THE HISTORY OF TERRORISM: MORE THAN 200 YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT
The history of terrorism dates back at least 1500 years when Jewish resistance groups (66 - 72 A.D.) known as Zealots killed Roman soldiers and destroyed Roman property. The term assassin comes from a Shi'ite Muslim sect (Nizari Isma'ilis - also known as hashashins "hashish-eaters") fighting Sunni Muslims (1090 - 1275) and during Medieval Christendom resisting occupation during the Crusades (1095-1291). The hashashins were known to spread terror in the form of murder, including women and children. The brotherhood of Assassins committed terror so as to gain paradise and seventy-two virgins if killed and to receive unlimited hashish while on earth. The modern development of terrorism began during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror (1793 - 1794). During this period the term terrorism was first coined. Through the past two hundred years, terrorism has been used to achieve political ends and has developed as a tool for liberation, oppression, and international global politics. This essay is designed to provide an overview of the development of terrorism over the past 200 years.
In summary, the development of terrorism as a tool to achieve political goals is as follows:
Late 18th Century - The French Revolution
Government Sponsored Terrorism
Goal: Eliminate opposition and consolidate power. The word terrorism was coined.
Late 19th and Early 20th Century - The Anarchists
Propaganda by deeds
Goal: Use terror to bring down a government
Early 20th Century - Russian Revolution
Government Sponsored Terrorism
Goal: Use terror to maintain power and control an entire population. Added systematic society wide use of terror to the concept of government-sponsored terrorism
Early 20th Century - Irish Rebellion
Goal: Use terror to gain independence
Middle 20th Century
Terror to End Colonialism
Goal: Use of selective terrorism on sympathizers and civilians
Between the French Revolution and the end of WWII, terrorism was local and organization of terror was confined to a specific area of conflict. The late 1960's brought a new change.
The Middle East / Cold War -Late 1960's
The Internationalization of Terrorism and State-Sponsored Terrorism
The unification of different terrorist groups as a worldwide network. Additionally, due to the Cold War different countries supporting different terrorist groups in order to destabilize rival governments. Terrorist groups allied in order to bring attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Middle East / Islamism (Militant Islam) - 1979
Religious Based Terrorism
Expansion of Islam and the protection of Islam against Jews, Christians and the West formed a justification for the use of terror independent of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Over the past two centuries terrorism has been used for various reasons to achieve various goals. Terrorism has been used by religious zealots and by non-religious ideologues. The historical development of terrorism shows that it is a tool of change.
Pre-Modern Use of Terrorism Terrorism is nothing new in the Middle East and its use is not new to Jews or Muslims. Jewish Zealots used terrorism to resist the Romans and Muslims used terrorism to resist each other (Shi'ites vs Sunni) and against the crusades. Terror during this period was used kill religious enemies. From the beginning terrorism and religion were companions. The concept of Suicide Martyrdom, dying in the service of God - dying while killing the enemies of God - dates back more than a thousand years ago. From the earliest days, terrorism encompassed the idea of dying in the service of God as a divine duty which would be rewarded in the afterlife. Terrorism against an enemy was a religious act which was considered a good and worthy act.
The French Revolution's Reign of Terror (1793 - 1794) Modern terrorism began with the Reign of Terror by Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobin Party. Robespierre brought to terrorism the concept that terrorism has virtue in that it can be a tool to bring about "legitimate" governmental ends. He used terror systematically to suppress opposition to the government. Robespierre introduced Government-sponsored terrorism: the use of terror to maintain power and suppress rivals. Before his reign was over hundreds of people met their end with the sound of the guillotine.
Anarchists (1890 - 1910) Anarchists were very active during the late 19th and early 20th century. Russian anarchists sought to overthrow the Russian Czar Alexander II by assassination and eventually succeeded in 1881. The Anarchists believed that killing the Czar and other kings and nobles of Europe would bring down governments. To this end the anarchist introduced to the development of terrorism, Individual terrorism. Individual terrorism is the use of selective terror against and individual or group in order to bring down a government. The use of terror was selective because targets were selected based on their position within the governmental system. Terrorist acts were limited to ensaure that innocent bystanders were not hurt. This concept of limited collateral damage to innocents, not targeting innocents, did not survive the second half of the 20th century.
Anarchists also introduced the observation that terrorism has a communicative effect. When a bomb explodes, society asks why. The need to kbow why an act was committed provides the perpetrators of the terrorist act a stage to which an audience is ready to listen. Thus the concept of propaganda by deeds was added to the development of modern terrorism. Terrorism was a tool of communication.
Between 1890 and 1908 anarchists were responsible for killing the kings and queens of Russia, Austria Hungry, Italy and Portugal. Anarchists were also active in the U.S. between 1890 and 1910 setting off bombs on Wall Street. The two most famous acts by anarchists were the assassinations of President McKinley (1901) and Archduke Ferdinand (1914) which resulted in the Great War.
The Soviet Revolution (1917) Lenin, followed by Stalin, expanded the idea of government-sponsored terrorism as a tool to maintain governmental control. Both used terror against an entire class of people within society (as supposed to use against one's enemies), systematically. Terror was used to control the entire society in order to build society. Fear was used as a motivational factor for governmental operations and public compliance with government. Terror was used as a way to organize and control a society.
The Irish Rebellion (1919 - 1921) The Irish War of 1919 brought three concepts to the development of terrorism (1) selective terrorism, (2) sustained terror over time and (3) cell operations.
The goal of the war was to gain Irish independence from England. Led by Michael Collins, terrorism was applied to representatives of England (police, soldiers, judges, government officials, etc.) in an effort to make the cost of continued occupation too high to maintain. Thus to terrorism was added the concept of selective terrorism, acts of terror against representatives of government to force their departure from an area. A tactic that has been adopted and used in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967 with the loss of one key concept, the selective aspect. Today's terrorism involves attacks on civilians and non-governmental officials.
Also added to the development of the use of terrorism is the concept that to make a change in a society, the acts of terror must be sustained over a long period of time. The sustained terror will, over time, break down the will of the targeted government and they will eventually seek to an accommodation.
The Irish war also provided the concept of cell operation to terrorism. Cell operation decentralizes the implementation of terrorist acts and prevents the discovery and destruction of the terrorist organization. Each cell has a specific goal or objective. Each cell only knows its members and its specific task. Thus the capture of one cell does not provide avenues to other terrorists. Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda operated with this decentralized design to implement the attack on September 11th. Cells in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. had specific objectives (transfer funds, learn to fly planes, create false documents, etc.). It has been estimnated that $500,000 was spend to implement the attacks of September 11th with cells operating in Europe and the Middle East providing organization, operation and financial assistance to the main cell that carried out the attack.
After WWII terrorism continued to be used as a tool for liberation and for ending colonialism in the Third World. Selective terror changed from targeting government officials to civilians and sympathizers of occupation.
Terrorism entered a new phase of development and use during the late 1960's. The 1960's brought to terrorism an international scope and a focus on the Middle East. With the 1967 war in which Israel defeated Jordan, Egypt and Syria, taking control of the Golan Heights (from Syria), East Jerusalem, the West Bank (from Jordan), the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt), the use of conventional war as a means to destroy Israel ended and the use of terror with the purpose of focusing attention on Israel and the Palestinians (the occupied territories) began.
Cuba and the Tri-Continental Conference (1966) In 1966 Cuba hosted the Tri-Continental Conference which was sponsored by the Soviet Union. This conference was the beginning of the internationalization of terrorism. Terrorist and "liberation" groups from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America began to work together and build alliances. Financial, political, operation and intelligence cooperation connected terrorist groups across the world. International terrorism flourished over the preceding two decades. Europe suffered a decade of terrorist activity as European and Middle Eastern terrorist groups worked together to bring attention to the Palestinian cause. In Germany, the Red Army Faction (German group) allied itself with Black September (Palestinian group); in France, Action Direct (French group) allied with the Red Army Faction and the Red Army Brigade (Italian group); in Japan, the Japanese Red Army allied with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Cuba became a training ground for terrorist groups.
Terrorism, the Middle East and the Cold War As the Cold War esculated in the 1960's and the world become polarized between the East and the West, a new dynamic was added to terrorism; State-Sponsored Terrorism: governments exporting terrorism to other parts of the world for their own political interests. Iran supported Hizballah, Libia supported Abu Nidal, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan and Algeria provided training camps, economic and political support to other terrorist groups. The focus of terrorism moved to the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli / Israeli- Palestinian conflict with the U.S. supporting Israel and the Soviet Union supporting various Arab countries.
The 1970's was the decade of air terrorism with more than 20 events of terrorism directed at European and American airlines involving hijackings, bombings and hostage taking. The 1970's also involved bombings, kidnappings and other types of terrorist activity throughout Europe.
Terrorism, the Middle East and Islamism The last twenty years of the 20th century brought terrorism full circle from its earliest history 1500 years prior. With the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran (1979), religious based terrorism returned. Militant Islam and the protection of Islam against Jews, Christians, and the West formed an independent justification for terrorism. Religious suicide martyrdom in which young men and women die in the service of Allah is evidenced in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and New York City.
The 1980's was the decade of hostage taking and terrorism found a target in U.S. interests around the world. Between 1979 and 1988 there were at least twelve incidents of terrorism directed at the U.S. and her interests. These incidents included the hostages in 1979, the bombing of U.S. Embassies, kidnapping of American citizens, and the bombing of airplanes.
The last decade of the 20th century made another change to the development of terrorism. Terrorism in the 1960's through the 1980's was about exposure to one's cause. A terrorist act was followed by credit taking or a warning to the U.S. that future attacks would occur if the U.S. did not change its policies or a way to gain the worlds attention to the Palestinian cause. The 1990's brought to terrorism, indiscriminate killing and high mass casualty counts for its own sake. Between 1993 and September 11, 2001 seven terrorist attacks were committed against the U.S. in which the destruction was the point of the attack. The 1990's returned to terrorism, religious extremism and hate being enough to justify the use of terror. 1993 WTC - 6 dead, major damage to the WTC 1995 Saudi Arabia - 5 dead - bombing of the U.S. Military Headquarters 1996 Saudi Arabia - 19 dead - Khobar Towers 1997 Egypt - 58 tourist dead - terrorists open fire in the Temple of Hatshepsut 1998 Kenya and Tanzania - 224 dead - bombing of two U.S. Embassies at the same time 2000 Yemen - 17 sailors killed - U.S.S. Cole 2001 WTC / Pentagon - 3000 dead After two hundred years, terrorism has changed and has been used for a variety of different purposes to achieve various goals. Ultimately terrorism is a tool to change behavior.