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The Evolution of Terrorism : A Brief Review

2017/8/4 — 11:46

2016年3月比利時首都布魯塞爾及周邊地區發生恐怖襲擊後,市民出席悼念活動。(vanille bourbon @ flickr—Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) )

2016年3月比利時首都布魯塞爾及周邊地區發生恐怖襲擊後,市民出席悼念活動。(vanille bourbon @ flickr—Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) )

The origins of terrorism

The term ‘terrorism’ originated at Latin terrere, which connotes “to frighten” literally. It firstly appeared in the West as the French word “terrorisme”, which historically has been intertwined with the regime de la terreur (the reign of terror) from 1793 to 1794 (Nonetheless, as Gearson (2002, pp. 14) puts, “[The Jacobins] do not represent the first example of terrorism that has been plucked out of history. The Sicarii, an offshoot of the religious sect of Zealots in Palestine in AD 66-73, was arguably a social movement, but also a radical anti-Roman religious movement that attacked Jewish ‘collaborators’. Using short swords, they often attacked in daylight in crowded public places to demonstrate the state’s impotence and to strike fear beyond their immediate targets, provoking conflict). In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (The Entry “Terrorism”), Igor Primoratz (2011) summarised,

“When it first entered public discourse in the West, the word ‘terrorism’ meant the reign of terror the Jacobins imposed in France from the fall of 1793 to the summer of 1794. Its ultimate aim was the reshaping of both society and human nature. That was to be achieved by destroying the old regime, suppressing all enemies of the revolutionary government, and inculcating and enforcing civic virtue”.

廣告

The positive connotation of “terrorisme”, in times of the reign of terror, was not preposterous. Maximilien François Marie Isidore Robespierre claimed that terror is a necessary means to consolidate the fledgling democratic regime, and it embodied the virtue of justice simultaneously (see note 1). In the Terror Is the Order of the Day (5 September 1793), Robespierre announced that “the government—through internal ‘revolutionary armies’ that were formed two days later—should and would use force against its own citizens to ensure compliance with its laws, including the law of the Maximum”. William Doyle’s book, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (2nd edn, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), coined it as the ‘judicial terror’ (pp. 257). Alan Forest further remarks that “many of the more radical sections, both in Paris and other towns, saw the soldiers as a valuable potential ally in their campaign for greater equality and greater resort to terror” (The Soldiers of the French Revolution, Duke University Press, 1990, pp. 91).

Note 1: The Concept of Virtue in Literature and Politics During the French Revolution of 1789

In the attempt to create a world of justice to supersede the impracticable customs of the corrupt ancien régime, the new equality is to be differentiated from it by reference to the "capabilities" of the citizens, their virtues and talents. The old system based on the privileges of nobility, clergy and social influence by means of capital is supposed to be destroyed and replaced by the measure of individual capabilities, the value on which bourgeois ideology is based. That individuals need some preconditions to develop their capabilities does not enter the constitutional frame.

In his addresses to the Convention and to the club des Jacobins, Robespierre insists on the concept of virtue as the foundation of his ideological system of revolutionary politics. He takes on a tone of moral indignation to confound the enemies of the Republic, the allied monarchies and their paid agents. The system of republican values corresponds to the theological doctrine of Christian religion, with its exclusion of the unbeliever.

Source: Seybert, Gislinde. 1995. “The Concept of Virtue in Literature and Politics During the French Revolution of 1789: Sade and Robespierre.” in Schwab, Gail M. & Jeanneney, John R. (eds.). The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Greenwood Press, pp. 52

Yet the terror was also marked by indiscriminate reprisals against French citizens. Using “to root out the vestiges of the Ancien Régime” as a pretext, the reign of terror executed about 40,000 people (see note 2), which was found ethically unacceptable. The fall of Robespierre in 27 July 1974 was a symbol of French citizens’ distrust towards his terrorist strategy. As Doyle (2002, pp. 272) comments, “[i]t was only natural, as the architects and original advocates of terror were themselves destroyed by it, or reduced to silence or impotence, that people should begin to wonder what terror was for, and where the Revolution was going”.

廣告


Notwithstanding the execution of Robespierre in 28 July 1794, the policies of “the Terror” were occasionally enforced by the agents of the Committee of Public Safety in post-revolutionary France. British intellectuals of the same era had enough understanding about this phenomenon (According to John Gearson (2002, pp. 14), “the original use of the term ‘terrorist’ in English can be traced back to the French Revolution: it entered the language in 1795 in the writings of Edmund Burke commenting on the regime of terror of Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety in France”; some even criticised it, for detail, read Grenby, M. O. 2004. The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution. Cambridge University Press), but it was until 1798 the English word “terrorism”, which means “the systematic use of terror as a policy”, was firstly included in English dictionaries. However, this definition is not as useful as Arno J. Mayer’s summarisation of three major hypotheses relating to revolutionary terror (see note 3) in explaining the causes and implications of “terrorisme” in Revolutionary France. Further, there was a paradigm shift of terrorism in the late 19th century.  “Propaganda by the deed”, a new form of terrorism, was emerged in Europe in 1880s and 1890s (see note 4). “Unlike the Jacobins’ reign of terror, which operated in a virtually indiscriminate way, this type of terrorism—as both adovcates and critics called it—was largely employed in a highly discriminate manner. This was especially true of Russian revolutionary organizations such as People’s Will or Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR): they held that it was morally justified to assassinate a government official only if his complicity in the oppressive regime was significant enough for him to deserve to die, and the assassination would make an important contribution to the struggle” (Primoratz 2011).

Note 3: Three major hypotheses frame the discussion of revolutionary terror

The first thesis:

The first thesis posits contingent circumstances to be its primary cause and engine. In this interpretation, terror is driven at least as much by real and practical concerns as by ideological prepossessions or utopian professions. At bottom terror is an instrument designed to deal with circumstances perceived to endanger the survival of the fledgling revolution or revolutionary regime. It is forged in the heat of refractory domestic and international problems and pressures. These are all the more difficult to master because of the breakdown of the state apparatus and judicial system. According to this theÁse des circonstances, the would-be revolutionary rulers face civil war fueled by not only pressing material problems but also sharp political, social, and cultural discords. Most of the leaders are inexperienced in national politics, and all of them are confounded by the “pathos of novelty.” In addition to an intractable domestic situation, they face a hostile world environment which they aggravate with their own politically driven foreign policy, diplomacy, and warfare.

The second thesis:

The second thesis postulates ideology as the essential prerequisite as well as the necessary (if not altogether sufficient) cause and engine of terror. It presumes the actions and decisions of revolutionary actors to be moved by ideas and beliefs which instantly freeze into dogma. Driven by preconceived and unchanging intentions, these actors become the chief agents for the realization of the ideological imperative to exorcise the ancien reÂgime and destroy the counterrevolutionary resistances, with the ultimate objective of radically regenerating man and society. In this construct there is a tight coupling between ideological preconceptions and policy effects and outcomes.

The third thesis:

The third thesis assigns a central, not to say exclusive place to the mind-set and psychological drives of supreme revolutionary actors who embrace a categorical ideological creed to further their arrogation of power.

Source: Mayer, Arno J. 2000. The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 96

The Nature of Modern and Contemporary Terrorism

In Mayer’s words, revolutionary terror refers to a type of violent actions which has some political (the first thesis) and ideological ends (the second thesis). In order to achieve these ends, terrorists have to maximise the psychological impact of their attacks (the third thesis). This is why terrorist attacks usually involve the intentional use of physical violence, i.e., its effectiveness in terms of “frightening people into submission” is much higher than any other kind of attacks.

As noted above, however, the paradigmatic shift of terrorism has been significant since the late 19th century. Thus, it is crucial to highlight the nuances between modern and/or contemporary terrorism and the revolutionary terror. As Gearson (2002, pp. 159) specified, “[t]errorism became a state monopoly in a number of countries in the 1930s and 1940s, reminding observers that enforcement terrorism has historically been far more destructive than agitational terrorism. Following the Second World War, terrorism seemed to be the preserve of indigenous nationalist groups which emerged out of various anticolonial campaigns in, among other countries, Israel, Cyprus, Kenya and Algeria. The idea of ‘freedom fighters’ emerged at this time, along with the debate over the terminology and definition of terrorism. A number of movements saw independence arrive supported in part by terrorism. Thus, political legitimacy attached to a number of ‘wars of national liberation’, which many developing countries saw not as terrorist campaigns, but as wholly legitimate armed struggles”. Also, in Gurr’s finding, the purposes of terrorism in 1960s were overwhelmingly political and social (but not economic or ideological) (for detail, see note 5; But in Gearson’s (2002, “The Nature of Modern Terrorism.” Political Quarterly pp. 15) words, “[i]n the radical 1960s and 1970s, terrorism broadened to include ideologically motivated groups such as Germany’s Red Army Faction, Italy’s Red Brigades, France’s Direct Action and America’s Weathermen; today there are still a few fringe groups keeping the ideological terrorist flame alive”.). Further, Dyson commented (Terrorism: An Investigator’s Handbook, 4th edn, Oxford: Elsevier Science, 2012) that “[b]y the 1960s, the era of modern terrorism began. It was at about that time that, perhaps for the first time in history, it had become possible for a small group of individuals to cause catastrophic damage and to almost instantly communicative their reasons for doing so” (pp. 6).

Crucially, terrorism became increasingly globalised (Beyer, 2008; Gupta 2004). “The 1970s and 1980s saw revolutionary terrorist groups defeated one after another around the world. International terrorism came to be identified through the activities of various groups associated with the struggle against Israel, and a spate of aircraft hijackings and hostage-takings and the alleged use of terrorist organisations by certain state sponsors as tools of foreign policy” (Gearson 2002, pp. 16). Also, the political and social purposes of terrorism received greater attention. “By the early 1970s, the term terrorism began to be applied to acts of extreme political violence. The perpetrators came to be called terrorists. It may never be known whether it was the news media, academics, or the law enforcement community who first employed the term with regularity” (Dyson, William E. 2012. Terrorism: An Investigator’s Handbook, 4th edn, Oxford: Elsevier Science, pp. 20). Crucially, “[s]ince 1983, the U.S. Department of State has used Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d), to define terrorism. In the introduction to the Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, terrorism is defined as politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (Ruby 2002, pp. 10; for detail, see note 6). Meanwhile, in the article “Demystifying Terrorism: The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Terrorism”, Michael Stohl (1988, pp. 4) acknowledges the societal impacts of terrorism:

"An important key to the understanding of terrorism is to recognize that although each of the component parts of the process is important, the emotional impact of the terrorist act and the social effects are more important than the particular action itself. In other words, the targets of the terror are far more important for the process than are the victims of the immediate act”.


Yet the over-emphasis of “political purpose” cannot help much in establishing a working definition for normative evaluation (see note 7). Also, it should be noted that non-state actors are not the exclusive entity of organising terrorist attacks; there were numerous state-sponsored terrorism (Combs 2003, p. 8-9; Stohl 1988, p. 7-8; Forst 2009, pp. 9; for detail, see note 8).

The most distinctive feature of contemporary terrorism (compare with other forms of organised violence) is its deliberate attacks on the innocent people so as to instil fear in the wider society (see note 9). It was exemplified in the September 11 attack. “In 2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a broadening of the official definition of terrorism, so that the UN could have a stronger mandate to intercede where needed. Under his redefinition of the word, terrorism encompass any act intended ‘to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians’” (Forst, Brian. 2009. Terrorism, Crime, and Public Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 3-4). In other words, its intention, strategies and proportionality are different from that of the inter-state wars. “Put more simply, the difference between a terrorist act and a similar crime or war activity is that terrorist acts are perpetrated deliberately on innocent third parties in an effort to coerce the opposing party or persons into some desired political course of action. Victims are chosen, not primarily because of their personal guilt (in terms of membership in an opposing military or governmental group), but because their deaths or injuries will so shock the opposition that concession can be forced to prevent a recurrence of the incident or will focus attention on a particular cause. Terrorist acts, in other words, are constructed to deliberately ‘make war’ on innocent persons” (Combs, Cindy C. 2003. Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. 3rd edn, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, pp. 11).

References

Beyer, Cornelia. 2008. Violent Globalisms: Conflict in Response to Empire. Burlington, VT : Ashgate

Combs, Cindy C. 2003. Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. 3rd edn, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall

Corlett, J. Angelo. 2003. Terrorism: A Philosophical Analysis. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Doyle, William. 2002. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. 2nd edn, New York: Oxford University Press

Dyson, William E. 2012. Terrorism: An Investigator’s Handbook, 4th edn, Oxford: Elsevier Science

Forest, James F. 2012. The Terrorism Lectures: A Comprehensive Collection for Students of Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and National Security. Santa Ana, CA: Nortia/Current

Forrest, Alan. 1990. The Soldiers of the French Revolution, Durham and London: Duke University Press

Forst, Brian. 2009. Terrorism, Crime, and Public Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press

Gearson, John. 2002. “The Nature of Modern Terrorism.” Political Quarterly, p. 7-24

Grenby, M. O. 2004. The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution. Cambridge University Press

Gupta, K.R. 2004. Global Terrorism. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors

Gurr, Ted Robert. 1988. “Some Characteristics of Political Terrorism.” in Stohl, Michael. (ed.). The Politics of Terrorism. 3rd edn, New York: M. Dekker, p. 31-57

Heywood, Andrew. 2011. “Chapter 12: Terrorism.” in Global Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 282-301

Mayer, Arno J. 2000. The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Primoratz, Ignor. 1997. “The Morality of Terrorism.” Journal of Applied Philosophy. Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 221-233

–––. 2011. “Terrorism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 8 August, Retrieved 14 May 2014, from <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/terrorism/>

Ruby, Charles L. 2002. “The Definition of Terrorism.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, p. 9-38

Seybert, Gislinde. 1995. “The Concept of Virtue in Literature and Politics During the French Revolution of 1789: Sade and Robespierre.” in Schwab, Gail M. & Jeanneney, John R. (eds.). The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Westport: Greenwood Press, 51-59

Stohl, Michael. 1988. “Demystifying Terrorism: The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Political Terrorism.” in Stohl, Michael. (ed.). The Politics of Terrorism. 3rd edn, New York: M. Dekker, p. 1-28

(This article was firstly published in The Glocal in August 2014)

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