By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
We have refused to ask ourselves, why would an individual blow himself up in the process of trying to blow others he despise? Why have some people chosen death over life? Why have they decided to exclude themselves from the rest of the world and resort to isolation? Why did human life had little or no meaning to them that they destroy it at will? Until we ask these questions sincerely, it would be almost impossible to understand the motivation behind the activities of terrorist organizations which is increasingly threatening human existence.
Before the advent of current perceived islamic terrorism which has assume a frightening dimension,there exist countless terrorist organizations across the world causing havoc and destroying lives and properties. But despite the increasing lost of human lives and properties, world leaders have refused to sincerely look into the root cause of terrorism as measure to halt its growth, rather, they concentrate on utilizing it for their selfish political benefits. From my observation, no sincere effort is aimed at ending world terrorism, rather, all effort is geared towards making political benefits.
Terrorism is often perceived through a narrow lens without ever truly examining who is the terrorist, where the terrorist come from, the background, and why the terrorist committed the act, but understanding the mindset of the terrorist is vital in understanding terrorism. (Sharkdam Wapmuk, 2012)
Research also establish that, there are common traits found in the individuals who commit these types of violent acts. One is that the terrorist feels inferior to his larger enemy, but morally superior. He feels as if he has been wronged and terrorism is a means through which he can retaliate. The act of terrorism is the result of this distaste for the larger enemy. Through terrorist acts, the terrorist believes that they can gain power through the use of fear. Second is that terror gives a feeling of power to the powerless. There is no real way to understand and predict human behavior. A terrorist act is even harder to understand. That is why the definition of terrorism is constantly in a state of change. It evolves based on the new political situations and the way that states and political entities process and respond to these events. For the terrorist, there is usually an ongoing personal struggle. This may include events of embarrassment, repression, or harassment. Third, the terrorist is expected to have extreme views and beliefs. His or her beliefs are more extreme than others in his or her situation. Fourth, for the terrorist, there is very little room for flexibility. Events and decisions are seen in terms of black and white. There is a need for responsibility, blame and retaliation. Lastly, a terrorist usually holds a capacity to suppress all moral constraints against harming innocents whether due to instinct or acquired factors, individuals, or group forces.
Beliefs of morality are discarded in order to achieve the act of violence. Many terrorists may have experienced violence growing up. They often come from marginalized communities, where they feel neglected. Often these areas experience violence, death and destruction as a part of everyday life. They know from first hand experience that violence hurts those involved. Terrorists believe that if they use violence against their mighty enemy, it will hurt them as well. Acts of terror allow individuals, who feel wronged to feel powerful through the use of fear.The phenomenon of terrorism dates back to thousand years on the global setting. While some have traced the history of terrorism to the Roman Empire, others trace it to zealot fighters during the First Century AD. Research shows that, the Roman emperors had used diverse forms of terrorism to control domestic dissent and eliminated suspected enemies.
Various methods were used including the use of poisoning, crucifixion and mass public executions. The act of terrorism was also perpetrated by a radical offshoot of Zealots, a Jewish sect that was active in Judea during the 1st Century AD. The zealots who were opposed to the Roman Empire’s rule engaged in a campaign primarily involving assassination. The Zealot fighters who were also fearless had used the sica- a primitive dagger to attack their enemies in broad daylight. The assassinations were often carried out in crowded market places, on feast days, and at other public gatherings where the people present can witness the violence so as to send a strong message to the Romans and other Jews who may sympathize with the Romans.
An Islamic movement known as the Assassins had used similar tactics in their struggle against the Christian Crusaders between 1090 and 1272. Just as the Zealots viewed the Romans as invaders, the Assassins had also viewed the Crusaders as invaders in parts of
Syria. The Assassins sacrificed everything to eliminate the Crusaders including suicidal martyrdom which is still evident in some terrorist groups today. They regarded violence as a sacramental or divine act that ensured its perpetrators would ascend to a glorious heaven should they perish during the task. Before the French Revolution of 1789-1799, religion was used to justify the use of terrorism, however this was to change when nationalism, anarchism, Marxism and other secular political movements emerged during the 1800s to challenge Divine Rights of Kings. What is regarded as modern terrorism began as a movement against monarchical rule by those regarded as rebels and constitutionalists during the late stages of the French Revolution and in Russia by the People’s Will also known as Narodnaya Volya organization which was active between 1878 and 1881. The People’s Will revolution and anti-government orientation became the model for future terrorists. The group selected targets that represented the State’s oppressive instruments of power, and used propaganda to educate the public about the inequities imposed on them by the state and to rally their support for revolution. Several targets were assassinated by the terrorist including the Governor General of Saint Petersburg, the Head of the Tsarist Secret Police, and the Tsar Alexander II, who was killed in March 1881.
The terrorists became more emboldened following the assassination of Alexander II. This led the group to inspire another group of political radicals who met in London in July 1881, to discuss how to achieve a revolution that was worldwide. Their idea was to coordinate and support a global terrorist campaign that would overthrow both monarchies and elected governments of democratic states. Between 1881 and the first decade of the 20th century, anarchists succeeded in assassinating President William McKinley of America; the President of France and Spain’s Prime Minister; Empress Elisabeth of Austria and King Humbert I (Umberto I) of Italy. The terrorists also succeeded in organizing several revolts in Chicago, Bosnia, and Serbia.
While early terrorism was more associated with the violence of non-state groups like the anarchists, in 1920s and 1930s, terrorism became associated more with the repressive practices employed by dictatorial regimes such as the Nazi, fascist, and totalitarian regimes that came to power in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union. These regimes employed various forms of repressions against their citizens including torture, beatings,unlawful detentions, death squads, and other forms of intimidation. Acts characterized as terrorist in nature can occur both in conflict and peace-time. They may constitute crimes in domestic and international law, and they are motivated by a complex milieu of reasons and ideals. Their characterization can also depend upon the person or institution using the label and may even change over time. To give two important examples, the list of most wanted terrorists kept by the United States of America featured, at one time, Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela. These two personalities were subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Sharkdam Wapmuk, 2012). It should be noted that, If either of these two personalities were killed when their status remain designated as terrorists, the world wouldn’t celebrate them like it is doing today. Rather, they may remain in the dark side of history for the same reason they are being celebrated today. This goes to justify the saying that, one man terrorist, is another man’s freedom fighter. Today, Mandela died a hero for the same reason he was designated a terrorist, this is an example terrorist group use to brainwash their recruits. If not for the politicization of terrorism by world powers, it is very unlikely that terrorism would assume this threatening dimension.
This confirms that the issue of terrorism and who is a terrorist is a highly political and controversial matter. Having considered the complex nature of terrorism and the political and popular conceptions held about the term and about those who perpetrate terrorist acts, care must be taken when considering and assessing situations and how they might impact upon the subject of terrorism.
It must also be stated, without down playing politics with terrorism, it would be very difficult to bring the menace to an end,as many terrorist group can cite verifiable examples to their recruit to justify their evil actions. If U.S and other countries that have made politics out of terrorism in modern time didn’t do so, hardly can terrorist group find convincing examples to cite for their recruit to gain the kind of global followership it is gaining today.
During the 1940s and 1950s and even up to 1960s, ‘terrorism’ was used to describe the violence perpetrated by indigenous nationalists and anti-colonialist movements that sprang up in opposition against European colonial rule. These included anti-colonial groups in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Countries such as Kenya, Angola, Cyprus, and Algeria, for example, owe their independence at least in part to nationalist movements that used terrorism. An example of terrorist incident of the anti-colonial period is the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, by a Jewish underground group known as the Irgun Zvai Le’umi; other nationalist organizations that used terrorist tactics include National Military Organization; Mau-Mau led by Jomo Kenyatta, who later became Kenya’s President; Cyprus’s Archbishop Makarios, and Algeria’s President Ahmed Ben Bella.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, terrorism assumed more clearly ideological motivations. Various disenfranchised or exiled nationalist minorities such as the PLO, embraced terrorism as a means to draw attention to their plight and generate international support for their cause. The PLO sought to create a Palestine State covering the territory of the land that became Israel in 1948 and the West Bank and Gaza Strip- territories occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967. A Palestinian group, in fact, was responsible for the incident that is considered to mark the beginning of the current era of international terrorism. On July 22, 1968, three armed Palestinians belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), hijacked an Israeli El Al commercial flight en route from Rome, Italy, to Tel Aviv, Israel. Although commercial planes had often been hijacked before, this was the first clearly political hijacking. The act was designed to create an international crisis and thereby generate publicity. Over the years the PLO and other Palestinian groups have staged several dramatic international incidents, including hijack of commercial airliners, murder of Israeli athletes in 1972 Olympic Games, and hostage taking. In 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat received an invitation to address the UN General Assembly and the UN subsequently granted special observer status to the PLO.
The world of the 21st century in which we are today, is more precarious, unpredictable and more dangerous than at any time in the history of mankind. Terrorism has become pervasive and its effects are felt all over the world, with no nation being immune from acts of terrorism. While the problem posed by terrorism has been recognized globally, the international community has not necessarily agreed about the nature of terrorism.
According to Hoffman (1998), the word terrorism is politically and emotionally charged, and this greatly compounds the difficulty of arriving at an exact meaning.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempted to define the term, but failed to reach a consensus mainly due to the differences of opinion between member states about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self determination.
Right-wing groups or neo-fascist and neo-Nazi terrorism movements sprang up in many Western European countries and the United States during the late 1970s. These groups were said to have risen in opposition and in response to the violence perpetrated by leftwing organizations. Unfortunately, the right-wing groups did not have the numbers and popular support that their left-wing counterparts enjoyed. Thus the right wing engaged in terrorist acts such as the bombing of a crowded rail station which killed 84 people and wounded 180 others in 1980 in Bologna, Italy; in Munich, Germany, a bomb was planted by a member of a neo-fascist group, which exploded at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration; and in 1995 white supremacists carried out a truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which claimed the lives of 168 people.
Examples of important developments in international terrorism during the 1980s were the rise in state-sponsored terrorism and the resurgence of religious terrorism. An example of an attack believed to be state sponsored was the attempted assassination in 1981 of Pope John Paul II by a Turkish citizen, who allegedly was working for the Soviet and Bulgarian secret services. Other examples include the Iranian-backed car- and truckbombings of the American Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983 and Libya’s role in the in-flight bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie,Scotland, in 1988. In some of the terrorist acts carried out, religion was used to justify terrorist violence. Examples include the assassinations of Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 by Islamic extremists and the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 by a Jewish militant. The terrorists often consider it a religious duty to destroy their victims.
For example in the 1980s, the American CIA attempted to overthrow President Fidel Castro of Cuba. Still in the 1980s, it attempted to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Also, on many occasions, America used right-wing elements in various countries to illegally kill a lot of people. In Angola, the US actively supported the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (in Portuguese: União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) (UNITA) rebels against the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola Party (in Portuguese: Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola – Partido do Trabalho) (MPLA) and it was defeated.
On the other hand, many African, Arab and East European countries supported the Liberation movements that fought against apartheid regime in South Africa, the white minority government in Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) and the Portuguese colonial administration in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe. Some also supported the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in its struggle for self determination.
It is on account of these contradictions that some have observed that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, remains a common perspective on the definitional problem of terrorism. Foreign relations even indicate that though most people can recognize terrorism when they see it, experts have had difficulty