Government Communication and Terrorist Organizations: Towards a Concept of “Crisis Communication” in reaction to 21st Century Islamic Terrorist Attacks for Western Governments

  • Dominik Hamm

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis addresses the following question: how do and how should Western governments communicate the threat of terrorism, the nature of terrorist activities and their impact on their populations? The main goal behind answering this question is to find out how statements after the most significant Islamic terrorist threats and attacks were influenced by and did influence the socio-political narratives in the UK, France and Germany. This is important as political reactions to terrorist attacks often lead to longer lasting changes than the actual attacks themselves. Political statements are usually the first publicly noticeable action taken and can help to fill a vacuum developed through the uncertainty after unfamiliar events. This systematic comparative analysis of statements from political leaders from the three most influential European states contributes to the existing academic literature in the fields of political communication and counterterrorism as it shows how different cultural norms, political changes and demographic developments affect the content of political statements in reaction to Islamic terrorist threats and attacks. In this thesis, a profound foundation for the systematic analysis of these statements is laid by reconstructing the broader socio-political contexts that existed around the times the statements analysed were first given and then breaking the communication processes down to the different aspects involved in disseminating the message. These aspects are based on Lasswell’s Communication Model and include sender, message, medium, receiver and feedback. The core aspect is the message, which is analysed by using Narrative Analysis focusing on content, terminology and Social Actors. The central argument is that even though different political structures, socio-political contexts and cultural norms influence the basic settings of statements given by the political leaders of the UK, France and Germany and reactions to them by members of the public, demographic changes and an ever faster globalisation have a strong and similar effect on all three countries. Thus, demographic changes and globalisation at an unprecedented pace have contributed to changes in broader political narratives that made it more difficult for leaders of centrist governments to find a political balance that prevents movements of supporters to the right in the political spectrum. This challenge in political communication strongly affected the content of the statements analysed. The systematic analysis conducted in the thesis shows that, as long as they are communicated in a way that fits inside current socio-political frames with consideration of the broader normative contexts that define what is appropriate in times of threat and uncertainty, aspects such as awareness of counterterror and domestic political intentions, timing, credibility in the broader political context, content related aspects such as root causes of Islamic terrorist threats and attacks, the consideration of demographic changes and the length of statements can have direct impacts on the efficacy of statements in reactions to Islamic terrorist threats or attacks.
Date of AwardDec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorRichard English (Supervisor) & Andrew Thomson (Supervisor)

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