What is terrorism?
The term terrorist is believed to have originated during the Reign of Terror (September 5, 1793 – July 28, 1794) in France. It was a period of eleven months during the French Revolution when the ruling Jacobins employed violence, including mass executions by guillotine, in order to intimidate the regime’s enemies and compel obedience to the state. The Jacobins, most famously Robespierre, sometimes referred to themselves as “terrorists”.Some modern scholars, however, do not consider the Reign of Terror a form of terrorism, in part because it was carried out by the French state.
Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror among masses of people; or fear to achieve a religious or political aim.It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime or in war against non-combatants.The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s in news reports and books covering the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Basque Country and Palestine. The increased use of suicide attacks from the 1980s onwards was typified by the September 11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon in 2001.
The term terroriste, meaning “terrorist”, is first used in 1794 by the French philosopher François-Noël Babeuf, who denounces Maximilien Robespierre‘s Jacobin regime as a dictatorship.In the years leading up to the Reign of Terror, the Brunswick Manifesto threatened Paris with an “exemplary, never to be forgotten vengeance: the city would be subjected to military punishment and total destruction” if the royal family was harmed, but this only increased the Revolution’s will to abolish the monarchy.Some writers attitudes about French Revolution grew less favorable after the French monarchy was abolished in 1792. During the Reign of Terror, which began in July 1793 and lasted thirteen months, Paris was governed by the Committee of Public safety who oversaw a regime of mass executions and public purges.
Prior to the French Revolution, ancient philosophers wrote about tyrannicide, as tyranny was seen as the greatest political threat to Greco-Roman civilization. Medieval philosophers were similarly occupied with the concept of tyranny, though the analysis of some theologians like Thomas Aquinas drew a distinction between usurpers, who could be killed by anyone, and legitimate rulers who abused their power – the latter, in Aquinas’ view, could only be punished by a public authority. John of Salisbury was the first medieval Christian scholar to defend tyrannicide.
In December 1795, Edmund Burke used the word “Terrorists” in a description of the new French government called ‘Directory’.According to the Global Terrorism Database maintained by the University of Maryland, College Park, more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism, resulting in at least 140,000 deaths, were recorded between 2000 and 2014.
errorism is not a 21st century phenomenon and has its roots in early resistance and political movements. The Sicarii were an early Jewish terrorist organisation founded in the first century AD with the goal of overthrowing the Romans in the Middle East. Judas of Galilee, leader of the Zealots and a key influence on the Sicarii, believed that the Jews should be ruled by God alone and that armed resistance was necessary.
Unlike the Zealots, the Sicarii targeted other Jews they believed to be collaborators or traitors to the cause. The tactics employed by the Sicarii were detailed by the historian Josephus around 50AD: “they would mingle with the crowd, carrying short daggers concealed under their clothing, with which they stabbed their enemies. Then when they fell, the murderers would join in the cries of indignation and, through this plausible behavior, avoided discovery.”
There are many other key examples of terrorism throughout history before the modern terrorism of the 20th century. Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt at reinstating a Catholic monarch is an example of an early terrorist plot motivated by religion. Meanwhile, The Reign of Terror during the French Revolution is an example of state terrorism.
Modern terrorism after the second world war
The use of terrorism to further a political cause has accelerated in recent years. Modern terrorism largely came into being after the Second World War with the rise of nationalist movements in the old empires of the European powers. These early anti-colonial movements recognised the ability of terrorism to both generate publicity for the cause and influence global policy. Bruce Hoffman, director of the Centre of Security Studies at Georgetown University writes that, “The ability of these groups to mobilize sympathy and support outside the narrow confines of their actual “theaters of operation” thus taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who now saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.” This development paved the way for international terrorism in the 1960s.