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Terrorism has been practiced throughout history and throughout the world.
The ancient Greek historian Xenophon (c. 431–c. 350 BC) wrote of the effectiveness of psychological warfare against enemy populations.
Roman emperors such as Tiberius (reigned AD 14–37) and Caligula (reigned AD 37–41) used banishment, expropriation of property, and execution as means to discourage opposition to their rule.
The Spanish Inquisition used arbitrary arrest, torture, and execution to punish what it viewed as religious heresy. The use of terror was openly advocated by Robespierre as a means of encouraging revolutionary virtue during the French Revolution, leading to the period of his political dominance called the Reign of Terror (1793–94).
The 20th century witnessed great changes in the use and practice of terrorism. Terrorism became the hallmark of a number of political movements stretching from the extreme right to the extreme left of the political spectrum. Technological advances such as automatic weapons and compact, electrically detonated explosives gave terrorists a new mobility and lethality. Terrorism was adopted as virtually a state policy, though an unacknowledged one, by such totalitarian regimes as those of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. In these states arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution were applied without legal guidance or restraints to create a climate of fear and to encourage adherence to the national ideology and the declared economic, social, and political goals of the state.
Terrorism has most commonly become identified, however, with individuals or groups attempting to destabilize or overthrow existing political institutions. Terrorism has been used by one or both sides in anticolonial conflicts (Ireland and the United Kingdom, Algeria and France, Vietnam and France/United States), in disputes between different national groups over possession of a contested homeland (Palestinians and Israel), in conflicts between different religious denominations (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland), and in internal conflicts between revolutionary forces and established governments (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina).
Editor's Note: We believe that the killing of innocent people is wrong, in all cases. Thus, we cannot condone the use of terrorism by some extreme Palestinian groups, especially prevalent during the 1970s. That being said, however, it is necessary to examine the context in which such incidents occurred.
We hear lots about Palestinian terrorism. How about the Israeli record?
"The record of Israeli terrorism goes back to the origins of the state - indeed, long before - including the massacre of 250 civilians and brutal expulsion of seventy thousand others from Lydda and Ramle in July 1948; the massacre of hundreds of others at the undefended village of Doueimah near Hebron in October 1948;...the slaughters in Quibya, Kafr Kassem, and a string of other assassinated villages; the expulsion of thousands of Bedouins from the demilitarized zones shortly after the 1948 war and thousands more from northeastern Sinai in the early 1970's, their villages destroyed, to open the region for Jewish settlement; and on, and on." Noam Chomsky, "Blaming The Victims," ed. Said and Hitchens.
Terrorism - continued
"However much one laments and even wishes somehow to atone for the loss of life and suffering visited upon innocents because of Palestinian violence, there is still the need, I think, also to say that no national movement has been so unfairly penalized, defamed, and subjected to disproportionate retaliation for its sins as has the Palestinian.
The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11 confirmed that terrorism had acquired a new face. Terrorists were now engaged in a campaign of suicide and mass murder on a huge scale. Previously it had been possible to believe that there were limits beyond which even terrorists would not go. After the thousands of deaths on September 11, it was evident that at least one group would stop at nothing.
Terrorism was not always like this. Its history is as much European as Middle Eastern, and as much secular as religious. Far from being wilfully indiscriminate, it was often pointedly discriminate. Yet there are some common threads that can be traced through the history of terrorism. What happened on September 11 was a sinister new twist in an old story of fascination with political violence.