JUNE 1914: a young man in Sarajevo steps up to a carriage and fires his pistol.
The Archduke Ferdinand dies. Within weeks, the first world war has begun. The
1940s: the French resistance kill occupying troops when and how they can. June
1944: at Oradour-sur-Glane, in central France, German SS troops take revenge,
massacring 642 villagers. August 1945: the United States Air Force drops the
world’s first nuclear weapons. Some 190,000 Japanese die, nearly all of them
civilians. Within days the second world war has ended.
Which of these four events was an act of terrorism? Which achieved anything?
Which, if any, will history judge as justified? And whose history? Terrorism is
not the simple, sharp-edged, bad-guy phenomenon we all love to condemn. No clear
line marks off politics from the threat of force, threat from use, use from
covert or open war. Who is or is not a terrorist? The suicide bomber, the rebel
guerrilla, the liberation front, the armed forces of the state?
Terrorism is fundamentally a political act. Terrorists act to advance a cause
they mean to create tyranny, either directly or indirectly, so that the
political order that they prefer can take the place of the current one.
Terrorists can be either rebels seeking to overthrow a state or states seeking
to overthrow the international order or states seeking to maintain privilege for
rulers and stifle dissent among the people. In every case the motivation for
terrorism is explicitly without an exception, political.
Terrorism has a long, if tainted,. pedigree. Aristotle recognized it, even if it
had no name at the time, when he wrote that “the first aim and end of tyrants is
to break the spirit of their subjects.” What we know as terrorism can be traced
to the Russian nihilists and anarchists of the 19th century, who gave a name to
what would otherwise be considered “random acts of violence” that were performed
to advance their revolutionary cause. They elevated terrorism to a high moral
plane. One of them, Mikhail Bakunin, exclaimed: “The passion for destruction is
also a creative passion.”
British military analyst Brian Crozier wrote in his 1974 book, “Theory of
Conflict, that terrorists have several aims, falling into two categories.
Through “disruptive terrorism,” they try to,
(1) Gain publicity for their movement or arouse admiration .
(2) Secure funds and build up the movements, morale or prestige .
(3) Discredit and demoralize the authorities.
(4) Provoke the authorities
(5) To take excessively harsh repressive measures desired to
alienate citizens and force a large- scale opposition to
“Coercive terrorism, ” is similar but complementary.
(1) It attempts to demoralize the civilian population
(2) Weaken its confidence in the government and instill fear of
the revolutionary terrorists.
(3)It also by making examples of well- publicized victims, tries to
enforce obedience to the terrorist movement leaders.
Until after World War II, most terrorists adhered to a set of rules for moral
behavior that excluded the killing, capture, or torture of civilians who were
not also government officials. In other words they respected the rights of non-
combatants as defined by various treaties that set the rules for armed conflict
(such as the Geneva and Hague Conventions). Since the with the rise of terrorist
groups and revolutionary guerrilla movements around the world, such rules have