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Terrorism in Context: Race, Religion, Party and Violent Conflict in Zanzibar
The American Sociologist
  • Barbara G. Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Deo S. Mshigeni, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Sociology has had plenty to say about terrorism? We do not have a subfield on the sociology of terrorism, nor should we. Terrorism is a political label, and well intentioned scholarly attempts to define the study of "it" may only reify its political uses and cloud our understanding (Tilly, 2004). We certainly need tools to understand the origins, trajectories, and outcomes of political violence and there is plenty of scholarly work on political violence, revolutions, conflict, and social movements that can lead us in that direction. In this paper we will draw on a case study of violent political conflict that has been labeled "terrorist" in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean currently a part of Tanzania. We will examine the political opportunities and social movement organizations as they have framed and mobilized racial and religious conflicts on the island. We use this case to illustrate three points relevant to the study of terrorism that have been argued in the sociological literature on social movements and violent conflict. First, “terrorists" are rational actors; second, terrorism is one of many tactics potentially used by any social movement to achieve political ends; and third, terrorism is relational, that is, its rise and trajectory must be understood in relation to other groups, and in response to perceptions of threat.

  • Culture conflict,
  • Political violence,
  • Social conflict,
  • Social history,
  • Social movements,
  • Sociology,
  • Tanzania—Zanzibar,
  • Terrorism,
  • Threats of violence
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Citation Information
Barbara G. Brents and Deo S. Mshigeni. "Terrorism in Context: Race, Religion, Party and Violent Conflict in Zanzibar" The American Sociologist Vol. 35 Iss. 2 (2004) p. 60 - 74
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