For nearly forty years, debates on a definition of international terrorism as part of a comprehensive convention have been preoccupying the United Nations. This article challenges conventional approaches referring to divergences in national interests and preferences, or to institutional constraints and national legal traditions, to explain why no definition has been agreed upon. It analyzes the inconclusive debates from a critical perspective and argues that the continuous search for a definition can be understood through the prism of collective identity struggles: the desire to define terrorism is not only the desire to give a precise content to terrorism and, thereby, create the identity of an Other. It is also the desire to create a collective identity, a “Self,” representing and uniting those who oppose terrorism. By applying a discursive understanding of collective identity construction to analyze the UN debates, the article elucidates how strongly the definition of terrorism hinders a common understanding among those who are opposing terrorism. Thereby, the analysis highlights that the demonization of terrorism foremost impedes a homogeneous understanding of a collective Self, ready to confront and define terrorism in the first place.
- collective identity construction
- United Nations