Friday, September 17, 2010

The brief history of world terrorism

The word terrorism was first used in 1795, a grim spawn of the heady era that brought the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. The word was born with the Reign of Terror, which makes use of of the guillotine by the French revolutionaries to consolidate their regime by killing their enemies and intimidating the potential opposition.
To start with history of terrorism (however brief) without first defining what the term means might appear to be putting the cart before the horse.  Despite this, no such clarity shall be proffered here.  Partly, this is for reasons of brevity, but mainly because any effort to first define terrorism would mean restricting any ensuing narrative to this definition.  As such, this is not so much a brief history of terrorism as much as a brief history of examples of that which has been (or arguably could be) usually accepted to constitute terrorism.  Not everyone will agree that all these examples do so, and there are other instance that might be so construed that are not mentioned at all.
One point is less dubious: terrorism is not new.  Indeed, in some respects, that what is today known as terrorism predates by millennia the modern term used to explain it.  This is not to say that the act of terrorism has remained static.  Rather, as the difficulties involved in defining it reflect, terrorism has evolved significantly over the years, even if retaining some of the same characteristics that have in history typified it.
While it is impossible to definitively establish when it was first used, that which we today call terrorism traces its roots back at least some 2,000 years.  Moreover, today’s terrorism has, in some respects come full circle, with many of its contemporary practitioners motivated by religious conviction – something which drove many of their initial predecessors.  It has also, in the normally accepted usage of the word, often possessed a political dimension.


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