Origin of Modern Terrorism and Its Trend in the 21st Century

The history of terrorism provides insight into the reasons why terrorism continues to be the preeminent international security issue in the 21st century. Although terror activities have been documented as early as in the first century B. C. E ( a characteristic of the Jewish revolts against Roman rule), modern terrorism has its roots in the French revolution (Cronin, 2003). For instance, the term terror was first used in reference to a policy employed by French republic in 1795 to guard the government against counterrevolutionaries (Cronin, 2003, p. 34). According to David Rapoport , modern terrorism is part of a fourth wave of terrorism that is preceded by three other waves marked by: “breakup of empires, decolonization, and leftist anti-Westernism” (quoted in Cronin, 2003, p. 35). In all these waves, the similarity has been that they represent some form of power struggle – e.g. big power vs. small power and modern vs. traditional power. Following such perspectives, Cronin (2003) advances that the current manifestation of terrorism, though driven largely by religious ideology, is, actually, a power struggle characterized by forces such as globalization vs. anti-globalization, the wealthy vs. poor nations, and the elite vs. the underprivileged within different states.

In the initial stages of the first phase that occurred in the nineteenth century, the driving forces included popular empowerment ideologies. As witnessed first in Russia, such ideologies triggered terror activities from such groups as the Russian Narodnaya Volya to influence common people into a popular response that would result into a change in the political order (Cronin, 2003). This followed the failure of the existing government to meet raised expectations that were driven by empowerment ideologies. At later stages of this phase, the dissolution of empires as individuals sought to redistribute political power provided an opportunity for terrorism that climaxed in the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Cronin, 2003, p. 35). The assassination resulted into the First Word War as states that suspected rivals to have sponsored the assassination joined the conflict.

After the First World War, the clamor for national self-determination resulted into the second phase of terrorism. Such terrorism, which continues to date, involved the clamor to win political independence or autonomy from a larger controlling political power (Cronin, 2003). It is in this phase that decolonization from colonial powers such as Britain and France was prevalent, characterized by liberation wars that entailed violence (Cronin, 2003). At the advanced stages of this phase, was the US’ defeat in Vietnam that led to resurgence in terrorist violence as a means to dissuade interference by foreign states considered to wield power. Following the Vietnam invasion, it was easier for countries such as the Soviet Union to advance their communist ideology by depicting the US as the new colonial power hence rendering indirect support for some terror groups (Cronin, 2003). However, other groups such as those in Western Europe never warmed up either to the communist ideology or the capitalist concept, preferring the nationalistic approach that was prevalent in the developing countries (Cronin, 2003). Such clamor for self-determination, by whatever approach, thus provided opportunities for terrorism to prevail.

A third phase of terrorism started in the 1970s and 1980s where technological advancement and media influence facilitated the organization of terror activities across national borders. In this phase that featured state-support for terror activities, terrorist groups were mainly opposed to perceived Western imperialism (Cronin, 2003). States that were perceived to draw the backing of western powers such as Israel were especially targeted as evident with the killing of eleven Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics (Cronin, 2003). It was also during this phase that terrorist groups started expanding their tactics to include hijacking of airlines, taking hostages and bombing (Cronin, 2003).

After the September 11 attacks, the maturation of a new phase of terrorism facilitated by aspects such as spiritual and religious ideology, but incorporating such other objectives as political has become evident (Cronin, 2003; Morgan, 2004). The challenge posed by modern terrorism has thus been of two folds; addressing religious fanatics who have turned to terrorism to achieve ill-perceived religious ideology and dealing with entities with a political objective who offer support to such religious fanatics for instance to address the inequity that has progressed with globalization (Cronin, 2003; Morgan, 2004). With respect to the religious fanatics, a challenge exists in pursuing anti-terror activities that seem to discriminate against a specific religion (e.g. Islam), with such activities at times being deemed to impinge on the advances made in human rights (Hoffman, 2004). The advances in technology have further increased the complexity of terrorism thus complicating response initiatives; for instance, the Internet could allow terror groups to recruit members from different parts of the world without the leaders of such groups having to be physically present for effective recruitment (Morgan, 2004; Viotti & Kauppi, 2009). Such perspectives as discussed in subsequent sections have made terrorism the preeminent international security issue in the 21st century. Go to part 4 here.

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