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Friday, July 15, 2016

Some interesting perspective on terrorism

by digby

Some political scientists see terrorism, as we currently define it, as happening in four major waves.
In the 1880s, an initial "Anarchist Wave"(6) appeared which continued for some 40 years. Its successor, the "Anti-Colonial Wave" began in the 1920s, and by the 1960s had largely disappeared. The late 1960s witnessed the birth of the "New Left Wave," which dissipated largely in the 90s leaving a few groups still active in Sri Lanka, Spain, France, Peru, and Columbia. The fourth or "Religious Wave" began in 1979, and, if it follows the pattern of its predecessors, it still has twenty to twenty-five years to run.

Revolution was the overriding aim in every wave, but revolution was understood differently in each. Most terrorist organizations have understood revolution as secession or national self-determination. This principle, that a people should govern itself, was bequeathed by the American and French Revolutions. (The French Revolution also introduced the term "terror" to our vocabulary.(7)) In leaving open the question of what constitutes a "people," the principle is very ambiguous and can lead to endless conflict.

... Every state affected in the first wave, for example, radically transformed its police organizations. Plain-clothes police forces were created as indispensable tools to penetrate underground groups. The Russian Okhrana, Scotland Yard, and the FBI are conspicuous examples.(4)The new organizational form remains a permanent, perhaps indispensable, feature of modern life.

Terrorist tactics invariably produce rage and frustration, often driving governments to respond in unanticipated, extraordinary, illegal, and destructive ways. Because a significant Jewish element, for example, was present in the several Russian terrorist movements, the Okhrana organized pogroms to intimidate the Jewish population, compelling many to flee to the West and to the Holy Land. Okhrana fabricated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book that helped stimulate a virulent anti-Semitism that went beyond Russia and continued for decades, and that influences the Christian and Islamic terrorist worlds still.(5)

Democratic states over-react too. President Theodore Roosevelt proposed sending all Anarchists back to their countries of origin, though many had not committed crimes and were opposed to terror. Roosevelt's proposal was not acted upon; but President Wilson authorized Attorney General Palmer (1919) to round up all Anarchists, though many committed no crimes, in order to ship them to the Soviet Union. That led to the 1920 Wall Street Bombing which then became the impetus for an immigration quota law making it much more difficult for persons from Southern and Eastern European states (the original home of most Anarchists) to immigrate to America for several decades....
It's tempting to believe that the US invasion of Iraq was one of those overreactions but it really wasn't. It was instead a cynical opportunistic act by a group of people who were actually still fighting the last war --- against totalitarianism. They didn't care about terrorism and had never taken it seriously. When it happened in such spectacular fashion they simply used it as an excuse to do what they had been wanting do before for other reasons.

So far, the West has actually been fairly restrained by historical standards. Trump and Marine LePen in France and other right wing politicians will definitely over-react if they gain power. More mainstream leaders might do as well if these individual acts of terrorism continue to pile up.

If this paper is correct, perhaps we can see one remedy: stop romanticizing revolution,including our own glorious founding. Yes, it's sometimes been necessary to throw off the yokes of oppression through violence. But we've also seen that it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe we should glorify peaceful civilized change instead. Shocking thought, I know.

h/t to EJG