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Social Cohesion in a Panicked World: A Critical Analysis of State Responses to Terrorism in the United States and Spain

Georgia Patrascu, Advisor: Leila DeVriese

The September 11th, 2001 and March 11th, 2004 terrorist attacks in New York City and Madrid, while seemingly similar, incurred very different state responses that consequently had respectively, glaringly divergent societal impacts. This project examines the two different responses, both governmental and societal. This particular project will add to the scholarly debate by unpacking the reasoning behind the two responses and discussing the social implications thereafter. The premise of my argument builds on previous scholarship that highlights social cohesion as one of the main motivations behind state responses to threats. As a departure point, I build on the argument that the United States uses a framework of political fear based on claims of elevated levels of threat and the construction of an external enemy to keep the public united through a culture of fear, while Spain uses a framework and narrative of perpetual peace and forgiveness which is processed by society as a message of reassurance and redemption. The unique contribution of this paper lies in its use of primary research to analyze and further conclude how societies digest different governmental approaches to responding to catastrophic events. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative research conducted in Spain and Minnesota, I argue that, when dealing with the tragedies, both countries chose to use calculated strategies and policies that would dispel criticism and opposition and, in fact, ensure their political survival, self-interest and maintain social cohesion. In the US, these policies centered on increasing military presence through the War on Terror in the Middle East, and in the process constructing an external enemy (Islamic terrorism) as a rallying point to maintain social cohesion. On the other hand, the Spanish government chose to end its military presence in the Middle East and used a framework of peaceful negotiations in order to bring about a process of healing and reconciliation, effectively restoring a sense of security for the Spanish people.