JUST a few years ago, terrorism seemed to be restricted to a few isolated places, such as Northern Ireland, the Basque Country in northern Spain, and some areas of the Middle East. Now—especially since September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York—it has mushroomed into a worldwide phenomenon, springing up in paradisaic Bali; Madrid, Spain; London, England; Sri Lanka; Thailand; and even Nepal. Yet, terrorism is not a new development. What is meant by the term “terrorism”?
Terrorism has been defined as “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) However, writer Jessica Stern observes: “The student of terrorism is confronted with hundreds of definitions . . . But only two characteristics of terrorism are critical for distinguishing it from other forms of violence.” What are they? “First, terrorism is aimed at noncombatants. . . . Second, terrorists use violence for dramatic purpose: instilling fear in the target audience is often more important than the physical result. This deliberate creation of dread is what distinguishes terrorism from simple murder or assault.”
Violence Rooted in the Past
In first-century Judaea, a violent group called the Zealots pushed for Jewish independence from Rome. Some of their most ardent adherents became known as Sicarii, or dagger men, a name that comes from the short swords they hid under their garments. Mingling in Jerusalem’s festival crowds, the Sicarii slit the throats of their enemies or stabbed them in the back. *
In 66 C.E., a group of Zealots seized the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea. They butchered the Roman garrison and made the mountaintop fastness their base of operations. For years they sortied from there and harassed the imperial authorities. In 73 C.E., the Roman Tenth Legion led by Governor Flavius Silva retook Masada, but they did not conquer the Zealots. A contemporary historian claims that rather than give in to Rome, 960 of them—everyone up there except for two women and five children—committed suicide.
Some view the Zealot revolt as the start of terrorism as we know it. True or not, since then terrorism has left deep tracks in history’s path.
Terrorism With Roots in Christendom
Beginning in 1095 and continuing for two centuries, crusader armies repeatedly crossed between Europe and the Middle East. Opposing them were Muslim forces from Asia and North Africa. The issue was control of Jerusalem, and each side tried to gain the advantage. In their many battles, those “holy warriors” hacked one another to pieces. They also used their swords and battle-axes on mere bystanders. William of Tyre, a 12th-century clergyman, described the crusaders’ entry into Jerusalem in the year 1099:
“They went together through the streets with their swords and spears in hand. All them that they met they slew and smote right down, men, women, and children, sparing none. . . . They slew so many in the streets that there were heaps of dead bodies, and one might not go nor pass but upon them that so lay dead. . . . There was so much blood shed that the channels and gutters ran all with blood, and all the streets of the town were covered with dead men.” *
In later centuries terrorists began using explosives and firearms with gruesome, fatal results.
June 28, 1914, is viewed by historians as a turning point in European history. A young man, regarded by some as a hero, shot the Austrian crown prince, Archduke Francis Ferdinand. That event brought mankind into World War I. Twenty million deaths later, the Great War ended.
On June 28, 1914, the world was plunged into war
World War I had its sequel in World War II, with its concentration camps, slaughter of civilians in bombing raids, and acts of retribution on innocent people. After the war, murders continued. Over a million people died on Cambodia’s killing fields in the 1970’s. And the people of Rwanda are still reeling from the massacre of over 800,000 in the 1990’s.
From 1914 to our time, mankind has suffered from terrorist activity in many countries. Yet, some people today act as if history had no lessons for modern man. On a regular basis, terrorist attacks kill hundreds, maim thousands, and rob millions of their right to peace of mind and safety. Bombs explode in marketplaces, villages burn to the ground, women are raped, children go into captivity, people die. In spite of laws and universal condemnation, this sadistic routine does not stop. Is there hope that terrorism will end?