The earliest known organization that exhibited aspects of a modern terrorist organization was the Zealots of Judea.
Early Origins of Terrorism: 14th -18th Century
Use of the word "terrorism" began in 1795 in reference to the Reign of Terror initiated by the Revolutionary government.
Terrorism in the 20th and 21st Century
Nationalism intensified during the early 20th century throughout the world.
The "total war" practices of all combatants of WWII provided further justification for the "everybody does it" view of the use of terror and violations of the law of war.
Terrorism in the 20th and 21st Century
Successful campaigns for independence from colonial rule occurred throughout the world, and many employed terrorism as a supporting tactic.
The age of modern terrorism might be said to have begun in 1968 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an El Al airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Rome.
The largest act of international terrorism was the September 11 attacks . Other major terrorist attacks have also occurred in New Delhi (Indian Parliament attacked); Bali car bomb attack; London subway bombings; Madrid train bombings and the most recent attacks in Mumbai (hotels, train station and a Jewish outreach center). The operational and strategic epicenter of Islamic terrorism is now mostly centered in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”
The United Nations produced the following definition of terrorism in 1992; "An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets."
The British Government definition of terrorism from 1974 is "...the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear."
The strategy of terrorists is to commit acts of violence that draws the attention of the local populace, the government, and the world to their cause. The terrorists plan their attack to obtain the greatest publicity, choosing targets that symbolize what they oppose.
Psychological Profile of a Terrorist
- Feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised.
- Believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change.
- Identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting.
- Feel the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem.
- Believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral.
- Have friends or family sympathetic to the cause.
- Believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity.
Studies have been made wherein thoughts of death were induced by subliminally presenting people death-related stimuli or by inserting a delay-and-distraction task between a reminder of death.
This subliminal prompting induces people to psychologically defend themselves against death in ways that bear little surface relationship to the problem of death.
These include clinging to their cultural identities, working hard to live up to their culture's values and going to great lengths to defend those values.
Conversely, the investigators have shown that getting people to consciously contemplate their mortality increases their intention to engage in life-enhancing behaviors, such as exercise.
A set of studies were conducted in the United States, Iran and Israel. In all three countries, people who were subtly reminded of their mortality—and thus primed to cling more strongly to their group identities—were more likely to support violence against the out group. Iranians were more likely to support suicide bombing against Westerners. Americans were more likely to advocate military force to battle Islamic extremists, even if it meant killing thousands of civilians. Israelis were more likely to condone violence against Palestinians.
In a more global sense, a fear of cultural annihilation may help fuel terrorist sentiments. In “How Globalization Spurs Terrorism: The Lopsided Benefits of One World and Why That Fuels Violence,” the book argues that rapid globalization has forced disparate cultures into contact with one another and is threatening the domination or disappearance of some groups—a cultural version of “survival of the fittest.”