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Wave upon wave: the story of terrorism is 2,000 years old, but its plot has scarcely changed. (Terrorism - History).

Judea was the Roman name for what today is roughly the territory that forms the nation of Israel. In 6 AD, Judea was placed under direct Roman rule and the governors of the land ordered a census to be taken. The Romans wanted to identify every person who lived in Judea so they could be taxed.

The population was mostly Jewish and they didn't much like the Roman orders. The strongest opposition came from a political faction called Zealots. The Zealots called on the Jews to rise up against the Roman occupation. Some did, but the uprising was crushed although the resentment against the Romans was not. It smouldered. And, as it smouldered more and more people joined the Zealots; recruiting was helped along by the generally criminal and savage rule of the Roman governors.

Within the Zealots, an even more radical group formed. They carried knives, called sicarii, and they viewed all Jews who cooperated with the Romans as traitors. These "dagger men" would approach Romans and traitors in crowded areas and stab them to death, usually escaping in the confusion that followed their attacks.

Through the use of terror the Sicarii, as they became known, hoped to force all Jews to oppose the Romans and, eventually, to convince the Romans that the occupation of Judea wasn't worth the bother.

In 66, the Jews rose again and handed the Roman legions some humiliating defeats. However, after four years of bloodshed the Jews were crushed. Eventually, the Romans did leave Judea, but it was the need to recall soldiers to defend Rome from attack, not terrorism, that forced them out.

While isolated acts of terrorism occurred over the next 1,800 years, there is no straight line connecting the Sicarii with the present time. It took one of the major upheavals of history to create the impetus that has carried terrorism through to our times.

Many good things came out of the French Revolution -- concepts such as democracy, the rights of the individual -- but the turmoil in France brought some bad things as well; one of them being terrorism. The term entered the language in the 1790s to describe a period of frightful cruelty that historians refer to as The Reign of Terror, or simply, The Terror.

This nasty bit of work was the idea of Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre, to give him his full name. A lawyer and political leader, Robespierre was one of the most influential voices of the French Revolution. He stood for reducing extreme inequalities of wealth, increasing the number of small property owners, and ensuring work and education for all. Also, he believed every person should have the right to vote. However, his strategy for achieving these noble ideals was sometimes very undemocratic.

In 1790, he was elected leader of the Jacobin Club, a gathering of revolutionaries. By 1793, there were between 5,000 to 8,000 Jacobin clubs throughout France, with a total membership of perhaps 500,000. The clubs, as part of the administrative machinery of government, had certain duties: they raised supplies for the army and policed local markets. But, the clubs were used for policing thought as well; its members kept a close watch on people whose opinions were suspect.

Robespierre, with the support of the Jacobins, began to arrest people suspected of being enemies of the Revolution. The suspects were brought before revolutionary tribunals where ideas of mercy, justice, and even guilt or innocence meant very little. During the Reign of Terror, at least 300,000 suspects were arrested; 17,000 were officially executed, and many died in prison without ever being brought to trial. Even card-carrying revolutionaries, such as Jacques Hebert and Georges Danton, were sent to the guillotine by the Jacobins. The punishments were meant as a signal to others -- don't even think about working against the Revolution.

Robespierre himself came to a sticky end. Some of his fellow revolutionaries began to fear for their own lives at the hands of the Jacobins so they decided to strike first. He was declared an outlaw and captured, but not before he shot part of his own chin off when a gun discharged accidentally. On the evening of 28 July 1794 he was taken to a main square in Paris. Before a cheering crowd, Maximilien Robespierre and 21 of his followers were beheaded.

As the Jacobins were part of the machinery of the state, we wouldn't call them terrorists today. Still, their vision of a violent purge in the name of Utopia provided a model for people who came later.

Over the next century the Jacobin spirit infected Russia, Europe, and the United States. The Russian, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76) seized on the concept of using violence to overthrow the established order. Bakunin travelled all over Europe, meeting with political thinkers and philosophers as he formulated his ideas of radical anarchism. He came up with the famous phrase: "The passion for destruction is also a creative passion." He spoke about the "Propaganda of the Act." Armed with bombs and guns, anarchists carefully chose their targets to get the most publicity for their cause and to create as much instability as possible.

Russia's Tsar Alexander II was taken out by a bomb thrown into his carriage by a member of a revolutionary group, the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) in 1881. In 1886, a bomb was lobbed into a crowd in Haymarket Square, Chicago. A gun battle followed in which seven police officers and many civilians were killed. In 1901, the U.S. President William McKinley was shot and killed by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Between 1890 and 1901, the anarchist's hit list also included: King Umberto I of Italy, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, President Sadi Carnot of France, and Antonio Canovas del Castillo, the prime minister of Spain.

The terrorist problem preoccupied almost everyone. In 1996, Walter Lacqueur wrote about this in Foreign Affairs magazine: "If in the year 1900 the leaders of the main industrial powers had assembled, most of them would have insisted on giving terrorism top priority on their agenda."

But, the revolution that the anarchists intended to provoke through their violence never came. Their "passion for destruction" created nothing but popular panic and publicity.

Political scientist David Rapaport calls the anarchists the first wave of terrorists in the modern era; he has identified three other waves.

A second wave (1920s to 1960s) had the goal of achieving national independence for people in countries from Ireland to Israel, and from Cyprus to Algeria. The colonial powers called those using violence terrorists, the common people of Kenya, Yemen, Pakistan, and a score of other places thought of them as freedom fighters.

However they were viewed, these people focussed their attacks on the "eyes and ears" of occupying governments -- the police. As the death toll among law enforcement officers mounted most colonial administrations replaced them with the military. In many cases, the armed forces were clumsy and created atrocities of their own; a famous example being the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 in India. Such ham-fisted bludgeoning of civilians served only to create sympathy for those seeking independence and increased social support for the terrorists.

The victory of the independence movements was inevitable and, as nations won their sovereignty, most of the terrorist groups disbanded. There remained a lot of bad blood between antagonists.

The Vietnam War (mid-1950s to 1975) brought about the third wave. Relatively lightly armed North Vietnamese soldiers created havoc against what was thought to be the overwhelming military superiority of the United States. Suddenly, tiny communist underground groups in Europe and North America realized that the heartland of capitalism was vulnerable.

The Weather Underground in the U.S., France's Direct Action, Germany's Red Army Faction, and others started bombing targets such as railway stations, factories, police stations, and offices. In 1978, Italy's Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Through effective police work, these small groups were shut down and the revolution they hoped for came to nothing.

At the same time, others combined the same extreme leftwing ideology with revolutionary nationalism. Out of the marriage of those two forces came the Shining Path in Peru, the Peasant Front for the Liberation of Corsica, Colombia's M-19, and others. In 1978, members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua took the country's Congress hostage. With more than a thousand captives under their control, the Sandinistas won most of their demands. The audacity of the attack drew thousands to the cause of overthrowing the corrupt and brutal dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. The following year, the Sandinistas marched into Managua, the capital, and formed the government of Nicaragua. But, success of this sort is the exception rather than the rule for terrorist groups.

The third wave of terrorism began ebbing in the 1980s, although elements remain active today -- the Basque separatist movement, Maoist guerrillas in Nepal, and others.

The last and current wave of terrorism, according to David Rapaport was kick-started by two related events; the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the collapse of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1989.

This fourth wave of terrorism has religion rather than political ideology as its bedrock, and it's the subject of the next article.


1. Several firmer terrorists/freedom fighters have become leaders of their countries: Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Eamon de Valera (Ireland), Menachem Begin (Israel), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Nelson Mandela (South Africa) are a few examples. Have students research the lift of one or more of these people and use their stories as the basis for a discussion about defining the words "terrorist," "freedom fighter," and "guerrilla."

2. Create a timeline of terrorism using the information in this article and the one following.

3. Two recent books on the subject of terrorism are: A History of Terrorism by Walter Laqueur, Published by Transaction Publishers (Mar. 2001) ISBN: 0765807998, and The Encyclopedia of Terror by Cindy C. Combs and Martin W. Slann, Published by Facts on File (Jan. 2002), ISBN: 0816044554.


Database of terrorist incidents since 1945 - http://www.cdiss. org/terror.htm

The Global Terror Network - http://www. index.htm


He was born into a Shi'ite Muslim family. He has been described as "one of the great revolutionaries ... a man of forceful intellect, and remarkable strategic and organizational skills." He came up with the idea of creating a mountain fortress from which to send his fanatical followers to strike at targets that, to him, represented evil. The men who carried out the murderous attacks expected to die themselves and believed that in doing so they would spend eternity in Paradise. He believed he could "fill the world with justice as it is now filled with injustice." No, he is not Osama bin Laden. The man described above is Hasan-i-Sabah, who was born around the middle of the 11th century.

Hasan-i-Sabah created a group of terrorists in 1090, which attacked and killed hundreds over the next 150 years. It was believed the terrorists smoked cannabis to give themselves a vision of Paradise before launching their attacks. The Arabic word for "takers of cannabis" is hash-shashin, which has changed slightly and has come down to us as "assassin." The mountain bases that Hasan-i-Sabah set up were finally destroyed between 1256 and 1258 by an invader from outside.


Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953. His dictatorship went unchallenged for a quarter of a century largely because he employed terror as a political weapon.

Stalin set up a vast state network of secret police, informants, executioners, and prisons. Nobody was safe. In the mid-1930s, most of the country's military leaders were purged. Top generals were tortured until they confessed to some crime of Stalin's imagining. Then, they were paraded in public for a show trial with the verdict, guilty, and the punishment, execution, decided ahead of time. Others disappeared without trace while the majority ended up in the prison work camps of Siberia. There, huge numbers died from a combination of malnutrition, overwork, and exposure to cold.

Stalin used what the textbooks call "prophylactic terror;" he liquidated opponents before they themselves even thought of becoming opponents. Everybody in the Soviet Union knew about the terror machine that Joseph Stalin had created and all except the very brave and the very foolish did their best to keep out of sight. Even so, Stalin's political victims number in the tens of millions. If there were such a title as "The World's Greatest Terrorist" surely Joseph Stalin would be its uncontested holder.


Revolutionary violence was a frequent occurrence in Russia in the second half of the 19th century, and was chillingly portrayed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his 1872 novel The Possessed.
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Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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