Sociological And Political Aspects Of Terrorism (II)

Part I

Political scientists and the “Old-style” and “New-style terrorism”

For political scientists, there is a historical difference between the “Old-style” and “New-style terrorism”. Contemporary terrorism can be historically distinguished from acts of violence aimed to terrorize the people in some older periods of history as, for instance, the razing of cities with the ground in the Antique. It has to be clearly understood and recognized that the phenomenon of terrorism is in connection to changes in communication technology. To terrorize the population on a fairly wide spectrum, information about the violence has to reach those populations affected quite quickly.

However, in fact, it was not until the rise of modern communications in the late 19th century that this became technically possible. But with the invention of the electronic telegraph, speedy communication became possible, transcending both time and space. Before that time, however, the information could take days and months to spread around. For instance, as already mentioned, news of Abraham Lincoln’s death took 12 days to reach London. Nevertheless, once speedy communication was technically possible, a symbolic act of terrorist violence could happen that could be projected at distance – it was not only the local people who would know about them.

Public interest particularly in the West about the phenomenon of terrorism grew massively as a result of the 9/11 terror acts. Now, it became widely recognized that the world is facing a so-called “new-style terrorism” whose first clear manifestation lay only in the early 1990s, i.e., just the Cold War 1.0 is finished. Different from “new-style terrorism”, “the old-style terrorism” had its peak in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Old-style terrorism”

It is clear that a distinction between old and new types of terrorism exists. “Old-style terrorism” was historically dominant for the biggest part of the 20th century and still today is in operation. This “classical” style of terrorism is usually associated with the rise of nationalism, decolonization, and the creation of the nation-states as independent and territorially fixed political entities. This process predominantly occurred from the second half of the 20th century and still is not finished.

The stress of “old-style terrorism” had usually been put on territorial problems involving requirements for independence from imperialistic states or for correction of claimed unjust borders (a phenomenon of irredenta). In many cases, the old type of terrorism was directly successful, for instance, when Israel proclaimed independence in 1948 based on terror acts against the Brits, when the French authorities were forced to leave Algeria, or the British from Cyprus. However, on other occasions, terrorists got compromise concessions that in many cases, in fact, failed to resolve the problem issue but, nevertheless, kept the level of violence contained. For example, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (the IRA) and the Basque Euzkadi ta Askatasuma (the ETA) are within this category. Nonetheless, there are and such terrorist groups who failed and so faded away as for instance, the Italian Red Brigades. Those have been typically motivated by ideology rather than by ethnic, religious, or cultural identity having a tendency to misread the amount of popular support they have been commanded.

Members of the Real Irish Republican Army attending an Easter Rising commemoration ceremony in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 2010

It has to be kept in mind that almost in all world’s nations (states), borders have been arranged in principle arbitrarily, either as lines on a map, as they were by Western imperialists in Africa and Asia, or as a result of wars and conquest like in Europe (for instance, historically fluctuation borders of Poland or the French-German border in Alsace-Lorene). Here, we can take as a good example Ireland that was brought into the UK in 1800, leading to independence struggles, which finally resulted in the partition of the island into North Ireland (Ulster) and the Republic of Ireland after WWI. However, the Irish nationalists continued to struggle for national unification using on many occasions “old-style terrorism” methods. In addition, a map of nations was done by Western colonial powers, or simply founded on force, which led in many cases to stateless nations as they do not have their own state. Those nations (like the Kurds) have a common ethnic and cultural identity, but they are, however, without the territorial and state apparatus which by definition belongs to a nation. Therefore, most forms of “old-style terrorism”, in fact, belong to the stateless nations.

The very task of “old-type terrorism” was political – to establish nation-states in areas where ethnocultural groups did not have control of the territory’s state institutions. This was very true, for instance, of Irish nationalists like the IRA, or Basque nationalists, like the ETA, in Spain. The focal problems were the territorial integrity of a nation’s ethnographic space and national identity within the process of the creation of a nation-state. Practically, “old-style terrorism” existed where there were stateless nations and where nationalists-terrorists were ready to use violence in order to achieve their political tasks. Another feature of “old-style terrorism” is that it is fundamentally of local character for the very reason that its ambitions have been or are local as it wants just to establish a state within a specific national areal.

Nevertheless, during the last three decades, “old-style terrorism” also received an international character as it draws on support from outside factors like the IRA and the ETA that were being supported in various forms by some East European states, Libya, Syria, or some groups from the USA. Nevertheless, although “old-style terrorism” involved a wider network of supporters for its funding or in dealing with arms or drug smuggling to buy weapons, its political ambitions are still of the local/regional character. Another significant feature of “old-style terrorism” is that as well as being limited in its ambitions from the geographical viewpoint, it is also limited in its use of violence. With such type of terrorism, regardless of the fact that the numbers of people wounded and killed were significant, the use of violence is limited, for the reason that the aims of this type of terrorism are also relatively limited.

It has to be noticed that the strong moral compulsion that is generated by generally accepted national identity (“imagined community”) is making “old-style terrorism” difficult to struggle against. Probably, the best proof of this is all difficulties which the UK Government found in Northern Ireland as nationalism has strong energizing power. Additionally, the myth of national identity continues to fuel supporters and supports of a national movement that is fighting for the establishment of a nation-state in cases where a nation exists without one or a united nation-state in cases of political irredenta. In cases of contested claims on the same land (province, region), historically, a peaceful settlement of the problem is ofter particularly difficult to be achieved as, for an instant, in North Ireland, where exists the conflict between unionists who would like to stay in the UK and the nationalists who are fighting for the unification with Ireland.

“New-style terrorism”

It can be fixed a fundamental difference between “old-style terrorism” and “new-style terrorism” as the latter is made possible by the changes in communications technology which are driving (turbo)globalization after the end of the Cold War 1.0, and it has a global character (for instance, internet). In principle, such type of terrorism is usually associated with the Islamic fundamentalism of al-Qaeda. But, on other hand, by no means, it is limited only to this terrorist group. Nevertheless, what all different “old-style terrorists” shared in common was that their operations focused on limited geographic space and their used methods have been not intended to maximize bloodshed. In other words, the old-type terrorists wanted as many people watching their terror acts than as many people were killed in their terror acts. In principle, they in the majority of cases had precise political aims that have been rationally (morally, historically, legally) defensible.

Osama Afghanistan

However, “new-style-terrorists”, on other hand, are in majority of cases nihilistic, being inspired by fanatical religious beliefs, and being willing to seek martyrdom by doing suicide terror acts. Their focal characteristics are:

  • They rarely set out publicly aims of their fight that, in fact, appear remotely attainable.
  • They give no warnings about their action.
  • They do not engage in negotiating process.
  • They find compromise solutions to their problems unappealing.
  • They are willing and even eager to carry out the mass killings of civilians.
  • They frequently do not even claim responsibility for their terrorist actions. It can be presumably because they feel finally accountable only to a deity.

It is a huge debate when the first “new-style terror act” was done but maybe the first “new terrorism” was seen in 1993 when an attempt was made to bring about the collapse of the WTC in NYC. The desire to murder thousands of innocent workers was quite clear regardless of the fact that in the event there were relatively few victims as the basement-based bombs have been insufficiently powerful to destroy a tower. At that time, the US administration of Bill Clinton blamed Islamic extremism and consequently, a number of Muslims have been brought to a court trial for the outrage but the same US Clinton’s Administration at the same time collaborated with the Islamic fundamentalist Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina in its state terrorism against the local Serbs. As the next major US manifestation of “new-style terrorism” can be counted Christian fundamentalism’s turn when in 1995 168 civilians have been killed on the occasion when a US Government’s building in Oklahoma City was blown up. Compared to those two cases, it was more serious the use of weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological) in Tokyo in the 1990s. The actual death-toll reached only 12 in several attempts to spread those weapons in the subway. The final task of this terrorist act was to murder as many as people but fortunately, it did not happen due to technological incompetence which prevented a real catastrophe. As previously mentioned cases, those responsible have been motivated by religion – in this Tokyo case that of the Aum Shinrikyo sect.

“New-style terrorism” defers from “old-style terrorism” in several focal ways. The first way is regarding the scope of its claims. It can be understood, for instance, from the case of al-Qaeda’s view of the world as this terrorist organization has global geopolitical aims – to globally restructure world society. One number of its leadership had the task to reconstruct an Islamic society from the Indian subcontinent to West Europe that means the establishment of Islamic states and Governments in the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania), the Middle East, and North Africa. All Islamic fundamentalists argue that during the last thousand years the European Christians expelled the Muslims from those lands to which they allegedly have legitimate claims. These “former Muslim” lands include the Balkans and some territories of Spain that have been up to 1492 ruled by the Moors (the Muslims originally from North Africa who controlled much of Spain from the 8th century till the 15th century when started the final stage of the Spanish Roman Catholic Reconquista). Large parts of South and South-East Europe have been previously Islamic, ruled either by the Ottoman Empire or by the Arabs from North Africa. The point is that al-Qaeda and some other Islamic groups want to re-establish the global role of Islam in these regions. Therefore, “new-style terrorism” is global in its ambitions and it wants to reverse the tide of world power.

Secondly, there are strong tensions between modernism and anti-modernism in the global-view of the terrorist organizations of Islamic fundamentalist orientation (ISIS, al-Qaeda). In their attempt to re-establish the Islamic dominance and governmental authorities based on the Quran over large parts of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa that existed in earlier historic time, they make great use of modern communications in order to criticize (Western) modernity and to try to reverse what they see as the moral (Western) degeneracy.

Islamic State fighters using US arms

Thirdly, “new-style terrorism” differs from its old type concerning its organizational structure. In its organizational structure, for instance, al-Qaeda deploys the same global forms of organization as do the majority of NGOs. To clarify the issue, both new terrorist organizations and NGOs are driven by a sense of mission and commitment which allows a fairly loose global organization to flourish. Both of them are based on networks being highly decentralized structures. There is a high autonomy of local units and these can reproduce without necessarily having any strong direction from the center. A new type of terrorist organization and NGOs as well have a global spread of supporters across the globe and both work with states. It is a clear fact that no NGO can exist and especially flourish completely as a non-state organization. All NGOs have on this or another way some contacts and support from states as “new-style terrorist” organization as well as. To be clear, the analogy between new type terrorists and NGOs cannot be taken too far. However, in their organizational structures and a shared sense of admittedly very different missions, al-Qaeda or ISIS can be understood as a malign kind of NGO.

The last way in which “old”- and “new-style terrorism” differ is over means. Old-type terrorists had limited objectives and consequently, the violence involved was limited to local or regional areas. New-type terrorism is much more global and ruthless in the means it is ready to use. Its propaganda language is wider from the territorial viewpoint as the enemy is the West and its civilization, for instance. Terrorist acts aim to kill as many as people possible, for instance, all Americans and their allies as is clearly stated in the founding statement of al-Qaeda in 1998. This is very different from the more limited and mild use of violence and violent means which characterized “old-style terrorism”.

“New-style terrorism” was not exterminated with the alleged murdering of Osama bin Laden – a leader of al-Qaeda ten years ago on May 2nd, 2011 in Pakistan (b. 1957 in Saudi Arabia). New forms of Islamic radical extremism emerged as ISIS and its military efforts for the creation of a universal Islamic caliphate on its historical foundations from Spain to India. Although ISIS is sponsoring terrorism on the global level, with “pledged” followers conducting terror-suicide attacks in Florida, Paris, and Germany, the ISIS brand of terrorism has as well moved beyond traditional tactics to include the use of rape and forced marriage as a means of terror, and the ability to conduct mass killings within occupied areas in the Middle East.

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is a transnational terrorist organization of a new style based in Iraq and Syria. It is known as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and, as DAESH – its acronym in Arabic. ISIS renamed itself the Islamic State after the organization occupied the city of Mosul in Iraq and declared an Islamic Caliphate in June 2014. The origins of ISIS lie in a militant group Organization of Monotheism and Jihad that was established by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Jordan in 1999. Al Zarqawi operated militant training camps in Afghanistan and established links with al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, but fled the country after the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001 and started new activities in Iraq in 2002. Today, al-Qaeda and ISIS are the two most notorious global examples of “new-style terrorism”.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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