Terrorism

Terrorism has been defined by Webster’s as "the use of terror or intense fear and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon or policy."  Down through history, such tactics have been used by both governments as well as individuals.

The immediate aim of terrorism then, as always, is to intimidate, however much the ultimate goals may differ.  The use of terrorism by subversive or revolutionary groups is generally aimed at causing chaos in order to disable the reigning power or render it ineffective. Such were the tactics of the "Shining Path" guerrillas in Peru, and until recently, the Maoist rebels in Nepal -- the idea being that when the government breaks down, then the rebels will be able to finally take over.  On the other hand, for those already in power, the use of terrorist tactics is inevitably designed to insure that their power remains unchallenged. The infamous "Reign of Terror" following the 1795 French Revolution remains the classic example of the latter, where those who came to power under the watchwords "Liberte', Equalite', Fraternite'", were all to ready to use the mob and the guillotine as a means of enforcing their dictatorship. So too, Stalin's use of the KGB, show trials, and his infamous "gulags".  Fear induced through such means eventually insures a subservient population.

Today, however, we tend to think of "terrorism" as a tactic employed almost exclusively by radical groups, especially radical religious groups, trying to overthrow the existing order. But is this true?  As one contemporary Mid-eastern diplomat recently put it: "Terrorism is the war of the weak: war is the terrorism of the strong." Indeed, from this point of view, at least, the aim of the small group that was responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, were much the same as the tactics of "Shock and Awe" employed by the U.S. Government that inaugurated the invasion of Iraq in April of 2003 -- both were calculated to instill the greatest amount of fear possible in a wider population that was not directly targeted.

But there can be no doubt that aside from ethnic or nationalist groups like the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Basque separatist ETA movement in Spain, or Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers -- who first adopted suicide bombing as a regular tactic -- most use of terrorists tactics today is associated with Muslim fundamentalism. 

Is there an intrinsic connection between the two?  Does religious fundamentalism inevitably breed terrorism?  It would not seem so, if such fundamentalist groups such as the Mennonites and Jehovah Witnesses are taken into account.  Both groups have been resolutely pacifistic, indeed, the Witnesses were among the first victims of Hitler's concentration camps because of their refusal to serve in the Nazi armed forces.

But no one can deny that today, outside of the fear inspired by the use of organized armed forces, is the fear of sporadic terrorist acts carried out by Muslim fundamentalists connected with Al Qaeda or similar fundamentalist organizations.  So the question remains, is there some intrinsic connection between Islam and violence?

R W Kropf    10/28/06                                 Terrorism.doc     06-10-28.html