Beginning in the 1970s, terrorism became an object of contested expert knowledge. Fears over this moralized and loosely defined phenomenon emerged at the very moment that Western states achieved a certain monopoly over legitimate political violence. This politico-epistemological framing itself drew on postwar counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) that had enabled a shift from the figure of the allied partisan to the unconscionable terrorist. Terrorism as an object of knowledge thus fits within a longer story of Western military attempts—from late nineteenth-century colonialism through the early twentieth-century American revival of COIN in Iraq—to tame uncontrollable, asymmetrical threats in part by knowing them.

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