterterrorism as social control. The incorporation of terrorism and counter-terrorism as distinctly criminological topics of research serves to bring important dimensions to terrorism studies that other disciplines do not focus on. The criminological study of terrorism and counter-terrorism also has the added benefit of broadening the scope of existing criminological theories beyond their traditional areas of application.
Terrorism and counter-terrorism present important intellectual challenges for criminological theory and research and are likely to remain important for many years to come. Studying the causes and motives of terrorism, criminologists can unravel many of the complexities in the development and proliferation of terrorist activities across the world. The most critical contribution of criminology in this area is the study not merely of crimes or acts of deviance associated with terrorism, but of terrorism itself as crime or as deviance. Developing theory and undertaking research in this area, criminologists can expand social-scientific knowledge and contribute to building a counterterrorism policy that is effective and just in tackling terrorist violence.
Studying counter-terrorism as a form of social control and, more specifically, a component of criminal justice, criminological research can bring out the security dimensions of social control that are not of a military or political character. Much of the contemporary public discourse on terrorism, especially in the popular media, typically focuses on counter-terrorism in the world of politics and in relation to war, but criminologists can reveal the manner in which institutions of social control, particularly law enforcement agencies, conceive of and respond to terrorism as a criminal matter. The targets of counter-terrorism are thereby treated as suspects, who are given certain rights of due process on the basis of publicly presented evidence in courts, and who, upon a determination of guilt, can receive punishment. Military counter-terrorism operations, by contrast, are oriented at enemies, not suspects, who can be apprehended or killed in combat. Captured enemies are detained, to be released when a cessation of hostilities has been declared. The respective logics of criminal justice policy and military counter-terrorism actions, then, are very different, although they factually coexist in the wider constellation of counter-terrorism today. Bringing out the essentially multidimensional nature of counter-terrorism is among criminology’s most exciting challenges.
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