It would be interesting to know why George W. Bush and his inner circle decided to call their neo-imperialist crusade a “War on Terror” and not a war on terrorism. Why, in other words, they waged war against a feeling, rather than against a political phenomenon. Doclisboa, one of Europe’s most daring and ingenious festivals, this year dedicated a program not to the issue of terrorism itself, but to its on-screen representation. It’s an issue made all the more relevant not only by the tragic attacks that recently shook the French capital and beyond, but also by the crucial role that visual (self-)representation of terrorism plays both in our perception of it and its amplitude. Terror groups, or alleged such, have always counted on and manipulated the media to amplify the reach of their actions, for there cannot be hysteria without the mass-mediated propagation of fear—a lesson ISIS seems to have learned criminally well judging from its sophisticated online presence, brand awareness and lethal propaganda machine made of Hollywood-like trailers and intimidating “coming soon.” To analyze the representation of terrorism is to understand the way it functions and perpetrates its deadly goals, but also the way in which it is used to justify repression and mass surveillance. The definition of terrorism, often hazy and subject to interpretation, is on the contrary ontologically clear. The Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation against innocent civilians in the pursuit of political aims.” While officialdom and authorization may be debatable concepts, the killing of innocent civilians is certainly not.
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