Friday, September 16, 2005

Origins Of Terrorism

What's The Story?
Following the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, the History Channel looks at the origins of terrorism. The term 'terrorism' covers a wide variety of activities, but is chiefly defined as the use of violence and intimidation to achieve a goal (normally a political goal). This can take the form of assassinating members of a government or group who are opposed to the terrorists' causes. However, as recent events so chillingly demonstrate, members of the public with no connection to the political issue are just as often targeted, in order to spawn massive international publicity, as well as unfathomable shock and alarm. Methods used by terrorists include kidnapping, hostage-taking, bombing, shooting and hijacking of aeroplanes and vehicles. Some terrorist attacks do not in any way endanger the actual protagonist, while at the other end of the scale are suicide bombers, who are prepared to die as a result of their own actions. Aside from politics as a motive for terrorism, there are other causes, including racism (America's Ku Klux Klan, responsible for many bomb attacks on black churches in Alabama), ethical hot potatoes (for example, the anti-abortionist pro-life groups who regularly attempt to take the lives of doctors and medical staff in general), and religious convictions. Terrorism is extremely difficult to control, given that it nearly always has the advantage of the 'surprise' element. Terrorist attacks, by their very nature, can rarely be anticipated or foreseen. Furthermore, most prominent terrorist groups are well-funded both within their countries and abroad. This funding provides weapons and security. And since there are so many different terrorist groups, each with its own agenda, attempts to curb terrorism through international agreements are considerably difficult to pull off. When did terrorism start? Due to disagreements over the definition of terrorism, it isn't easy to specify an occurrence that constitutes the very first act of terrorism. Certainly, as long ago as the 14th century, there are examples of what could be called terrorism. During this time, in an early example of biochemical terrorism, the Tartars threw dead bodies over the walls of Kaffa, hoping to introduce the plague. The word itself was invented in 1795, in connection with the French revolutionaries who executed their enemies - and surpressed opposition - with the guillotine. However, the concept of terrorism took greater hold during the 1870s in Russia, when revolutionaries began to practise it. It was a means for weaker or smaller forces, without the kind of funds or numbers at the disposal of larger countries, to wage war - an easier option for those unable to fight an orthodox struggle. Soon, the tactic spread to the Macedonians and Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, the Irish and the Indians in the British Empire, and anarchists of all descriptions in America and Europe. Terrorist activity was normally confined to the assassination of statesmen and rulers, as well as bomb attacks on public buildings. The main objectives tended to be self-advertisement, in other words, announcing your presence and demonstrating your ruthlessness, as well as the desire to undermine and demoralise a government and its supporters. A further objective was to provoke a response from government so violent and savage that it lost support, and eventually awoke sympathy and even support for the terrorist. History has shown that this last aim is not always successful. When the Armenians provoked Turkey with acts of terrorism, Turkey reacted so aggressively that the Armenians came close to extinction. The term 'terrorism' was also used during World War II by the Germans. The French, Czech and Polish Resistance movements - all of whom were backed by Britain's Special Operations Executive - were dubbed 'terrorists' by the Germans, because of their activities - ambushing, destroying bridges and railway tracks, and killing German officials. This raises one of the problems of how to define terrorism. To the Germans, these acts were experienced as 'terrorism', but to the British, and to those carrying out the acts, they were justifiable tactics of war. Since then, innumerable acts that some countries experience as terrorism are not considered terrorism by the groups responsible for them. This has given rise to the expression, 'one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter'. Various anti-colonial movements have made use of this argument, including the Viet Minh who were initially deployed by the British and Americans to fight the Japanese. Later on, the Viet Minh turned their attention to French rule in Vietnam, to which they objected. They conducted raids on plantations overseen by the French, as well as bombs placed in public cafes, and random shootings. Further events that gave birth to modern terrorism include the tactics used against the British in Palestine by Israeli terrorists. Hotels were blown up, British troops assassinated, and British patrols ambushed. The National Liberation Front of Algeria, fighting against French rule, began to incorporate more sophisticated ideas. Arab women were dressed up in stylish, contemporary French outfits, enabling them to plant bombs in theatres and cafes. Terrorism as we know it today, though, is generally thought to have been spawned by the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in 1967. Following the Arab defeat, in which the Israelis occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) arose, immediately embarking on a series of aeroplane hijackings. Amongst their most notorious attacks came when they raided the Olympic village in Munich, in 1972, killing 17 Israeli athletes. Europe, Japan and the United States soon experienced similar activities, normally carried out by young militant groups. The Weathermen were an American group, dedicated to bringing about the downfall of their own government. They were a splinter group of an otherwise peaceful anti-war movement. They made attempts to bomb the Pentagon and Columbia University, before accidentally blowing themselves up with their own dynamite in New York. In Britain, our primary first-hand experience of terrorism comes from the activities of the IRA, who have been responsible for over three decades of terrorist activity, including the 1983 Harrods bomb. By 1994, the IRA body count had reached 3,169, with an additional 38,680 people gravely injured. Other groups include Germany's Red Army Faktion, Italy's Red Brigades and Japan's Red Army, although these groups were either quashed or drastically reduced, whereas the PLO and the IRA both managed to curry sufficient favour (particularly the IRA, who successfully persuaded America that it was a national liberation movement), in order to survive. There is a clear lesson to be learned from the way that Britain and Israel responded to, respectively, the IRA and the PLO. Even in the face of terrible attacks on innocent civilians in England, the British attempted to honour the civil liberties of IRA members. British troops who carried out atrocities were put on trial, and events such as the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry, were thoroughly investigated, albeit belatedly. Convicted terrorists were freed. Consequently, it was possible to initiate a peace process; which, however slow-moving, continues today. However, in attempting to curb the PLO, Israelis assassinated PLO leaders, fired missiles and bombs, used gunships, insouciantly risked civilian lives, and made it increasingly unlikely that any negotiation will ever take place. It is now left to America to devise a strategy of its own - and for the rest of us to hope that it avoids the brutal and counter-productive excesses of the Israeli-PLO conflict.


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