On September 11, 2001, history resumed. A mere 12 years earlier, the rubble of the Berlin wall had seemed to mark a grand historical terminus. With communism following fascism into oblivion, political theorist Francis Fukuyama speculated about the possible ‘end of history’ (Fukuyama 1989), with the defeat of America’s last remaining totalitarian adversary supposedly heralding capitalist democracies’ universal triumph. But by 2001, the World Trade Center’s ruins invited a far darker assessment of history’s course. On 9/11, 19 hijackers exploited the very openness and technological sophistication of liberal societies to inflict more destruction on the US mainland than had any of America’s state-based adversaries in the twentieth century. The events of 9/11 immediately hastened a profound transformation in the foreign policies of the US and its closest allies. Dismissed by many as a second-order concern in the 1990s, since 9/11 global terrorism is now recognized as one of the most potent threats to international security. In particular, the failure of the ‘Arab Spring’ and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) have catapulted global jihadist terrorism to renewed prominence, highlighting its status as an especially enduring, virulent and resilient threat to international order. The nature of the global terrorist threat, its historical evolution, contemporary import and prospective significance, form the subjects of this chapter.
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