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The Virtues of Violence and the Arts of Terror

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  • Date and time: Wednesday 23 March 2011
  • Speaker: Professor Chetan Bhatt


The human bomber has come to symbolize a new kind of political violence, one that is aimed at civilians, is intended to cause fear and terror and is claimed to be linked to cosmic religion. This lecture explores what the ideologies and activities of Al Qaeda and related transnational militia might tell us about new forms of political violence in many contemporary societies. Using examples from South Asia, the Middle East, the UK and the USA, the lecture elaborates the aesthetic and cultural universe created by these armed groups and shows how aesthetic elements, as well as ideology, have appeal for some young people. Central to the political ideologies of Al Qaeda and its affiliates are new ideas about how virtue, law and sovereignty should inform politics, including violent political activity. The lecture also considers how novel visions about nature and technology (including, for example, the design of instruments of violence) have been mobilized. The links made by transnational militia between virtue and violence lead to a mixing up of the worlds of the living with the worlds of the dead. This area is explored and its challenging implications for international human rights are drawn out.

UPDATE: What has been the response of Al Qaeda and related militia to the momentous revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa? What might these events in the Middle East and the continuing violence in South Asia mean for Al Qaeda's future ideas and strategies?


Chetan Bhatt is professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights.


A video recording of this lecture is available to view or download from the Centre's events recording page.