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JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF BRITISH CULTURES (JSBC)
Sebastian Berg, Englisches Seminar, Ruhr-Universität Bochum,
Universitätsstraße 150, 44801 Bochum, Germany.
Rainer Emig, Englisches Seminar, Universität Hannover,
Königsworther Platz 1, 30167 Hannover, Germany.
Gesa Stedman, Großbritannien-Zentrum / Centre for British Studies,
Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Mohrenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin, Germany.
Dirk Wiemann, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik,
Universität Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, Haus 19, 14469 Potsdam, Germany.
Christian Schmitt-Kilb, Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik, Universität
Rostock, August-Bebel-Straße 28, 18051 Rostock, Germany.
Susanne Gruß (Erlangen-Nürnberg), Ina Habermann (Basel),
Jürgen Kamm (Passau), Jürgen Kramer (Dortmund),
Gerry Mooney (Glasgow), Anette Pankratz (Bochum),
Ralf Schneider (Bielefeld), Jutta Schwarzkopf (Hannover),
Merle Tönnies (Paderborn).
Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (Salzburg), Simon Frith (Edinburgh),
Stuart Hall (Milton Keynes), Richard Kilborn (Stirling),
Bernhard Klein (Canterbury), Bernd Lenz (Passau),
Gabriele Rippl (Bern), Roland Sturm (Erlangen-Nürnberg).
Guest Editors of this Issue:
Jürgen Kramer, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, TU Dortmund,
Emil-Figge-Straße 50, D-44221 Dortmund.
Bernd Lenz, Philosophische Fakultät, Universität Passau,
Innstraße 40, D-94030 Passau.
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Volume 19 · No. 2/12
Jürgen Kramer & Bernd Lenz
“That Horrid Science”Fictional Representations of Terrorism in anAge of Scientific Anxiety
Michael C. Frank
It Could Happen HereThe What-If Logic of Counterterrorismand the Literary Imagination
Screening Terrorism, the IRA and the ‘Troubles’Gender Politics and the Politics of Terrorismin Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game
Turbans and BalaclavasImages of Terrorism in British Political Cartoons
Forgetting the Disturbance?Places Commemorating Terrorist Attacks in Contemporary Britain
Leonard Weinberg (2012), The End of Terrorism
Norbert Greiner & Felix Sprang (2011), Lesarten des Terrorismus
Fiona Tolan et al., Literature, Migration and the ‘War on Terror’
Joy Sather-Wagstaff (2011), Heritage that Hurts
Martin Randall (2011), 9/11 and the Literature of Terror
Elleke Boehmer & Stephen Morton (2010), Terror and the Postcolonial
Addresses of Contributors
Kill one, frighten ten thousands.
(Quoted in Easson & Schmid 2011: 99)
Terror is a natural phenomenon; terrorism is the conscious exploitation of it.
(Quoted in Schmid 2011b: 3)
The title of this issue is a combination of two heterogeneous concepts, one from semiotics and the other from political sciences. The meanings of these concepts are contested and to connect them may lead to even more contestation. It is therefore reasonable to start with some tentative preliminary observations which may clarify our understanding of the terms and of their linkage.
The first problem of the study of terrorism is its complexity: it is “a tactic employed by many different groups in many different parts of the world in pursuit of many different objects” (Richardson 2011: xv); it is not linked to any specific ideology, but can be employed indiscriminately, as long as it promises success (however defined); and it changes with the evolution of new contexts (new means of violence and communication as well as new targets). While the employment of the “tactic” may be intricately structured, its central aim is beyond debate: to produce terror, i.e. to “play on our fear of sudden violent death and try to maximize uncertainty and hence anxiety to manipulate actual and prospective victims and those who have reason to identify with them” (Schmid 2011b: 2). Once a terrorist act makes its target audience ask ‘who will be next?’ it has achieved its intended impact.
The second problem of studying terrorism lies in the need to distinguish its high-profile (international) from its low-profile (domestic, national) version (cf. Card 2010: 149) and both from other forms of political violence, to decide on the ways in which to comprehend the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of terrorism, to dispel prevalent myths (cf. Schmid 2011b: 5-29) and, most importantly, to find a consensual definition of it – the prerequisite of further collaborative study.
To date no such definition has been discovered or agreed on and that such a definition may be found is anything but likely. Easson & Schmid’s compilation of “250-plus Academic, Governmental and Intergovernmental Definitions of Terrorism” (2011: 99-157) is valuable in its very diversity, but also impracticable because of its conceptual, political and ideological inextricableness. While Schmid’s own “revised academic consensus definition of terrorism (Rev. ACDT 2011)” (2011a: 86-87) aims at adding as many features as coherently possible – it consists of 12 thematically structured items and is c. 600 words long – Richard English’s much shorter (albeit more abstract) definition seems more persuasive and practicable for teaching and research.
Terrorism involves heterogeneous violence used or threatened with a political aim; it can involve a variety of acts, of targets, and of actors; it possesses an important psychological dimension, producing terror or fear among a directly threatened group and also a wider implied audience in the hope of maximizing political communication and achievement; it embodies the exerting and implementing of power, and the attempted redressing of power relations; it represents a subspecies of warfare, and as such it can form part of a wider campaign of violent and non-violent attempts at political leverage. (2009: 24)
The advantage of this definition is its condensed comprehensiveness: while all the relevant aspects are dealt with on a particular level of abstraction, the definition is open for further differentiation, concretisation and expansion.
The third (and final) problem of studying terrorism is how to devise ways and means of countering it. Again, English’s ideas are suggestive:
First, learn to live with it. […]
[Second]: where possible, address underlying root problems and causes. […]
[Third]: avoid the over-militarization of response. […]
[Fourth]: intelligence is the most vital element in successful counter-terrorism. […]
[Fifth]: respect orthodox legal frameworks and adhere to the democratically established rule of law. […]
[Sixth]: coordinate security-related, financial, and technological preventative measures. […]
[Finally]: maintain strong credibility in counter-terrorist public argument. (Ibid.: 120-140)
Perhaps this sober (but somewhat ‘dry’) political lesson deserves to be illustrated by the strong feelings of an individual victim of one particular kind of terrorism: Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. Salman Rushdie writes in his memoir Joseph Anton:
The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his worldview, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war, but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them. How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared. (2012: 624)
The study of the second concept, representation, involves several problems, the first of which is its ubiquity: whatever we do is through or with the help of representation. In order to grasp or comprehend something we have to represent it to ourselves (and/or others); and to represent something signs are needed: according to their particular systems – language, music, pictures (moving or not) etc. – these signs can then be used to construct certain meanings which, in turn, can be received and understood by those who have learnt the particular ‘code’ of the group. Meanings can only be produced because human beings possess two interdependent systems of representation. The first enables us to make connections between the ‘things’ of the world and our mental concepts; the second enables us to connect our mental concepts with particular signs or signs sequences. “The relation between ‘things’, concepts and signs lies at the heart of the production of meaning in language. The process which links these three elements together is what we call ‘representation’.” (Hall 1997:19)
The second problem with the study of representation lies in the fact that not only can be represented what is, but also what can be imagined. While the ‘how’ or ‘poetics’ of representation (sign systems) are the same, their ‘effect’ or ‘politics’ differ. History happens randomly, but in order to live we have to make sense and impose a certain order on it. This is what historians and philosophers, but also writers and film-makers do, albeit in different ways. Discourses in the everyday world claim to represent it as it is and, possibly, as it should be changed by public argument and political action. Aesthetic discourses, in contrast, aim at representing the everyday world from particular, but multiple perspectives, thereby stimulating debates about its constitution and inspiring visions of potential alternatives.
The third problem of the study of representation is that, while all these discourses represent and, perhaps, propagate the worldview of their producers (or their ‘commissioners’), no reader or spectator can be forced to blindly accept what they are being given to read or look at, but can (and will) strive to negotiate their meaning(s) of what is represented.
At least since Alfred Nobel’s inventions of dynamite (1863) and gelignite (1875), international terrorism has achieved a new quality: bombs, capable of killing many more people than could previously be imagined, have been used as terrorist means. And with advancing technologies the potential threat of evermore powerful explosives has grown, while the means (the media) of communicating the threat have become quicker, more comprehensive and sophisticated. Concurrently, literature and, more recently, film and TV have responded not only by documenting these developments, but also by reflecting, i.e. debating and discussing them. These attempts at representing and trying to understand the nature, causes and effects of terrorism have themselves been carefully scrutinised (cf. Scanlan 2001, Houen 2002, Kubiak 2004, Blessington 2008, Appelbaum & Paknadel 2008, Greiner & Sprang 2011, Frank & Gruber 2012a). It is with the latter efforts that this issue of the Journal associates itself.1
Of the more recent investigations Appelbaum & Paknadel’s survey (2008) is one of the most substantial.2 Their central aim is to describe, with regard to novels published between 1970 and 2001, what “cultural work the novel […] performs with regard to terrorism” (ibid.: 389), i.e. to analyse not only which aspects or dimensions of terrorism are mirrored and reflected in which way, but also to determine how these representations potentially affect their reader(s) through processes of identification and/or distanciation. Their most interesting insights are as follows: fictional texts dealing with terrorism but usually re-narrate earlier ideas – which the authors call the “mythography” (400) – of terrorism. In doing so, these texts not only respond to such culturally produced ideas, but also become part of the general discourse on terrorism. The aesthetic variety of these texts is very wide: “there are different genres and registers, there are also many different kinds of engagement with terror, different ways of disclosing it as a feature in the world of the novel and the external world it implies” (ibid.: 404). But there are also limitations: with regard to geographical locations (Europe, the east coast of the US, the Near and Middle East, Latin America) for one, but also with regard to contents and aesthetics:
[…] limits of political orientation, of narrative perspective, of plot development, of empathy and sympathy. These limits appear first of all in what is not by and large represented in these novels. Few of them, for example, narrate their tales from the point of view of terrorist ideology or the internal psychology of someone devoted to such an ideology. (Ibid.: 408)
Appelbaum and Paknadel argue that, all things considered, the “cultural work of the terrorism novel from 1970 to 2001” was “to legitimate the position of innocence occupied by terrorism’s victims and the political society to which they belong. […] These novels tell us that terrorism is the violence of an Other; it is illegitimate violence perpetrated from an illegitimate position.” (Ibid.: 427)3
One other, related and equally important, issue concerns the aesthetic nature of the products (be they literary texts, films etc.). What needs to be asked is whether there is a particular ‘aesthetics’ of ‘terrorism’, perhaps an aesthetics of violence or, more generally, of evil (cf. Card 2010)? What are the particular stylistic means and devices used to make the terrorist acts (and their repercussions) appear glamorous, repellent or indifferent? A film, for example, may praise (or denounce) terrorist acts by frequently depicting violent action or by making use of ‘aggressive’ editing and cinematography. In the latter case, non-standard framing, fast or even shock cuts as well as slow motion can be employed in order to spectacularize the action of the film and its protagonists. Similar questions need to be discussed with regard to literary texts. Marie-Luise Egbert has argued that although “it is undeniable that novels dealing with terrorism form a subset of fiction if one goes by topic”, they do not “in themselves form […] a new paradigm” (2012: 247), while Anthony Kubiak, as we have seen, diagnoses a mode of discourse which he calls “narrative terrorism: attempts to destabilize narrativity itself – disrupting linearity, temporality, plot, character or whatever conventions” (2004: 297). The intricate temporal structure of Conrad’s Secret Agent (employing flashback and prolepsis) would be a suitable subject for debate.
Moreover, the problematic of an aesthetics of terrorism may be regarded as closely linked to that of “emotional governance” (Richards 2007) which refers to the emotional aspect of governing in general and the process of governing the emotions of the political actors in particular. As political actors share some, but hardly ever all interests, their emotions tend to partly contradict each other. For journalists, for example, ‘bad news’ may be ‘good news’ when it helps increase circulation or readership, while, for the common readers/viewers, such news may be really bad (if they themselves are concerned) or of no interest at all. Taking emotional governance into account requires a writer to establish a delicate balance. With regard to everyday journalistic practices Barry Richards writes:
When something as dreadful as a massive terrorist attack happens, we are all stunned, and in various ways we all need to know something of the reality of it – the weird moment of the blast, the displaced body parts, the pathetic debris of possessions. We need journalists to bring this to us, to get the survivor accounts, the basic sequence of events, the numbers, and so on. Since these needs are partly based on reasonable information demands, and stem partly from efforts to come to terms emotionally with what has happened, we can ask of journalists that they meet them fully. Since however the same needs also stem partly from our morbid appetites for the dreadful, we ask journalists to do this without giving us gratuitous opportunity for thoughtless immersion in the horrific physical reality and in primitive emotional responses to it. (Ibid.: 70)
With regard to the control of our daily lives this appears highly persuasive because “the longer we stay in those feelings of terror and inchoate anger, the more vulnerable we are to having our responses to the trauma captured by simplistic ideological positions, of all descriptions, which feed off what psychoanalysts might call emotional primitivity” (ibid.). A work of art, however, may not only (want to) probe and extend the boundaries of our perceptions but can also transgress them. The licence for this procedure lies in its ‘what-if’ character. While the journalist needs to have “a considerable capacity for emotional labour […] in producing reports which do not avoid the empirical object of dread but which also carry the possibility for contextualisation, reflection and stabilisation” (ibid.: 70-71), the artist’s emotional labour concentrates on enabling the readers/viewers to cope by taking up different positions and perspectives vis-à-vis ‘the horror’ of terror in their processes of reading/viewing.
Although the present collection of articles and thematic reviews is aware of the highly complex history of representing terrorism and its theoretical implications, it cannot possibly cover the whole spectrum of feasible approaches and topics. Therefore, in order to present a comprehensible line of argument, the focus is on terrorism’s modern and postmodern manifestations, dealing with different stages (late 19th and early 20th centuries, the 1980s, post 9/11) and discussing selected cultural, discursive and medial representations (memorials, literature, film, cartoons).
As an integral part in the history of cultural responses to terrorism, literary texts deserve particular, but not exclusive, attention. Therefore, the first two articles focus on fictional representations of terrorism, one investigating late Victorian novels while the other deals with British post 9/11 fiction. Andrew Glazzard (London), taking the sub-genre of the ‘dynamite novel’ as example, explores how fictional terrorism not only mirrors societal reactions to this new threat but becomes a symptom of profound changes in an age of anxiety caused by the ambivalent progress of scientific and technological knowledge. As such, terrorism presents a prolific topic for novelists like H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad, amongst others, to discuss the threats and opportunities of modern science, the links between science and political violence and the challenge to cope with a problematic cultural terrain. Thus, fictional terrorism becomes part of the complex cultural reactions to terrorism in late Victorianism, thereby contributing to the wider public debate on the effects of the belief in progress and its impact on modernity.
Michael C. Frank (Konstanz) picks up on the argument that literary texts play a constructive role in the discussion of terrorism and contribute to the public discourse by both affirming and questioning prevalent ideas. Analysing conceptions of terrorist violence in the wake of 9/11, Frank argues that “terror is located in the interstice between the real (actual past attacks and their tangible aftermath) and the imaginary (speculative anticipations of future violence)”, thus concentrating on the question of how fictional texts – in his case Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Chris Cleave’s Incendiary – relate to the rhetoric of the war on terrorism. By describing imaginary scenarios, such novels in the ‘what-if’ tradition partake in the imagination of disaster and sometimes precisely prefigure the national mood of 7/7 when London was hit by its own 9/11 and the imagined catastrophe turned into a genuine tragedy: terrorist fictions, aiming to explore a culture of fear, may thus endorse its very reality.
The next two papers which are both linked to the problematic of an aesthetics of terrorism enlarge on the relationship between terrorism and visual culture. International terrorism, especially after 9/11, has informed a number of visual productions including film, television, photography or cartoons, so that a closer examination of momentous visual representations promises valuable insights into the fundamental nexus between aesthetic and political discourses: for example, how does visual culture represent terrorist activities and in which way does it influence our concepts and responses to both national and international terrorism?
One of the most popular media of representing terrorism is doubtlessly the film where Northern Ireland and the ‘Troubles’ figure prominently. Using Neil Jordan’s widely acclaimed feature film The Crying Game as example, Birgit Neumann (Passau) demonstrates that the private world of personal relations, of domesticity and love including the problematic of gender roles, is in stark contrast with the public world of terrorism and political violence. After all, the two, implicitly entangled, worlds are almost separated and the political problems marginalised, at least partially, in favour of a shift towards the generic conventions of romance movies.
The second article on visual culture, Heinrich Versteegen’s (Bochum) analysis of turbans and balaclavas, investigates cartoons as a journalistic mode of representing topical political issues. Cartoons, per se an interdisciplinary research objective, combining nonverbal and (mostly) verbal elements, are visual, graphic-satirical commentaries and, as such, contribute noticeably to forming public opinion, mediating political matters and stimulating the political awareness of viewers/readers, who are forced to decode the visual elements of the caricature on the basis of their political experience. The cartoons analysed by Versteegen, however, tend to de-historicise the concept of terrorism and, instead of de-mystifying rational insight, rather reinforce an antagonistic, terrifying picture of terrorism.
The last paper of this issue is concerned with a completely different kind of representation, exploring not the act of terrorism itself but the sites of terrorist attacks and their collective memory. Drawing on reflections and findings of both material culture and cultural memory, Frauke Hofmeister (Leipzig) analyses memorials which mourn and commemorate the victims of terrorism through monuments and plaques. Case studies of the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre (1996) and the terrorist attacks on the London public transport system (2005) reveal how these commemorative spaces can be negotiated into meaningful places: although the memory of these events themselves is marginalised, the memorials function as public reminders which explicitly signify the evaluation and ramification of the terrorist attacks themselves.
Terrorism is a phenomenon that needs to be permanently assessed, deconstructed, negotiated and reconstructed to understand its social, political and cultural reasons as well as their emotional implications: real and imaginary threats, social and political ostracism, medial responses and the fear of the Other. Terrorism studies, as a consequence, needs to describe not only our (actual or assumed) reality but, by participating in the cultural work which influences our lives, also to (in)form our perception of the world. In this continuous work in progress this issue may have a small but clearly visible share.
Appelbaum, Robert & Alexis Paknadel (2008), “Terrorism and the Novel, 1970-2001”, Poetics Today, 29.3, 387-436.
Blessington, Francis (2008), “Politics and the Terrorist Novel”, The Sewanee Review, 116.1, 116-124.
Card, Claudia (2012), Confronting Evils. Terrorism, Torture, Genocide, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Easson, Joseph J. & Alex P. Schmid, eds. (2011), “Appendix 2.1. 250-plus Academic, Governmental and Intergovernmental Definitions of Terrorism”, in Schmid 2011a: 99-157.
Egbert, Marie-Luise (2012), “Narratives of Terror. A New Paradigm for the Novel?”, in Frank & Gruber 2012a, 235-248.
English, Richard (2009), Terrorism. How to Respond, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Frank, Michael C. & Eva Gruber, eds. (2012a), Literature and Terrorism. Comparative Perspectives, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
– (2012b), “Literature and Terrorism: Introduction”, in M.C.F. & E.G. 2012a, 1-23.
Greiner, Norbert & Felix Sprang, eds. (2011), Lesarten des Terrorismus, Trier: WVT.
Hall, Stuart (1997), Representation. Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London: Sage.
Houen, Alex (2002), Terrorism and Modern Literature. From Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson, Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press.
Kamm, Jürgen, Jürgen Kramer & Bernd Lenz, eds. (2013), Deconstructing Terrorism. 9/11, 7/7 and Contemporary Culture (Passauer Arbeiten zur Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft 11), Passau: Stutz.
Kubiak, Anthony (2004), “Spelling It Out. Narrative Typologies of Terror”, Studies in the Novel, 36.3, 294-301.
Richards, Barry (2007), Emotional Governance. Politics, Media and Terror, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Richardson, Louise (2011), “Foreword”, in Schmid 2011a, xv-xvi.
Rushdie, Salman (2012), Joseph Anton. A Memoir, New York: Random House.
Scanlan, Margaret (2001), Plotting Terror. Novelists and Terrorists in Contemporary Fiction, Charlottesville, VA – London: University of Virginia Press.
Schmid, Alex P., ed. (2011a), The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, London – New York: Routledge.
– (2011b), “Introduction”, in Schmid 2011a, 1-37.
1 Since 9/11, terrorism studies has become an umbrella term for an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field of research which comprises politics, political geography, sociology, cultural studies, communication science etc. Although Michael C. Frank and Eva Gruber claim that, despite the spate of scientific publications on terrorism after 9/11, “literary studies seem to lag curiously behind this general shift of academic interest” (Frank & Gruber: blurb), this is not quite true. As they themselves claim in their introduction (cf. Frank & Gruber 2012b: 8-15), literary analyses devoted to novels on terror and terrorism since the late 19th century have been widely carried out from various (diachronic, comparative etc.) perspectives.
2 The other two are more limited (cf. also Frank & Gruber 2012b: 8-15). Anthony Kubiak distinguishes between “three different types of terrorist narratives” (2004: 294): those of “terrorist groups themselves” (ibid.: 295), “narratives about terrorism” (ibid.: 296) and “narrative terrorism: attempts to destabilize narrativity itself” (ibid.: 297) but fails to characterise their interrelationship. Tantalising as his final thesis is – “although the deepest roots of our terror in the world emerge from the madness of dissolving narrative, terror as a political weapon depends on narrative […] that is coherent, logical, and transparent” (ibid.: 300) – it does not lead to any persuasive readings of particular texts. For Francis Blessington the nature of the terrorist novel consists in being “a bildungsroman that leads to the [terrorist] character’s free decision” (2008: 120) whether or not to commit terrorist acts. While this may be one relevant aspect, it can hardly be accepted as the central, let alone the only one.
3 Whether and in which way the cultural work of terrorism novels has changed since 2001, is certainly one of the most interesting and rewarding problems to pursue (cf. Kamm, Kramer & Lenz 2013).
In considering what we can learn from examining fictional representations of the phenomenon we label as ‘terrorism’, we might ask ourselves why a writer of fiction would take this phenomenon as a subject in the first place. What cultural or ideological function may be performed by fictional terrorism? What can fictional terrorism tell us about the age that produced it? These questions are worth asking not merely because terrorism continues to be a dominant issue in political discourse, and fiercely contested in terms of what it is and what it means for modern societies. It is also worth studying its fictional manifestations because, by doing so, we can trace how a subject moves from one cultural sphere (politics and reportage) into another (fiction), which may help us to understand how works of popular and literary fiction such as novels or short stories both receive and shape their subject matter.
From the mid-1880s to the outbreak of the First World War, terrorism featured prominently in British fiction, especially but not exclusively in fiction that we might term ‘popular’. Indeed, as Barbara Arnett Melchiori has influentially demonstrated in Terrorism in the Late Victorian Novel (1985), the mid-1880s saw the emergence of a fictional sub-genre that she termed the ‘dynamite novel’. The impetus for this sub-genre came from Irish nationalist violence in mainland Britain in the 1880s as well as anarchist violence, mostly overseas, throughout the period. This paper seeks to show that as well as being a response to events, and their associated political contests, late Victorian and Edwardian writers represented terrorism because it was a symptom of more profound changes in British and European culture and society that resulted from advances in scientific and technological knowledge. By ‘science’, I refer not so much to the major developments in biology and geology that transformed the Victorians’ perspective on their world, as to the practical applications of chemistry and physics that brought about an altered relationship between the individual and the state. Although this was scientific knowledge that enabled states and their armies to advance technologically, it also furnished forces of dissent with weapons, ending what might be termed the state’s ‘monopoly
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