How We Talk about the "War on Terrorism" : Comparative Research on Japan, Russia, and the United States

Working Paper, NUPI
Terrorisme og ekstremisme
Written by

Daniel Heradstveit

Tidligere ansatt


This paper focuses on how leaders in Western countries talk about the “war on terrorism.” The paper discusses the difficulties of defining “terrorism,” because, unlike Marxism or capitalism, “terrorism” is not an ideology. Instead the term may be used to designate actions that are used by members of non-governmental organizations against civilian targets. In the case of the “war on terrorism,” the signifier, “terrorism,” is used widely. However, the signified, the perpetrators and what they do, are quite different. Because the designation of the signified depends upon the speaker, the concept of terrorism seems to be subjective and fluid. The signified switches radically both by context and over time, while the only aspect that is stable is the signifier, “terrorism.” The paper goes on to analyze the “war on terrorism” as an ontological metaphor. The paper concludes by arguing that although figures of speech contribute to the cognitive dimension of meaning by helping us to recognize the equivalence to which we are committed and suggesting new equivalences, metaphors like the “war on terrorism” raise problems and do little to increase our understanding. Considering different cultural codes and world views, this type of metaphor is highly counterproductive for communication on the global level.