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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

In counterterrorism circles, the standard response to questions about the possibility of future attacks is the terse one-liner: “Not if, but when.” This mantra supposedly conveys a realistic approach to the problem, but, as Joseba Zulaika argues in Terrorism, it functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. By distorting reality to fit their own worldview, the architects of the War on Terror prompt the behavior they seek to prevent—a twisted logic that has already played out horrifically in Iraq. In short, Zulaika contends, counterterrorism has become pivotal in promoting terrorism.

Exploring the blind spots of counterterrorist doctrine, Zulaika takes readers on a remarkable intellectual journey. He contrasts the psychological insight of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood with The 9/11 Commission Report, plumbs the mindset of terrorists in works by Orianna Fallaci and Jean Genet, maps the continuities between the cold war and the fight against terrorism, and analyzes the case of a Basque terrorist who tried to return to civilian life. Zulaika’s argument is powerful, inventive, and rich with insights and ideas that provide a new and sophisticated perspective on the War on Terror.


“This is by far the best book on terrorism I have read for many years. In its systematic deconstruction of counterterrorism ideology and its call to take terrorist subjectivity seriously, this is a book of tremendous importance. Zulaika brings to the work several decades of in-depth research and understanding; he is clearly a scholar at the very height of his powers. Terrorism is incredibly rich in analysis and insight—I have no doubt that readers will be mining it for new ideas for many years to come.”

Richard Jackson, Aberystwyth University

“This is a brilliant book—a rich and insightful theoretical analysis. Zulaika presents an in-depth critical and cultural deconstruction of what terrorism means symbolically, how it is used in political discourse, and how it is applied by the U.S. government as a means of manufacturing consent for violent policies of counterterrorism. Terrorism ends with a powerful and compelling critique of the ‘war on terrorism,’ arguing for the ironic but unavoidable conclusion that it is fundamentally a self-fulfilling prophecy in which those fighting the war on terror are those who are responsible for creating it in the first place.”

Jeffrey Sluka, Massey University

Table of Contents


Introduction: Rethinking the War on Terror  

PART I. The Rhetorics of Terrorism

Chapter 1. Writing Counterterrorism: The Betrayal of the Public Intellectual  

Chapter 2. Who’s Afraid of Truman Capote: Writers versus Counterterrorists  

PART II. Terrorist Subjectivities

Chapter 3. The Terrorist as Lover: Read My Terrorist Desire  

Chapter 4. Eros, Terror, and Suicide: Life against Death  

Chapter 5. Antigone, the Terrorist: The Passage à l’Acte That Traverses the Subject’s Fantasy  

PART III. Self-Fulfilling Politics

Chapter 6. The Cold War Is Dead, Long Live Terrorism  

Chapter 7. Dr. Strangelove Meets the Terrorist            

Chapter 8. 9/11 and the Iraq War as Self-Fulfilling Prophecies  

Epilogue: The Passion for Ignorance and Its Catch-22  



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