Frank Furedi is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent. During the past decade his research has been oriented towards the way that risk and uncertainty is managed by contemporary culture.

In recent years Professor Furedi has been exploring the way that fear has come to dominate public discussions in Western societies. His Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right, published in September 2005, explored the crisis of meaning afflicting the West.

In his new book, Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown, Furedi explores how, as society has become increasingly apprehensive about the future, it has reached the point where it regards itself as a vulnerable target. This defensive response is influenced by many causes, the most important of which is the difficulty society has in endowing conflict and the threat it faces with meaning. Professor Furedi argues that the words used to describe the threat of terrorism – unimaginable, incomprehensible, beyond meaning – further serve to deflect our understanding of the issues at stake.

Professor Furedi said: ‘Unlike in previous wars and conflicts, today our sense of terror precedes and extends beyond acts of terrorism. Official reaction is driven by a narrative of fear that invites us to regard terrorism as incomprehensible, senseless and beyond meaning. Such a response based on confusion authorises acts of speculation and fantasy as legitimate forms of threat assessment. This dramatisation of security transmits a sense of helplessness that inadvertently offers society’s enemies an invitation to terrorise. The good news is that it is not very difficult to diminish the impact of this threat through changing the way we engage with it.’

Published by Continuum Books on 25 October, Furedi argues that what we really need to worry about is not simply terrorism but also our reaction to it. He argues that Western society lacks the cultural and intellectual resources to deal with this threat. For example, politicians who frequently claim that ‘our way of life’ faces an existential threat find it difficult to explain just what that way of life is and why it is worth defending.