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Terrorism refers to the use of violence for the purpose of achieving a political, religious, or ideological goal. The targets of terrorist acts can be government officials, military personnel, people serving the interests of governments, or civilians. Acts of terror against military targets tend to blend into a strategy of guerrilla warfare. However, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. Random violence against civilians (noncombatants) is the type of action most widely condemned as "terrorism."
Acts of terrorism can be perpetrated by individuals, groups, or states, as an alternative to an open declaration of war. They are often carried out by states, or those who otherwise feel powerless. States that sponsor or engage in the use of terrorist tactics tend to use more neutral or positive terms to describe their own combatants, – such as freedom fighters, patriots, or paramilitaries, while the state or states being fought tend to use more negative terms like terrorism.
On the surface, the popular definition of 'terrorism' represents a shift from previous means of defining an enemy from territorial or cultural disputes over ideology or religion, to the acts of violence against the public. Many people dispute this definition however as ideological and simplistic, arguing instead that 'terrorism' is simply another in a long lists of enemy terms —that underneath any current conflict lies the same materialistic and ethnocentric reasons of which most past wars were based and now freely explained. The use of the terms terrorism and terrorist are politically weighted, and are often used to polarizing effect, where 'terrorism' is simply a relativist term for the violence committed by an enemy, from the point of view of the attacked. As political violence can be generally categorized as either 'violence in support of an establishment' or 'violence in opposition to an establishment,' 'terrorism' can be simply defined as the common euphemism for the latter.
The violence, i.e., terrorism, committed by state combatants is also considered more acceptable than that of the 'terrorist,' who by definition does not follow the self-serving laws of war, and hence cannot share in the acceptance given to establishment violence. Thus the term is impossible to apply by its rational definition —states who engage in warfare often do so outside of the laws of war and often carry out violence against civilian populations, yet rarely receive the label of 'terrorist.' The common public distinction between state violence and terrorism is based on a perception that terrorism is random, and therefore more irrational than state violence, which is assumed to be more considerate of human life. History does not always bear this out however, and language reflects this: few would question that deliberate attacks on civilian refugee columns and camps is an attempt to induce terror in the enemy population and is therefore a terrorist act. As such the most accurate definition of "terrorism" must be based in its abstract nature as a term for characterising the violence of an enemy as conforming to an immoral code of conduct.
A terrorist' is, strictly speaking, one who is personally involved in an act of terrorism. The term "terrorism" comes from the French 18th century word terrorisme (under the Terror), based on the Latin language verbs terrere (to tremble) and deterrere (to frighten from). The use of the term "terrorist" has had broader applications however, ranging in application from disgruntled citizens to common political dissidents. The term "eco-terrorist" for example was coined to apply to those who damage or destroy property as a symbolic act of resisting envionmental impactful economic trends and policy.
Main article: Definitions of terrorism
Many definitions of terrorism exist, from various locations within the political spectrum. Most definitions of terrorism recognize and explain four primary criteria, these being the target, the objective, the motive, and the legitimacy of the action.
In November, 2004, a UN panel defined terrorism as: "Any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians, non-combatants when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act."
History and causes
In the 1st century, Zealots conducted a fierce and unrelenting terror campaign against the Roman occupiers of the eastern Mediterranean. The Zealots enlisted sicarii to strike down rich Jewish collaborators and others who were friendly to the Romans.
In the 11th century, the radical Islamic sect known as the Assassins employed systematic murder for a cause they believed to be righteous. For two centuries, they resisted efforts to suppress their religious beliefs and developed ritualized murder into a fine art taught through generations. Political aims were achieved through the power of intimidation.
During the French Revolution (1789 - 1799), the most severe period of the rule of the Committee of Public Safety (1793 - 1795) was labelled "The Terror" (1793 - 1794) and described Jacobin extensive use of death penalty by guillotine. Some argue that this period is an example of state terrorism. Certainly, it induced fear and outrage not only in the domestic population of France, but also throughout the European aristocracy. This period is the first known use of the term "terrorism".
By the mid-19th century, Russian intelligentsia grew impatient with the slow pace of Tsarist reforms, and sought instead to transform peasant discontent into open revolution. Anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin maintained that progress was impossible without destruction. Their objective was nothing less than complete destruction of the state. Anything that contributed to this goal was regarded as moral. With the development of sufficiently powerful, stable, and affordable explosives, the gap closed between the firepower of the state and the means available to dissidents. Organized into secret societies like the People's Will, Russian terrorists launched a campaign of terror against the state that climaxed in 1881 when Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated. Also, a revolutionary Irish-American group called the Fenian Brotherhood planted explosive devices around the city of London in particular and the British mainland in general in the mid 1800's, in protest to the British occupation of Ireland. This is often seen as the first act of 'republican Terrorism'
Today, modern weapons technology has made it possible for a "super-empowered angry man" (Thomas Friedman) to cause a large amount of destruction by himself or with only a few conspirators. It can be, and has been, conducted by small as well as large organizations.
Some believe that individuals or groups resort to terrorism when other avenues for change, including economics, protest, public appeal, and organized warfare, hold no hope of success (also see rioting). Therefore some argue that one approach to reduce terrorism is to ensure that where there is a population feeling oppressed, some avenue of problem resolution is kept open, even if the population in question is in the minority.
Others, for example the American intellectual Noam Chomsky, believe that terrorism is typically sponsored by governments through the organisation, funding or training of death squads and similar paramilitary groups, often under the banner of counter-terrorism. In his view the causes of terrorism include attempts to gain or consolidate power either by instilling fear in the population to be controlled, or by stimulating another group into becoming a hardened foe, thereby setting up a polarizing us-versus-them paradigm (also see nationalism and fascism). (Nicaragua v. United States is often cited by Chomsky as an example.)
In the absence of state funding, terrorists often rely on organized crime to fund their activities. This can include kidnapping, drug trafficking, or robbery. But terrorists have also found many more legitimate sources of revenue. Osama bin Laden, for example, invested millions in terrorism that his family made in the construction industry building luxury castles for those making their money from selling the country's oil. The diamond industry emerged early in the twenty-first century as an important new source of funding for terrorism, and Islamist terrorist groups in particular have been very effective at procuring funding through a system of charitable contributions. Recent activity by Islamic terrorists has resulted in the unfortunate sarcastic label of Islam as the Religion of Peace, by pundits.
Terrorists often seek to demoralize and paralyze their enemy with fear. This sometimes works, but it can also stiffen the enemy's resolve.
In general, retribution against terrorists can result in escalating tit-for-tat violence. It is often felt that if the consequences of engaging in terrorism are not swift and punitive, the deterrent to other terrorist groups is diminished.
Terrorism relies heavily on surprise. Terrorist attacks can trigger sudden transitions into conflict or war. Frequently, after a terrorist attack, a number of unassociated groups may claim responsibility for the action; this may be considered "free publicity" for the organization's aims or plans. Because of its anonymous and sometimes self-sacrificial nature, it is not uncommon for the reasons behind the terrorist action to remain unknown or murky for a considerable period.
The existing order within countries or internationally depends on compromises and agreements between various groups and interests that were made to resolve past conflicts. Over time, these arrangements become less relevant to the current situation. Some terrorist acts seem calculated to disrupt the existing order and provoke conflicts in the expectation that it will lead to a new order more favorable to their interests. Some people considered to be terrorists, or supporters of terrorist actions, at some point in their lives have gone on to become dedicated peace activists (Uri Avnery), respected statesmen (Yitzhak Shamir) and even Nobel Peace Prize laureates (Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Menachem Begin). This illustrates the plasticity of the term.
Examples of terrorism
The following incidents have been described as domestic and international terrorism: the Oklahoma City bombing in the USA (April 19, 1995); the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland (August 15, 1998); the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, USA; the Munich Massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972; the Bali bombing in October 2002 and the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. See List of terrorist incidents for more examples.
The deadliest attack ever committed, not known to have been sponsored by a state and described as terrorism was the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, in Arlington County, Virginia. So far as is known, the deadliest attack planned but not executed was Operation Bojinka, which aimed to murder Pope John Paul II and blow up 11 airliners. The plot was aborted after an apartment fire in Manila, Philippines on January 5, 1995 exposed the operation to police. The militants who were planning it were just over two weeks away from implementing their plot.
Since 1968, the U.S. State Department has tallied deaths due to terrorism. In 1985, it counted 816 deaths, the highest annual toll until then. The deaths decreased over the years, then rose to 3,295 in 2001, most as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2003, more than 1,000 people died as a result of terrorist acts. Many of these deaths resulted from suicide bombings in Chechnya, Iraq, India and Israel. It does not tally victims of state terrorism.
Acts of terrorism typically cause a significant number of civilian casualties. To protect against such attacks, there is a need for increased vigilance on the part of governments. Examples include more thorough inspection of baggage in airports.
Preparing for terrorism includes the construction of hospitals with a large surge capacity, as well as of alternative care facilities to handle a huge influx of patients and displaced persons. In order to reduce the spread of infection, decontamination during a release of chemical or biological agents is an important element of emergency planning.
Data from the US Department of State shows that, since the late 1980s, there has been a decline in the number of international terrorist attacks. Data from the Terrorism Knowledge base show a similar decline since the early 1980s.
The major decline in international terrorist attacks was in Western Europe. On the other hand, Asia experienced an increase in international terrorist attacks. Other regions experienced less consistent patterns over time
From 1991 to 2003, there was a consistent increase in the number of casualties from international terrorist attacks in Asia, but few other consistent trends in casualties from international terrorist attacks. Three different regions had, in three different years, a few attacks with a large number of casualties.
On the other hand, data from the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base show that since the mid to late 1990's there has been a large increase in the number of total terrorist incidences, injuries and fatalities. Most of this increase is due to an increase in domestic terrorism.
- MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base (http://www.tkb.org)
- The Birth of Suicide Bombings as a Popular Weapon (http://www.globalpolitician.com/articles.asp?ID=71)
Etymology (history and first use of "terrorism")
- Etymology of "terrorism" (Etymonline) (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=terrorism)
- Britannica Encyclopedia entry on the origins and first use of "terror" to achieve political ends (French Revolution, Reign of Terror) (http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article?eu=401990)
- The BBC's Allan Little - Analysis of Terrorism (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1693000/1693876.stm)
- Christian Science Monitor : Exactly what is terrorism? High Bandwidth (http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/terrorism/frameset.html) | Low Bandwidth (http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/terrorism/lite/index.html)
- Beinin, Joel, Is Terrorism a Useful Term in Understanding the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict? (http://www.why-war.com/resources/files/85.1beinin.pdf), Radical History Review, Issue 85 (Winter 2003): 12-23. [PDF]
- INA's Objection to BBC policy (http://www.israelpr.com/bbcterrorism.html)
- Netanyahu, Benjamin, "On Terrorism (http://www.netanyahu.org/statofforisp.html)"
- Boaz Ganor Defining Terrorism: Is One Man's Terrorist Another Man's Freedom Fighter? (http://www.ict.org.il/articles/define.htm)
- Gerald A. Juhnke, When Terrorists Strike: What School Counselors Can Do (http://www.ericdigests.org/2003-4/terrorists.html)
- Leon Trotsky (1909), Why Marxists oppose Individual Terrorism (http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1909/tia09.htm)
- Galak, Michael and Vaknin, Sam Terrorism as a Psychodynamic Phenomenon - A Dialog (http://samvak.tripod.com/terrorism.html)
- Terrorists and Freedom Fighters in the Balkans (http://ceeandbalkan.tripod.com/pp52.html)
- International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict by Brian Jenkins, Crescent Publications, 1975, ISBN 0891440003
- The Terrorism Reader by Walter Laqueur and Yonah Alexander, New American Library, 1987, ISBN 0452008433
- Responding to the Terrorist Threat by Richard Schultz and Stephen Sloan, Pergamon Press, 1981, ISBN 0080251064
- Spetsnaz: The Inside Story of the Soviet Special Forces by Viktor Suvorov, W.W. Norton, 1988, ISBN 0393026140 online English translation (http://lib.ru/WSUWOROW/specnaz_engl.txt)
- Inside Soviet Military Intelligence by Viktor Suvorov, Macmillan, 1984, ISBN 0026155109 online English translation (http://lib.ru/WSUWOROW/intelligence_engl.txt)