"Introduction: State Terror and Anthropology,"
Jeffrey A. Sluka, in Death Squad: The Anthropology
of State Terror, J.A. Sluka, ed., Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Sluka sets out to describe and explain the widespread and growing problem of state terror. First, he
distinguishes between terror and terrorism, and provides working definitions. Second, he discusses two
varieties of state terror, namely, torture and political murder. Third, he thoroughly surveys various aspects
of the anthropology of state terror, emphasizing the need to follow the dictates of conscience and not only
describe and explain state terror, but also to take a political stand against it, rather than remain neutral
under the pretense of scientific objectivity through neutrality. Fourth, Sluka develops a theoretical model
to explain state terror as a choice to use violence to maintain a hierarchical social, economic, and political
system against the discontent and resistance of the citizenry.
Terrorism is defined as political intimidation and control by violence or the threat of violence. State terror
is a violent response by the elite toward the citizenry when the latter challenges the status quo. If their
challenge becomes violent or anti-state, then the elite or those in power stigmatize it as terrorism.
However, anti-state terrorism is relatively insignificant compared to state terrorism which is enormously
more powerful with its institutionalized machinery of systematic torture, death squads, and other
atrocities violating the most basic of human rights (p. 1).
Since World War II there has been a massive escalation of state terrorism with a toll in the millions of
deaths, disappearances, tortured, refugees, etc. (See p. 2 for statistics). This amounts to an undeclared and
unrecognized war of states against humanity (4).
Anyone who challenges or criticizes the state, or status quo, may be stigmatized and targeted as
subversive, terrorist, traitor, communist, and the like. No one is safe, not even women, elderly, or
children. Even street children, homeless people, and other "underdesirables" may be targeted for "social
cleansing." The target can be anyone who doesn't conform or who simply has a critical or alternative idea
in their head (5-6).
Such phenomena have been labeled "death by government" by University of Hawai`i political scientist