chapter
12 Pages

The Olympics and terrorism

When considering the relationship between terrorism and the Olympic Games, one’s attention is almost unavoidably drawn to the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. This is wholly understandable given the global media’s highly emotive and enduring rendering of the events of September 1972. This process was initially realized and managed through the words of commentators such as David Coleman (BBC, United Kingdom), and Peter Jennings and Jim McKay (ABC, USA), which accompanied the chilling, if compelling, images of Black September terrorists wearing balaclavas patrolling the balcony of the Olympic Village apartment in which Israeli hostages were being held. In the recent past, the place of the Munich massacre within the global popular imagination has been re-affirmed through the influence of Kevin McDonald’s Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September and Steven Spielberg’s feature film Munich (2005), the former providing a detailed narration of the unfolding tragedy, the latter focusing on the Israeli state’s response to the violence in Munich. By no means wishing to discount the significance of Munich as the most

‘obvious manifestation’ (Wedemeyer, 1999: 217) of terrorism within the Olympic arena-it will, after all, be discussed at some length within this chapter-it would be equally remiss to focus on it exclusively. This is because the relationship between terrorism and the Olympic Games is more diverse, and indeed complex, than one would immediately anticipate. Thus, our aim in this chapter is to complicate popular understandings of terrorism, through recourse to its various, and varied, Olympic manifestations. This process of complicating terrorism is centred on a recognition of both violent acts against the state, and violent acts perpetrated by the state, as examples of terrorism, broadly understood. Both these forms of terrorism which have, at various times, been materialized within the context of the modern Olympic Games since its inception in 1896, will be discussed. Before embarking on such an explication, it is first necessary to clarify

precisely what is meant by terrorism. In the broadest terms, it is possible to refer to terrorism as acts which are violent, or which carry the threat of violence, and are designed to create a pervasive and invasive climate of fear and anxiety among the general populace. Such acts are usually (although by no means always) perpetrated by individuals, or groups of individuals, belonging

to organizations motivated by stated objectives, be they political, criminal, or eccentric (Lutz and Lutz, 2004). Furthermore, terrorist tactics can either be aimed at high-profile representative figures or at the general population. In terms of the former, attacks against political, economic, religious, or military leaders are frequent occurrences since these individuals act as representative subjects of the society targeted by the terrorist action. This monumental terrorism is motivated by the desire to disrupt the very foundations of a society, by directly attacking the literal embodiments of the core institutions (political, economic, religious, or military) around which the general populace orders its very existence. Thus, while the loss of life may be relatively small in scale, its desired significance and effects are expansive. Conversely, vernacular terrorism eschews the targeting of a society’s leaders, in favour of the seemingly indiscriminate targeting of the anonymous and the innocent as they conduct their everyday lives. The logic underpinning such acts-which often result in far greater numbers of fatalities and injuries-is to encourage people to perceive themselves as being under constant threat of attack. Therefore, whether it be targeted at high-profile figures (monumental), or the general populace (vernacular), the aim of terrorism is undifferentiated: to create a pervasive climate of disquiet and instability which could lead to the realization of particular aims and objectives. Of course, some acts of terrorism are motivated by broader political concerns and strategies. For instance, terrorist strikes have been motivated by the desire to create a swift and severe backlash from the state, thereby accentuating the authoritarian and undemocratic tendencies against which the terrorist perpetrators were agitating, and around which the terrorists look to build more oppositional support. What has been described thus far is the conventional understanding of

terrorism in which violence-deriving from a non-state entity, and contrary to the normative principles of ethical behaviour operating in the society in which it is enacted-is utilized in an attempt to destabilize an established social formation. Complexities arise because within virtually all societies there exist varying degrees of (dis)agreement regarding the rectitude of any social order, its attendant hierarchies and constitutive practices. In any society, let alone between societies, the very practice of terrorism, and the subjectivity of the terrorist, are highly contested terms whose meaning and attribution are dependent on elements such as the cultural and economic location of those comprehending the ‘terrorist’ act. Differently put, ‘terrorism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder’ (Lutz and Lutz, 2004: 8). Acts of political violence tend to be considered terrorist when they are aimed at and/or within states whose system of governance is broadly accepted by the general public. The terrorist ascription is, however, less clear cut within societies fraught by civil strife and internal dissension, i.e. formations in which a consensual system of rule has yet to be established, and in which competing factions frequently engage in violent power struggles. Furthermore, althoughmost understandings of terrorism consider it to refer to acts of politically-motivated violence against a state formation, some commentators have identified the state as a potential perpetrator of

terrorist acts as well. According to such thinking, state terrorism utilizes violence, and the threat of violence, against its citizenry in order to create a climate of widespread paranoia and insecurity aimed at defusing any oppositional tendencies, and thereby stabilizing the authoritarian order.