Is terrorism “new” ?

Assuredly not.   In our Police Science Institute Course on “Terrorism Studies”, we point out that there has instead existed a long-standing debate, going back to antiquity, as to the moral and political acceptability of using violence and fear in order to foster political and social change.    Many of history’s great minds believed that, under the right circumstances, the active utilization of fear and violence was in fact a “moral and/or civic duty”.   


Similarly, religious leaders over the centuries contributed thoughts as to when warfare could be deemed just, when "holy terror" could be rationalized, and, when less-than-honorable tactics should be implemented.   Today’s ISIS is a perfect example of this reasoning


Bottom line … “terrorism” is NOT new.    Indeed, in some respects, that what is today known as “terrorism” in fact predates by millennia the modern term used to describe 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 considerably over the years, even if retaining some of the same characteristics that have historically typified it.


The vast majority of terrorist actions and events throughout history have been directed against governments by what is referred to as “political” or “revolutionary” terrorism.   This has evolved into an issue of global magnitude, and, has often taken the form of state terrorism and/or state-sponsored terrorism, being where governments turn against their own citizens, or, attempt to cause chaos, dissatisfaction and disruption among the citizenry of another nation.   


While it is impossible to definitively ascertain 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 convictions … something which drove many of their earliest predecessors.   


It has also, in the generally-accepted usage of the word, often possessed a political dimension.    This has colored much of the discourse surrounding terrorism … being a phenomenon which is, according to Paul R. Pillar, “a challenge to be managed, not solved”.


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