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Victim compensation for acts of terrorism and the limits of the state


critical studies on terrorismJournal abstract

Little academic attention has been directed towards the victims of terrorism. This article begins to do so by interrogating how victims get compensated, and for how much, in North America and Western Europe. This article examines compensation from three vantage points. First, attention is directed to the variety of state programmes that have been mobilised over the last several decades to build individual and state resilience. I will suggest, however, that many of these programmes fall short, as they fail to meet victim needs. Indeed, as I subsequently illustrate, public and private philanthropy are playing an increasingly important role in providing victim support, sometimes superseding state contributions. Yet while they speak to an affective response that emerges out of and reinforces community building, they are also highly uneven and can entrench existing social inequalities. I then turn to examine the turn to the courts as a means both for recouping further compensation and for achieving some kind of accountability. Notably, the drive to provide victims with other mechanisms for compensation has led to new legislative mechanisms that are reshaping geopolitics by reworking the principle of sovereign immunity. Together, these examples of compensation trouble simplistic characterisations of victimhood while also illustrating how both victims and terrorism are being made governable, often with chilling consequences. They also expose the limits of the state and of state sovereignty.

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