A TIME OF TERROR: How Democratic Societies Respond to Revolutionary Violence by J. Bowyer Bell

A TIME OF TERROR: How Democratic Societies Respond to Revolutionary Violence

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A longtime student of terrorist organizations and tactics (The Secret Army, 1971; Terror Out of Zion, 1976), Bell examines the ongoing attempt of democratic states to formulate a response--thus far neither coherent nor ideologically consistent--to the hijacker, gunman, and hostage-taker. What is remarkable is not Bell's conclusion that terrorism is here to stay, but the bemused, almost casual tolerance he accords it. Highly vulnerable technological societies, taking refuge in SWAT teams, commando squads, and think-tank ""experts,"" still have no way to guard against, for instance, the five Croatian patriots who took a 1976 TWA flight around the world using ""bombs"" made of old cooking pots. The joke, Bell seems to be saying, is on us. Discounting the horror scenarios of those who tremble at nuclear terror or poisoned water supplies, Bell cautions that a greater danger is overreaction which may, as in Uruguay, close an open society. This is not a novel idea (see Jan Schreiber, The Ultimate Weapon, p. 96) but Bell carries it one step further. When dealing with terrorists, he argues, ""less is more""; Special Powers Acts, as in Ireland, are rarely rescinded once on the books. ""The state response to challenge tends to be irreversible."" Lest he be charged with a do-nothing posture, Bell concedes that stiffened airport checks, psychological profiles of psychopaths, and no-sanctuary pacts between countries at the very least provide a patina of security that may allay the panic of citizens. In the case of real grievances by the rebels (an irredendist or nationalist cause), Bell urges swift action toward political devolution--as happened in Southern Tyrol--to forestall another Ulster-like impasse. A spotty book made up of familiar arguments with odd new twists and a disconcerting fatalism that says hurricanes and terrorists will always be with us.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1978
Publisher: Basic Books