Terrorism -- Past and Present

Anthony Johns

It is a widely accepted fact that the history of human civilization is full of violence. Moreover, some scholars attribute first instances of terrorism to Biblical times. Which landmark events in the history of mankind do you associate with terrorism?

Examples of types of terrorism can be traced back to biblical times beginning with the exodus of the Israelites and the tyrannical regime of Herod. The Roman Empire was riddled with violent terror (generated by the State), illustrated by the sacrificing of the Christians to the lions and the gladiatorial sports that were enjoyed. The invasion of the Romans in Britain from the beginning of the first century brought terror to this island and the Norman conquest of 1066 provoked similar atrocities. Two hundred years prior to this the Vikings plundered and terrorised the northern counties of Britain and Ireland.

Other major global terror examples from history are the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese , the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin and of course the tyranny and violence of Pol Pot in South East Asia. In the UK, the most prominent recollection from recent history is the 30 year reign of violence courtesy of the IRA. From most recent times one man's regime in the Balkans is closely associated with terror - that of Slobodan Milosovich, who is currently on trial by the international courts.

In your opinion, are the roots of terrorism political and religious or is terrorism rooted in human nature?

The causes of terror may be focussed within two categories - territorial and religious. However, there is a connection between religious aims and territorial aims. The Palestinians state that they are fighting for a Palestinian homeland. However the fact that they are Moslem and they are integrated within a Jewish state, must have a large bearing on their cause. If not, why do they not have a quarrel with the state of Jordan, which occupies most of the area called Palestine since 1948? The IRA call for a united Ireland, but one can not dismiss the fact that the majority of the south are Catholics and the north is predominately Protestant. The Republicans would like to see an al- catholic Ireland.

I think that terrorism in not ingrained within human nature although some groups see violence as the only means of expressing a voice. It is interesting to examine the link between terrorist tendencies, primarily of those supporting people of third world countries who do not enjoy the lifestyle of others more fortunate and those of wealthier counties. The former tend to focus on foreign targets, whilst, say, the Basque separatists attack Spain. It is also obvious that some see political terror campaigns a disguise for common crime and some as an excuse for just hooliganism.

What is your idea of a typical terrorist?

The answer to this is partly contained above, but recent events have shown that there are people like Bin Laden who is not disadvantaged (indeed very wealthy) and have no religious or direct territorial claims (he is a Saudi). One can maybe draw the conclusion that some are seeking notoriety.

In what ways is the contemporary terrorism different from that of the past?

Contemporary terrorism can take advantage of all the modern technological evils. In the past, the Vikings, the Romans etc could wreak terrible violence, but on a relatively local scale. However, the modern day terrorist with IT, communications and weapons of mass destruction can play a global role.

Could you now dwell upon the motives of terrorist actions?

The motives of terrorist action are to draw the attention of the general public to their cause. However this can often be overplayed, when particular acts of horror are displayed and the public become more resolute to resist. This is particularly the case with the IRA campaigns in Britain.

What are the major events in the history of terrorism in the UK/ the USA?

The most prominent terror events in the UK would probably be the bombing of London and other major cities by the Luftwaffe during WW2 and the IRA bombings in London and Birmingham as well as Northern Ireland from 1970 to the late nineties. Continental USA following, the attack on pearl Harbour had a relatively terror free period, apart from the Timothy McVeigh bombing at Oklahoma city, until Sept 11th 2001. However, does the treatment of slaves in the south in the 19th century constitute terror? If you were an imported African, employed on a plantation in southern American states, then you would probably say yes.

Why wasn't the USA ready to face these drastic terrorist attacks?

The USA felt cosseted prior to Sept 11th and felt that imported terror could not happen to them. They underestimated the power of technology, outlined in Q4. Complacency has proven to be dangerous in today's world.

What measures should have been taken to prevent this horror?

No direct measures can eliminate terrorism. However, I feel sure the USA will closely examine its foreign policy to see if the seeds of violence are contained there. Also, the abilities of the intelligence agencies will be reviewed and enhanced to maximise awareness of future threats.

What are the top priority measures to combat international terrorism?

The top priority of the USA is now to form an international coalition against terror. Military retaliation is not sufficient and measures must be taken to eliminate the breeding grounds of violence. This will be undertaken by ensuring that no country provides tactical or political assistance to terrorists or their supporters.

The reaction to terrorist attacks of September 11th has been extremely diverse. Among other things there have appeared a number of black humour Websites on the subject as well as numerous computer games and "politically incorrect" animations. What do you think about it?

It appears that in today's modern world with IT and communications, there is no act, no matter how horrific, that will escape the sad phenomenon of modern black humour. Sadly, it reflects the somewhat isolated attitude of some regarding tragedy towards others. It is also compounded by the speed of communications, where black humour can be transmitted globally in an instant. It is a sad reflection on a very selfish world.

Legendary director Robert Altman says that "Hollywood action films have served as a source of inspiration to terrorists. The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies". Do you think terrorists are getting inspiration from Hollywood films?

Terrorist are already very sophisticated in their ability to deliver violence. Also, their political beliefs are too strong to be influenced, in a major way, by Hollywood films. Hollywood does tend to glamorise violence with portrayals of all American heroes, but the Bin Ladens of this world do not even watch Hollywood films, so for these people the impact is minimal.

Do you think America might lose the media war?

Americans cannot win the media war!! The media is too powerful and too closely linked to public opinion to be defeated. America retreated from Vietnam because it could not beat the media and public feeling. As the media is now more powerful than ever, then defeat is extremely unlikely. The media was a factor in Bush's actions just after Sept 11th and the media is overseeing the military campaign in Afghanistan. Notice the daily briefings to the media by the State Department.

What impact does the media have on terrorist acts?

It could be argued that the media is the terrorist's friend. How else could they advertise their acts of terror and the propaganda that follows. Within seconds of a terrorist act, the whole world is aware. So, the impact of the media is very important to the terrorist, otherwise how would they illustrate their objectives and their capabilities?

Some researchers predict that "America is in danger of losing this war because of political correctness. "If we can't identify who the enemy is - and, in fact, refuse to do so - haven't we lost already?" - could you comment on this statement?

Senior US officials are still employing PC principles during the Afghan conflict. They are doing this by repeatedly stating that it is not a war towards Arabs or Islam. It is a global war against terror. This is a necessary PC process to gain acceptance by other, mainly Middle East states, to military action. I disagree that they do not know their enemy. Although intelligence agency information was lacking prior to Sept 11th, I am sure it has been refined and upgraded to be sure of what enemy they are faced with. I do not think they will let PC principles cloud the prospect of military success, since they will continue the military campaign during Ramadan.

The greatest concern of the world community is finding effective ways of defeating terrorism. In your opinion, can we hope that one day we will win the War on Terror?

As mentioned previously, terrorism can never be totally defeated. Subjects of terror must take the leaf out of the United Kingdom book, following 30 years of IRA atrocities. It must be made more difficult for Terrorism to succeed. This vigilance will result in a reduction in the quality of life for us all by the imposition of added security in our daily lives, particularly when travelling. In a world of inequality there will always be the disadvantaged, those that seek territorial superiority, those that want to convert us to their beliefs. Last, but not least, there are always fanatics with no coherent policy or those that seek notoriety. Terrorism is here to stay, but I hope and pray to a much lesser degree.

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