An exclusive, ongoing, multipart series, whose sole quest is to find a universally acceptable definition of Terrorism.
As mentioned in the opening article to this multipart series, Can You Decide
, most experts will agree that terrorism is the deliberate use of
violence against civilians for political or religious ends. One question, of many, that does comes to mind is if the basic, agreed assertion that
terrorism is a deliberate act of violence perpetuated against civilians for political or religious ends, wouldn’t history bear witness to this also?
Before we proceed, we must bear in mind that a word, as well as the meaning, can evolve over time. In such, the word “terrorism,” as is currently
being utilized and defined, is almost Orwellian in nature. Mr. George Orwell, in his novel 1984
, suggests that words, as applied to language,
do not naturally change. That it is the words of that language that ultimately become used as a political instrument, changing in order to advance
political objectives or purposes.
George Orwell’s 1984
Also, Thomas Hobbes, during the mid-17th century, in his book Leviathan
, subjectively concluded that there was a distinct importance to
controlling the meaning of words in public language by the or those controlling powers (state or government).
On Hobbes’ Leviathan
With the above in mind, the word “terrorism,” as with terrorism itself, has undoubtedly been around as long as recorded history. When looking at
terrorism at and from a purely historical context, many will affirm that the practice and use of threatening, as applied to injuring and killing, of
innocent people for political and religious or many other ideological reasons goes back as far as pre-Biblical times. Without going into detail yet on
distinctions and characteristics of terrorism, pre-modern to modern, the two mainly used in ancient times were state terrorism
. Many of the pre-Biblical and subsequent Biblical civilizations were militaristic and religious regimes, maintaining their
imperial power on complete subjugation and fear tactics. These would include the Ninevites, Hittites, Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Egyptians,
Assyrians, Indus, Hindu, and many more.
During the Biblical period, the Hebrew Bible, the Torah
, seemingly advocated the use of terror, annihilation, assassination, and subjugation in
several instances (see the Book of Numbers and the Book of Joshua). The Roman’s utilized and established regicide
: the indiscriminate killing
of kings by political rivals, and then followed by the subsequent suppression of the kings loyalists afterwards. The Greek word for “jealous” was
. This word became the root base for the name used by a Jewish religious sect, the Zealots
, which led a number of fierce and bloody
uprisings against Roman occupation roughly 2,000 +/- years ago. They utilized hit-and-run tactics within public places. Moving beyond the Biblical
time period, Hindu society used a Sanskrit based literary language. The word “thug” was Hindu for thief and translated to sthagati
“concealed person.” Thug
was referenced to a member of a group of religious killers, who ambushed and strangled travelers as
part of their religious rituals. In some cases the thuggees
did not kill the travelers, they were kidnapped and used as sacrifices to their
god, Kali, the Goddess of Terror.
The practice and use of terrorism continues with further examples: the Assassins
, a religious group in Iraq in the early 1100’s, who fought the
Christian Crusaders, often utilizing suicide tactics. Between the mid-1400’s to the early 1600’s, the Spanish Inquisition
dealt torture and
death to all that were considered and defined as heretics
. The word “terrorism” takes real root in the English language during the periods
within the French Revolution, better known and coined as the “Reign of Terror”. Maximilien Robespierre utilizes the term: enemies of the state
and subsequently hundred’s of thousands are imprisoned, hundred’s of thousand deported, and tens of thousands executed. Numbers will undoubtedly vary
with historical sources, but it is also thought that hundred’s of thousands died of starvation and torture. In the early1800’s, the Luddites
vandalized and destroyed any type machinery that symbolized modern technology. It has been asserted that Lenin, in the early 1900’s, invented modern
state-sponsored terrorism: “We cannot reject terror, as it is the one form of military action which may be perfectly suitable or even essential at
a definite juncture in battle.”
In 1914, it is believed that the actions of a Serbian terrorist (Nationalist), Black Hand agent, Gavrilo Princip,
started World War I. In the early 1930’s, Adolf Hitler comes to power with the use of statewide fear tactics and state sponsored terrorism, to later
culminate in mass eradication programs and genocide. The Cold War then ensues with two major world powers: the United States and Russia (USSR). Both
nations adopted a form of foreign policy known as “dirty wars,”
which meant fighting or engaging in “wars” that were not on American or Russian
soil (Korea and Vietnam). Russian Stalinism and ensuing regimes practice the art of purges and a vast gulag of concentration camps. The United States,
in fear of Communism, institutes a policy of “Red Scare” (transpiring on more than one occasion), where suspected anarchists and believers in
communism are persecuted and roundup.
The above was just a brief
historical overview, but easily indicates that terrorism, whether international or restricted to state sponsored,
has overwhelmingly influenced and shaped world history. Countries such as Israel, Cyprus, Tunisia, and Ireland would not have become separate states
if not for revolutionary terrorism. Some may feel, though debatable, that the United States would fall into this category.
The next phase in exploring and then eventually finding a universal definition for terrorism, will be to explore how the modern states view and define
terrorism and how religion, specifically Islam, defines terrorism. There is no doubt that terrorism is apart of our modern recorded history as there
is no doubt that it was apart of our past recorded history.
Related Sources of Interest
Terrorist and Freedom Fighters
Reign of Terror
Lenin Collected Works
Instruments of Statecraft
The Coils of Cold War
Dealing With Terrorism and Insurgency
[Edited on 19-3-2004 by Seekerof]