The world it seems has changed. The power of terrorism in the last few months has struck a particular tender cord. The results of which have been suspicion, discrimination, sorrow, heartbreak, fear, paranoia, helplessness, anger and retaliation.
Terrorism, however is not a new phenomenon. Many of the countries of the world have been exposed to or are familiar with some form of terrorism. Yet the scale, the simplicity and the arrogance of the attacks in New York against arguably the most sophisticated defense systems of the world have brought with them a new reality to many western nations. So what actually is terrorism?
Terrorism is by definition
"the use of violence to achieve ends."
Source: Collins Dictionary
"the use or threat of action to influence a government or intimidate the public for a political, religious or ideological cause."
Source: British Terrorism Act 2000
However, the distinction between terrorism, freedom fighters, & guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, is much more murky. It would seem that only a neutral organization could define what acts fall into which category and this unfortunately is a rare commodity.
Examples of terrorist organizations from around the world as listed by the International Policy Institute for International Terrorism include:
Source: The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism
This information is useful as it demonstrates that terrorist groups are located in every continent of the world bar North America and Australasia. However, the sources of such a website should not be overlooked as this can skew the information presented. With this point in mind, terrorism as a whole is a difficult subject to get a full picture of. On the Internet for instance, most information that is published on terrorism & located by search engines is from US sources. Therefore it would naturally diffuse a US bias.
Lack of information, censored or biased information can be associated further with terrorism. Frustrations of terrorist organizations are often exacerbated through misinformation or no information by media on sensitive issues by which they are affected.
This can evolve into one of the causative agents for terrorism, that is parties of people whose beliefs are not being heard, or who are not allowed a voice. Such parties which come to be led by extremists may turn to terrorism and advocate violence as a way of achieving goals. From their stance there is already incredible injustice and this in turn validates the fanatical behaviour of terrorism.
For some groups it is the behaviour of their governments towards them or the behaviour of foreign governments towards them that is the catalyst for terrorism. As a group they may have cultural or religious identity but it is the policies towards their beliefs that provides the motivation for terrorism.
For example in the Basque region of Spain and in Northern Ireland, in oversimplified terms, it is the cultural/religious identity and inability to govern themselves rather than be governed that has culminated in the development of terrorism by such groups as ETA and the real IRA.
The terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th some believe are a direct result of the US foreign policy in the Middle East.
The extract below from the November edition of the New Internationalist magazine provides an interesting viewpoint on some of these issues
"American foreign-policy critic Noam Chomsky suggests there is a wilful blindness in the US public’s perception of its role in the region. If there is widespread hatred of the US, there are legitimate reasons.
It is no longer a secret that the US itself created Osama bin Laden as a weapon in its ‘cold war’ battle against the Soviets. The US provided buckets of cash and training via the CIA in an effort to help oust the Russians from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of that country in the 1980s"
"It was the same in Iraq where Washington propped up one of America’s current bogeymen, Saddam Hussein, as a counterbalance to Ayatollah Khomeini’s anti-American regime in Iran. Saddam could do no wrong in the eyes of his Western supporters - until he invaded oil-rich Kuwait. He even gassed whole villages of Kurds and still managed to keep on the right side of the United States and allies like Britain. After the Gulf War, US-led economic sanctions against Iraq triggered mass starvation and the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, many of them children."
"....And the list does not stop there. Was it a coincidence that the terrorist attack occurred on the anniversary of the 1973 coup in Chile, engineered by the CIA in which thousands were arrested, tortured and murdered by the Chilean military and secret police? Perhaps. But America has for decades spread its gospel of ‘democracy and liberty’ by means of both violence and coercion. The US assisted right-wing death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador during the 1980s helped oust democratically elected progressive regimes in the Dominican Republic and Iran in the 1950s, backed brutal dictators from Marcos in the Philippines to Mobutu in Zaire(now DR Congo) during the 1960s and 1970s.
In the Arab world, the US has consistently supported corrupt and repressive despots who sit on the world’s largest oil reserves. These include the Saudi regime which rivals the Taliban in its brand of fundamentalist Islam. In fact, the Taliban version of Islam is a spin-off from the ultra-sectarian Wahhabi sect that rules Saudi Arabia. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia since the end of the Gulf War is seen as an unforgivable desecration of the Islamic holy land by bin Laden and countless other Muslim splinter groups. "
As suggested by the article, groups of people or organizations often see other countries as having "double standards", that is a large differentiation between country portrayal and the reality of action. For example the IRA, and the real IRA are known terrorist organizations, responsible for terrorist activities in Northern Ireland and England. It is believed that they are largely funded by US sympathizers. This is documented on the US State Departments website. So could it be then said that the USA are harboring terrorists and supporting terrorism? The IRA and real IRA may not have caused thousands of deaths, but they have killed many with their bombs. The explosion at Canary Wharf, London's equivalent of the World Trade Center in New York, killed civilians and cost millions of pounds worth of damage.
With all this said on the whys of terrorism, or the possible causes of terrorist attacks, the outcome is the same; terrorism is never ok and it can never be justified. Innocent people should never be tormented, injured or killed by such actions. Terrorism needs to be eradicated. It symbolizes the worst in human nature and results in undeserved fear, pain and misery for society.
In reality, the war against terrorism will inevitably be a long process. History shows us that an eye for an eye approach will simply provoke further hatred. To have lasting impact and success, people, governments, and media will all have to act with responsibility, fairness and integrity.
What is Terrorism? - BBC news
The International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism
New Internationalist Magazine
US Department of State
Back to top