Kill one … frighten a thousand
– The number of terrorist attacks is increasing
– terrorist attacks are more widespread
– Europe is experiencing terrorism of a kind never before seen
– New forms of terrorism motivated by religious imperatives are fundamentally different from terrorism of thirty years ago.
Modern perception, promoted and, arguably supported by what we read in the press and see through the media, but is it reality?
What is terrorism?
In simple terms, it is a technique that boils down to killing civilians in order to influence, shock, impress, provoke, coerce or harm relevant third parties.
In legal terms, there is no internationally accepted definition of terrorism. One man’s terrorist is often seen as another man’s freedom fighter, for example.
What is a terrorist? A tough question to answer. Terror can come from the State, from a dictator or from a secret police. It can be undertaken by religious believers or atheists, left or right-wing political groups, vigilantes, death-squads, invading Armies or Governments.
And is terrorism a new phenomenon? Although we are experiencing a recent surge in religious terrorism, the mythology of most world religions is filled with violent images and bloody histories. For example, all three Abrahamic religions have experienced radical offshoots that have at some time promoted extreme interpretations of their beliefs and a resulting ‘holy war’ that included worldwide political objectives. The same can be said of non-Abrahamic religions such as Hinduism and Buddism.
Terrorism is not new. It existed at the time of the crusades and during the tortures and abuses of the Inquisition. Genghis Khan and other Mongols used it as a tactic to overcome their enemies, as did the Roman Empire. In more recent times, invading German and Japanese Armies in WWII used terror to subjugate potentially resistant populations.
Marxists tried to divide human societies by class and propagate ‘class war’, Fascists used race to identify their enemy.
We now experience terrorism motivated by religion, dividing humankind into true Muslims on one hand and unbelievers (kafir) and heretics (takfir) on the other.
Kill ten … frighten a million.
Islamist Jihadi terrorism has become our main form of trans-national terrorism in the last ten to twenty years. But this does not mean that all Islamist movements include Jihad in their priorities – they do not. There are examples who abstain from any form of violence.
Something in the modern world, perhaps globalisation, is unsettling many people and their search for a secure future is leading some to reject the modern world and to favour a violent solution to changing the threat that they perceive.
Kill a hundred … frighten a whole population.
So, what of the future? History tells us that all forms of terrorism will eventually fail. Current threats will fade and be replaced by new motivations and causes.
The current Islamic threat is new, because it is so transnational, involving myriad groups, and there is no specific grievance that can be addressed, nor any specific leadership with whom a negotiated solution can be found.
And despite the lessons of history, our leaders still appear surprised that military intervention in places like Iraq has proved ineffective without subsequent political solution and this has only led to increased violence.
Terrorism relies upon fear to succeed.
If we do not fear it, if we recognise that history teaches us a solution to this current wave will be found or it will simply fade with time, then it will fail, as it always has.
Time will heal. Peace will return.
I believe that – I have to believe it – the alternative is far too catastrophic to contemplate.