Who’s the Terrorist?

Below is a scenario involving multiple different people who may have engaged in acts of terrorism. Can you identify the terrorists?

A 17 year old teenager, Tony, from the United States has decided to convert to Islam. Over the past few months, he has become more and more radical in his beliefs. Through a friend at his mosque, Tony meets someone who claims to be a recruiter for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is a terrorist group. The recruiter has been speaking with Tony a lot and has finally convinced him and a few of his friends to fly to Syria and join the group. He makes it into Syria and establishes a role within the group as a fighter, actively engaging in violence in the name of their ideology. After a few weeks, Tony contacts his parents and asks them to send him some money. He claims that he is struggling and doesn’t get paid that much. Tony’s parents are reluctant to send the money, as they knew that Tony had gone to Syria and was probably a member of ISIS. But Tony is still their son and they want to help him stay safe, so they send some money.

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In this example, there were 4 different groups of individuals, Tony, Tony’s friends, the recruiter, and Tony’s parents. Out of these, which ones were terrorists? Is there one, or more than 1?

All four groups are actually considered to be terrorists.

Tony and his friends are perhaps the most obvious answer because they had extremist beliefs, traveled to join a widely-known terrorist group, and engaged in violence on behalf of an ideology. The recruiter is also considered to be a terrorist because while he is not directly pick up a gun and fight for ISIS, he is still an extremist advocating for the use of violence and radicalizing others into believing an ideology. The parents were perhaps the least obvious answer. While they did not directly engage in violence and did not hold extremist beliefs, they still technically funded terrorism when they sent their son money. In the US, giving money to a designated terrorist group, or any member of a designated terrorist group, is against the law. Tony’s parents could spend up to 20 years in jail for sending him money and would be considered terrorists.


The Definition of Terrorism

Still confused about what exactly terrorism is? That’s not surprising given how much terrorism is mystified and misconstrued by society and the media. There is no one concrete definition of terrorism or what an act of terrorism is. Some definitions are more complicated than others, but essentially what it all boils down to is that:

Terrorism is an act of violence or the threat of violence against someone or something. These threats or acts can be against ordinary citizens or a government. Generally, the goal is to promote a political agenda or a religious belief. Additionally, as mentioned above, getting others involved in acts of terror, or funding acts of terror is also considered to be a form terrorism.


Early History

One of the first examples of terrorism is the Zealots Sicarri, who were a Jewish group, from the first century. They were located in Palestine, which was occupied by the Romans. Their goal was to gain independence from the Romans and install their own form of strict religious rule. They engaged in guerilla warfare against not only the Romans but Jewish leaders as well, who they considered to be traitors to their cause. They would kill prominent Romans and Jewish ‘traitors’ on high holy days by stabbing them with knives while they were within crowds of people. They generally escaped from being caught amongst the crowds.

Another early form of terrorism was a group known as the Assassins. They were a small group of Islamic extremists that operated during the 11th century. They attacked a Turkish tribe as well as the leaders of the Muslim world, known as Caliphs. The Assassins got their name from their use of assassination as a terrorist tactic to kill their political and religious enemies.

The actual term ‘terrorism’ was coined during the French Revolution where the existing French government engaged in what is known as the Reign of Terror. They used terrorism to oppress their people and used terrorist tactics against the revolutionaries that opposed them.


Modern Terrorism

In the past hundred years or so, terrorism has changed and evolved into something of a global pattern. From the late 1800's until present day, terrorism can be divided into 4 waves, anarchist, anti colonial, the new left, and finally the religious wave, all identified by Rappaport. Within each of these waves, there was not only one type of terrorism occurring throughout the world, the waves were named based on the most dominant form of terrorist activity in that time period.


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First Wave

The first is the Anarchist wave beginning in 1880. Up until then, revolutionaries had been relying on peaceful strategies like passing out pamphlets and holding demonstrations to voice their grievances. As the general population was no longer responding to these strategies, terrorism emerged as a way to re-engage the public in a very dramatic and panic-inducing way. However, almost no anarchist group achieved what they set out to do. Assassination was a common tactic of this wave. In fact, the 1890s are sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age of Assassination. The leaders of Russia (Tsar Alexander I), France (President Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot), and the United States (President William McKinley) were all shot and killed. 


Second Wave

The second wave began in the 1920s after the end of World War I. It was sparked by the Treaty of Versailles and the breaking up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into independent nations like Lithuania and Poland. Terrorist groups in this state wanted to bring attention to their grievances, undermine the authority of whatever colonial power was in charge and try to make them give up their control. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was a group that fought the British government to unite Northern Ireland, which (was under British rule) with the rest of Ireland. Another example, the Irgun, a terrorist group who also attacked the British in Palestine and wanted to create a separate Jewish nation. The groups in this wave were much more successful than groups that were a part of the first wave, some were able to achieve parts or the majority of their goals. In addition, some of these terrorist groups were supported by foreign governments and received funding from Diasporas, which are people who have moved away from their traditional homeland. Second-wave groups stayed away from assassinations and moved towards attacking police and military targets, often using guerrilla tactics.


Third Wave

The New Left wave began during the Vietnam War in about the 1960s. This wave was characterized by the idea that Western powers had committed atrocities against other third world countries. These groups arose in these less developed countries, as well as in Western nations. Students and well-educated members of society were the driving force behind may of the groups created during this time. For example, the Weather Underground, a terrorist group from the US, was created from a national political student society and its members were almost entirely young adults from affluent, educated backgrounds. Common targets in this wave were police and government officials and facilities and bombings, assassinations, and even kidnappings were some of the most frequently used tactics. By the 1980’s these groups had been largely defeated all over the world. You can learn more about left wing terrorism here.


Fourth Wave

After the fall of the New Left wave, religious terrorism became increasingly frequent. These groups tended to believe that their members were superior to non-members and they found the justification for violence in extreme interpretations of their different religions. All religions have had terrorist groups arise at some point, whether it be the Christian extremists like the Army of God, or Islamic extremists like al Qaeda. The suicide bomb quickly became a popular and highly lethal tactic against those who they deem a threat to their religion. Islamic terrorism is perhaps the most well-known type of terrorism in this wave and it has also proven to be one of the most deadly forms. You can learn more about right wing terrorism here, and Islamic extremism here