Global Terrorism: Challenges & Response – Part 1


Terrorism is an historical as well as a universal phenomenon, practised by every type of organisation, religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing. Consequently, the reasons for the terrorist activities  are always subject to the context, time and place. However, there has been an increase in terrorist attacks; Middle East, Asia, and Africa were most affected by terrorism.

As terrorism is a complex phenomenon, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for its occurrence. A better approach is to determine the conditions that make terror possible or likely; most of these conditions have to do with the circumstances such as political, social repression, or economic strife. This 2-part artcle attempts to do that and suggests a comprehensive set of solutions to eliminate it.


Terrorism is an historical as well as a universal phenomenon; very few countries can claim not to have been affected by this menace which is on the rise. It has been practised by every type of organisation, religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus even the so-called most peaceful Buddhists have engaged in terrorist attacks. Consequently, the reasons for the terrorist activity and the identity of those who carry out these acts are always subject to the context, time and place.

As per Global Terrorism Database, more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism claiming over 140,000 lives have been recorded from 2000 to 2014. However, in 2016, OECD member countries experienced the most deaths from terrorism since the September 11 attacks in 2001. There has been a 67% increase in attacks and a nearly 600% increase in deaths from terrorism since 2014. Middle East, Asia, and Africa were most affected by terrorist attacks with Syria -Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan the worst affected.

Terrorism Defined

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on its accurate definition. More than one hundred definitions in the field; one country’s terrorists are other country’s freedom fighters. However, for this presentation, we can define, “terrorism” as

“any violent act of intentional targeting of non-combatants by a person or a group to create panic among the public with the aim of getting tactical or strategic concessions from the policy makers for the accomplishment of their political or non- political goals.”

However, United States Code distinguishes between domestic terrorism and international terrorism for purposes of its Chapter 113B, entitled “Terrorism”:

“International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

Appear to be intended

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

Terrorism in History-Ancient World

As state earlier, terrorism is an historical phenomenon; some of the example of its historicity are as follows

  • Zealots: Historically, Jewish Zealots could be the counted as the first organized terrorists whose acts of violence against the Romans resulted in their banishment from Israel 2000 years ago.
  • Assassins: Followers of Hasan bin Sabah(10th century) can also be described as terrorists for the violence perpetrated by them on the order of their spiritual leader.
  • Thugs: Members of secret Indian cult, both Muslims and Hindus, worshipped Mother Kali, goddess of destruction, operated as gangs of highway robbers, tricking and later strangling their victims with handkerchief or noose. They would then rob and bury their victims.

Terrorism in History-Modern World

Since the start of the modern history in late 18th century, following cases of global terrorism are prominent

  • Jacobins: Radical revolutionaries who coined term “terrorism” during French Revolution, killed more than 35,000 people to terrify French people into submission to their ideas
  • Anarchists: Pioneers of modern terrorism at global level, started in 1880s in Russia, later spread to Europe/North America. Using extremes acts of violence as their main strategy to achieve their objectives, assassinated several world leaders/bombed buildings
  • Nationalist/anti-colonial Terrorism: Terror groups that operated in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere during last phase of colonialism and continued up to 1980sa. Also the Zionist underground terrorist organization Irgun used these very tactics, including the notorious act of bombing of the King David Hotel on Monday July 22, 1946
  • 1970s/80s Terrorists: Irish Republican Army, ETA in Spain and PLO/Black September in the Middle East to press for the acceptance of their respective political demands. Tamil Tiger in Sri Lanka popularized suicide bombing and women suicide bombers, successfully copied by the Jihadist terror organizations in the Middle East and Europe
  • Leftist Romantics: Those who took part in 1968 street demonstrations in Paris, London and other European capitals became disillusioned taking armed struggle as a strategy to begin a communist revolution by force. Inspired by the success of Chinese and Vietnamese guerrillas, they espoused pseudo-Marxist ideologies and wreaked havoc with the help of modern technology. Italy’s Red Brigades hijacked Italian prime minister’s plane and executed him. Germany’s Baader-Meinhof group carried out acts of violence in association with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
  • Pre-9/11 Terrorists: Trained by CIA during Soviet Afghan War of 1980s, these radicalized Muslims took arms against oppressive, un-Islamic governments of Middle East and their sponsors for implementing true Islam. One such resistance group was Al-Qaida led by Osama Bin Laden started a global Jihad against the West after the deployment of American/NATO forces in the Middle East during the First1990 Gulf War.
  • Post 9/11 Terrorists: Terrorist activities carried out after the actions taken by the USA after it launched War on Terrorism. One such group is IS asserting that the only way to progress for the Muslims is to follow the original religious principles of Islam practiced during the golden period of the Islamic Caliphate, a seventh-century empire led by Islam’s founding generations.

Causes of Violence and Terrorism

Terrorism is a complex phenomenon, a specific kind of political violence committed by people who do not have legitimate army at their disposal. Rather than seeking the causes of terrorism itself, a better approach is to determine the conditions that make terror possible or likely. Barring few Lone Wolf cases, most of these conditions have to do with the circumstances such as political, social repression, or economic strife.

There are two sets of conditions which make violence against civilians seem like a reasonable and even necessary option;

  • A. Conditions facilitating Start of Terrorism-Pull Factors vs Push Factors
  • B. Conditions facilitating Survival of Terrorism-4 Ss Model
  1. Factors Initiating Terrorism-Pull Factors:

Pull factors are those reasons which are so appealing that a person or a group of person feel attached to them and are ready to kill others for these attractive things- something so attractive to pull someone towards it. Some of these could be

  • Ideology/Idea-Maybe Intellectual underpinnings of organization/ idea, promises of salvation in hereafter. Thanks to technology and spread of internet, Jihadist organizations developed a broad message of Jihad that can be easily contextualized and distributed widely across various channels to receptive minds.
  • Personality-Sheer charismatic personality of person behind ideology/ organisation i.e., hate preachers and those that prey on vulnerabilities and grievances and channel recruits into violent extremism through persuasion, pressure and manipulation.
  • Personal-Personal quest, a sense of belonging to a cause, ideology or social network, friendship and kinship ties/compulsions could also motivate a person to resort to join an extremist outfit. Scott Atran argues that “extremism arises, in part, when membership in a group reinforces deeply held ideals, and an individual’s identity merges with the group’s.”
  • Adventure-Sheer excitement of enjoying power and control, adventure and the possibility of heroism/ personal redemption are also strong pull factors for attracting the rich.
  • Financial Gain-For poor persons, it may be the financial benefits of joining such organizations.
  • Protection-Lastly, members of mafia join such organizations for protection from the state agencies.

(To be Continued)

From the ebook “20 Global Issues: A Handbook” by Shahid Hussain Raja, published by Amazon

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