Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.
Webster’s dictionary defines terrorism as the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. There is no universal, legally binding definition of terrorism. Most publications and organizations usually define and view it as an act of terror to accomplish political goals. More often than not it just seems to be a violent addressing of established politics. It is understandably hard to pin down a simple clear cut definition of terrorism. Some people view illegal or unfounded acts of war as terrorism. There is a strong case to be made that “war criminals” are just terrorists, but most people usually view government as the victim of terrorism and never actually terrorists themselves. Some psychologists think we should shy away from the casual labeling of terrorist, as many corrupt regimes have retained power by painting “freedom fighters”, or other seemingly just revolutionaries, as simple terrorists. Any questioning or challenging of their rule is treated as a direct threat from “terrorists”. Terrorist, like evil, is a completely negative term. It dehumanizes the individual(s) and makes it far easier to gain consensus for the use of violent force.
In modern times terrorism is viewed as a device used by private groups and organizations not directly affiliated with any nation or military. It’s origins are actually quite different. The use of terrorist methods by armies and governments is almost as old as civilization itself. The Armies of Rome often committed incredible acts of terror to intimidate a recently subjugated tribe. But terrorism appears in Roman writing in the phrase “terror cimbricus”. It describes a panic that settled on Rome whenever they were met with the prospect of attack by the Cimbri tribe.
One of the earliest identifiable “terrorist groups” appears in writings from the 1st century. The Sicarii Zealots were a Jewish rebel group who dedicated themselves to the expulsion of Rome from Jerusalem. At first they only killed prominent Roman officials in Judea. The Sicarii emerged as a more extreme faction of the Jewish Zealotry movement. The name Sicarii means “dagger men”(totally awesome). The Sicarri went further than other Zealot groups and actually killed Jewish citizens they believed were aiding the Roman occupation. According to historian Jocephus, the Sicarri, like assassins, would conceal short daggers beneath their robes and tail their targets into large crowds before striking and quickly dispersing. The Sicarii also committed several terrorist acts to incite Jews to war against Rome including destroying the city’s food supply and assassinating several prominent Jewish officials, including the High Priest. In 72 A.D., the Sicariii were chased by Roman garrisons to the fortress of Masada. For almost an entire year Rome laid siege to the fortress and finally entered where they found most all the people inside had committed suicide.
Speaking of assassins, do you know where we get the term? The Hashishin or “assassins” were a splinter group of the Shia Ismailism(Ismāʿīlism) sect formed in the late 11th century. Led by Hassan-i Sabbah, they were a small but effective opposition force to the current Fatimid Caliphate, stretching from present day western Saudi Arabia, across North Africa to the western coast. The Hashishin captured and occupied several prominent fortifications across greater Persia, including the Alamut stronghold in present day Iran. Never directly opposing an enemy military, the Hashishin killed governors and military commanders to curry favor with powerful neighboring states. While these killings were mainly political, it is hard to label it as terrorism. Targeted political assassinations very rarely incur fear and revolt in a populace(WW 1 aside). The Hashishin were really a sort of organized mercenary group with a very specialized skill, assassination. They were always handy to have in your back pocket and, as long as you hated the Fatimids, they’d probably take the job.
Now let’s talk about terror. Specifically, The Reign of Terror. This is the name given to an eleven month period during the French Revolution, September 1793 to July 1794, in which the ruling Jacobins sought to intimidate the populace through violence, terroristic threatening, and mass execution, including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Even priests and other holy men were not spared the guillotine if the Jacobins felt it was necessary. The Jacobins ideological leader was a man named Maximillien Robespier. If it sounds familiar it may be that you watched Daffy Duck growing up like me and always wondered who he was talking about. “Take that Robespierre!”. Who?(or you studied French history) Well, he was the main cog in the Jacobin machine for a long time, and he was not shy about what they did. Robespierre often referred to himself and his group as “terrorists”. Thus the word enters our lexicon. Robespierre felt strongly, as did many Jacobins, that rule by fear was a necessary thing sometimes. The Reign of Terror, unsurprisingly, came to end with the execution of Robespierre by guillotine, the device he had taught millions of French citizens to fear. What. A. Dick.
Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country.
Through out the 19th century the acts of terrorism once associated with the ruling class of France are applied by groups and organizations all across the world to further whatever agenda they had. A case of what could be called terrorism for the sake of good would be the abolitionist John Brown who advocated armed revolt against slavery. He led several attacks on Southern military garrisons including the famous raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry. Brown was captured soon after taking the armory, charged with treason, and executed. A later biographer would state that his goal was “to force the nation into a new political pattern by creating terror.”
In post Civil War America the Ku Klux Klan became the preeminent terrorist organization in the country. At it’s peak the Klan was a formidable “shadow organization” with many influential members from various state governments. They originally formed to terrorize African Americans across the South but became a threat to all minorities in the country. Using threats and intimidation, physical violence, and good old fashioned murder, the Klan kept much of the South in a state of constant fear for many decades. Though marginalized today, their influence can still holds sway in many parts of the deep South and often gave vindication to rising neo-Nazi groups.
The IRB(Irish Republican Brotherhood), the forerunner to the IRA(Irish Republican Army) emerges in Europe in the late 19th century. Both the IRB and their sister group, the IRA, were committed to establishing an independent Ireland completely free of English influence. In 1919 Ireland declared it’s independence from England and the IRA launched a guerrilla war against English f0rces stationed in Ireland, assisted by factions of the IRB. It was a ridiculously bloody and brutal exchange that lasted the better part of 3 years. Some of the worse incidents included the blatant execution of several British officers by IRA soldiers in 1921, many in full view of their families, in an incident known as Bloody Sunday. When a treaty was finally signed in January of 1922 a lot of IRA and IRB members refused to honor it. They continued with acts of aggression against English troops and many more extreme factions began targeting Irish civilians, eventually leading to the Irish Civil War. Ireland basically got their war for independence and subsequent battle for the soul of the nation out of the way in the same decade. A hard line faction retaining the IRA’s name and banner has been prominent in acts of terrorism all across Northern Europe for much of the 20th century.
At the dawn of the 20th century in America, terrorism becomes less associated with corrupt governments and more so with smaller, nongovernmental groups. Even with democracy taking hold of much of the western world, certain groups still sought to push their own agenda through whatever means possible. The rising Anarchism movement,already well known in Russia and much of Europe, becomes directly associated with terrorism in America. On September 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz, shot U.S. President William McKinley while he was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley actually managed to live through the encounter, a shot at point blank range, and actually showed signs of recovery in the proceeding week. But on September 12, McKinley’s condition quickly worsened and doctor’s began fearing he may not make it. The following day, September 13, 1901, President McKinley passed away, singing a hymn under his breath.
In Egypt, Britain was once again on the offensive from groups looking to oust them from their country. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 and has the stated goal of spreading the law of the Quran and wisdom of the Sunnah across all Egypt. But England was kinda in the way. Even though it was founded on a commitment to non-violence, many in the group did not like the way they did business. Osama Bin Laden has chastised the Brotherhood before for not being more forceful. Several factions of the Muslim Brotherhood steered away from the conventions of their leadership and began using more violent means of protest. Two of the most prominent groups to break away were Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, whose leadership have been linked to the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; and Al Takfir Wal Hijra, linked to the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, various mass murders in the Sudan, and as recently as February of this year, involved in several long, armed conflicts with Egyptian police and security.
We shift now to Palestine but stick with the British(I guess we often forget they basically ruled the word not too long ago). During World War 2, Palestine was home to many Jewish protest groups who didn’t approve of Britain’s control. The White Paper of 1939 was a law issued by the British government limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine and setting up a “free state” composed of Arabs and Jews, governed by them based on the proportions of each in various regions. Before Hitler began ordering the mass extermination of the Jewish population, he deported them. Thousands of Jewish German citizens were being thrown out of Germany. Russia and much of Western Europe would not take them in so they began retreating in waves back to the “homeland”. Jewish citizens in Palestine wanted to open the border and welcome the refugees in. Britain wasn’t having it. This would throw their whole plan into chaos. Armed conflict and targeted assassinations were again aimed at English officers and politicians. In November of 1944, the militant group Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne(Walter Guinness) in Cairo. Lehi was a prominent Jewish militant group all through out World War 2. At one point, before the advent of The Final Solution, Lehi actually attempted to deal with the Nazi Party in an attempt to help expedite the immigration of Jews out of Germany.
A terrorist is someone who has a bomb, but doesn’t have an air force.
It was not just independent organizations committing acts of terror during World War 2. Japan had invaded China in 1937 and sanctioned acts of state sponsored terror. That same year Japanese forces captured the Chinese capital of Nanking and committed some of the worst atrocities of the war. In a 6 week period known as the Nanking Massacre, Japanese forces carried out mass murders of hundreds if not thousands of Chinese citizens in the city and Japanese soldiers reportedly raped between 20,ooo and 80,000 women. Japanese forces burned down a large chunk of the city afterward and were accused of mass looting. Germany engaged in a planned bombing campaign of English civilian populations all through out 1940 and 1941. Many English cities, including London, were heavily fire bombed by Nazi air units, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. England returned the favor in 1945 with the fire bombing of Dresden. In America, fear of Japanese invasion led the government to round up Japanese American citizens and cage them in internment camps.
The era following World War 2 was a breeding ground for terrorist organizations. The world was reshuffling and colonial rule was crumbling. America and Europe’s realignment of the Middle East did not help matters at all. The Cold War between America and Russia following WW 2 found both sides arming militant groups in a proxy war against one another. Russia trained and supplied the Viet Cong in Vietnam and we trained and supplied the Contras in South America. Both groups were known for committing horrible acts against their own people so I guess Russia and America figured they wouldn’t mind hurting other people for money and weapons. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, America eventually began arming the opposing Mujahaideen. Members of that group included Osama Bin Laden , founders of Al Qaeda, and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, Bin Laden’s mentor.
In 1959, Mao’s revolutionary group captured China. In Cuba, around the same time, Fidel Castro took over the island nation. In America, the Weather Underground engaged in terroristic threatening, including the bombing of a police memorial in Chicago, a similar bombing in San Fransisco which took the life of Sergeant Brian McDonnell. Following the First Gulf War many pseudo Islamic militant groups began waging a series of coordinated attacks against American and European targets. Leading this charge was Al Qaeda, whose leader Osama Bin Laden declared a “jihad” on the West for “spoiling Muslim Holy Land”. Several bombings including the U.S.S. Cole, the 1993 WTC bombing, the attacks of 9/11,and mass transit bombings in England and Spain are all directly attributed to Al Qaeda.. They also claimed responsibility for attacks in Egypt and Jordan.
Terrorism now a days seems to be almost completely associated with Muslim militant groups. Though it is not limited to them at all. In mid 90’s Japan, the group Aum Shinrikyo carried out several unsuccessful “bio attacks” using various chemicals and supposed anthrax spores. In 1995 they became world wide news when they pulled off a “successful” attack by introducing sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 and damaging the health of around 5,000 people. Russia, June 1995. Chechnyan separatists led by Shamil Basayev took 1,000 civilians hostage in a hospital located in Budyonnovsk. 105 civilians and 25 Russian troops were killed when special forces went in to subdue the hostage takers. More recently, in 2003, 40 to 50 Chechnyan rebels once again took Russian hostages, this time in a Moscow theater. They captured 850 hostages and demanded a full retreat from Chechnya by Russia in exchange for their return. Russian forces again attempted to subdue the hostage takers, this time by pumping an unknown chemical agent onto the theater’s ventilation system. A move known as “Russian stupid”. The gas killed about 40 of the militants and roughly 13o of the hostages. Far more than the previous sarin gas attacks in Japan. Russia is still heavily criticized for their handling of this event.
Religious based terrorism is not the only form or even the most prevalent. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was carried out by a militant group with no concrete ties to any particular religious institution. Though many of the atrocities committed against abortion providers in this country have most often had a fundamentalist slant to them. Several of the most prominent Muslim militant groups — Al Qaeda, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and recent rising star Jundallah, all seem to preach Islamic virtue and righteousness,but their leadership, more often than not, simply seek political power for their own selfish reasons. Using ages old hatreds and prejudices to persuade thousands to die for them.
Terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.
Lost in all the bombing and needless bloodshed is the message many of these groups carry with them. Many people have tremendous sympathy for the Arab and Muslim population in Palestine/Israel. As mass media has grown, more people have become more aware of the various clashes and “hot points” throughout the world. Anyone who chooses to can become as aware as they want to be of almost any situation. Terrorist organizations themselves have learned to use the media to their advantage. The sympathy quickly fades as body counts rise though. Very often these acts of terror open up healthy debates among citizens of various countries about how their governments handle certain situations. In the case of the Irish/English clashes and constant uprisings in Palestine, governments have changed policy and opened up new dialogues with people they long considered enemies. This is when the true colors of many in these militant groups shines through. Even when the grievances they claimed to have are addressed and mainstream leadership of their group accepts peace for more say in political matters, many still seek new justifications to wage their personal wars.
Means of funding these personal vendettas are as various as the groups themselves. The funding for state sponsored terrorism is obvious. These regimes also often support and fund various militant groups operating outside their borders. Groups lacking a sugar daddy often resort to kidnapping and extortion to acquire the funds they need to launch their various attacks. Some organizations will prop up mafia like “fronts”. Legitimate businesses that they launder money from. Groups like the previously mentioned Contras and Viet Cong, are often the beneficiaries of unsolicited support from various non terrorist countries looking to stall or subvert rival’s occupations or influences. Speaking of which, a long history of global conflict makes acquiring arms very easy for these various groups. The need for the military/defense industries in various countries to constantly justify their large budgets leads them to seek out ways to keep conflict going. Whether it be arming militants or selling weapons to despotic regimes, the countries victimized by terrorism are often the ones supplying them with the tools and finances to make it possible.
Today, America and the “Coalition of the Willing” are waging a “War on Terror”. A ridiculous concept to say the least. All we seem to be doing is demonizing an entire religion(Islam). A country full of people who don’t even realize Arab and Muslim are two different concepts, feel fit to cast judgement on an entire group of people. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, many people in America feel it is time to start leaving the Middle East. Various pro democracy rallies around the region are convincing them that the people are ready to stand up and oppose these militant groups and despotic regimes on their own, with countries like America, England, and France providing measured support when requested. Most militant groups throughout history feed on the instability in a region. It drives up recruitment and offers many chances to acquire funding. A “stable” Middle East, built on the backs of their citizens, would be a great blow to many high profile terrorist groups.
Going back to the Chomsky quote that opened the post, terrorism will end only when people stop believing in it. When the people begin to see that they can make things better without resorting to ultra violence, terrorism will no longer prosper. But the complexities of global foreign policy makes it difficult. There is enough for everyone. Enough food, enough land, enough water. But a lot of it is “owned” by the minority and sold at “fair prices” to the majority. Good luck getting rid of terrorism a long as that is the case.