As the federal government struggles to formulate legislation that will strip Australian citizenship from terrorists with dual nationality it becomes necessary fully to confront the enormity of the jihadist threat. While it appears that some critics of the legislation think it impinges upon the human rights of terrorists they seem oblivious to the long history of the terrorist campaign against Western liberal democracies.
The question is not whether the rights of terrorists are respected. The issue is whether civilisation will survive without taking firm and rigorous action against those external and internal enemies who seek desperately to destroy it. Politicians need to recognise what we are up against, and if they lack the stomach for the struggle they should get out of the way.
There is no doubt that the rise of militant Islamism and its systematic use of jihadist terror represent a profound threat to civilisation. Not since the emergence of Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism has the assault on the liberal democracies of the West been so explicit, so comprehensive, so ruthless, and so bloodthirsty. The Islamist challenge was once characterised as a ‘clash of civilizations’, but the behaviour of ISIS confirms that it is best seen as a barbarian war on civilization, per se, developing on a scale not seen since the invasions of the Mongol hordes 800 years ago or the collapse of the Roman Empire under the impact of barbarian invaders 1500 years ago.
Moreover, the present terrorist threat posed by jihadism is not happening in an historical vacuum. Quite the contrary: jihadism is building on and exploiting key elements of modern terrorism as it has evolved over the past 150 years. This long history of violence originated with the anarchists of the nineteenth century, who made their hatred of modernity blazingly clear with a terrorist campaign that lasted for decades. They gave birth to a tradition of extreme and indiscriminate terrorist violence that once again has been unleashed upon the West.
It is usually recognized that modern terrorism has evolved through four distinct waves, and each of these has contributed important technical and ideological elements to the ongoing Islamist assault on civilization. These waves and their typical terrorist organizations are as follows:
- 1879-1914 Anarchist/Nationalist Terrorism – e.g., Narodnaya Volya
- 1920s-1960s Anti-Colonialist Terrorism – e.g., in Ireland, Algeria, Israel
- 1960s-1980s International Terrorism – e.g., Red Army, Red Brigades, PLO
- 1979… Religious Terrorism – e.g., Al-Qaeda, HAMAS, ISIS
The evolution of terrorism through these waves has been characterized by the continual development of terrorist techniques, ideology, strategies, tactics, weapons, propaganda ,eans, and philosophies of destruction. The last area is exemplified most notably by the ‘propaganda of the deed’, and this serves as an excellent example of how presently successful terrorist techniques were pioneered in earlier eras before being exploited in the present.
Propaganda of the deed was introduced by the anarchist terrorists of the late nineteenth century to promote their cause through high-profile terrorist outrages, including assassinations, bombings, hijackings, and kidnappings. It was used by Al-Qaeda with epoch-defining effect on September 11, 2001. This successfully re-focused the global conception of Islam, changing perceptions of it overnight from a moribund medieval religion to a resurgent global power. Propaganda of the deed is also presently being very successfully employed by Islamic State to promote its revolutionary and messianic élan and entice masses of new recruits, thanks largely to its unparalleled exploitation of social media (sheltered by misplaced or even traitorous ‘champions’ of abstract notions of free speech and human rights in the West).
So effective were the anarchists during the first wave that ‘anarchist and ‘terrorist’ were used as synonyms. As one of the two most important movements of the revolutionary left in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – several times threatening to seize control of the Socialist International from the Marxists – anarchists sponsored many violent insurrections and insurgencies, and dominated the revolutionary left in Italy, France, Spain, America, and Russia, where it was often allied with radical nationalist populist movements.
The anarchists were extremely ruthless and focused on the ‘insurrectionary act’ of exemplary bloodshed. They were very effective propagandists and there was widespread fear of the Black International. A pioneer of extreme violence was Karl Heinzen, who published “Murder” (Der Mord) in 1849 in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848 European revolutions. It provided a theory of modern terrorism notable for its violent rhetoric and unrelenting commitment to terrorist violence against all form of government. According to Heinzen, murder is permissible and indeed required by terrorists if resistance to the revolution is to be eradicated. He insisted that “murder is the principal agent of historical progress”.
Another pioneering anarchist theorist of systematic terrorism was Mikhail Bakunin. He proclaimed his tactics in his National Catechism (1866), and this was expanded upon by the sinister sociopath Sergei Nechayev in his infamous Revolutionary Catechism (1870), with his infamous declaration that the revolutionary terrorist must “have one single thought, one single purpose: merciless destruction”. Another leader, Johann Most, advocated publicizing violent attacks on counter-revolutionaries because “we preach not only action in and for itself, but also action as propaganda”. To that end, he published detailed directions for manufacturing and using explosives.
The Italian revolutionary, Carlo Pisacane, similarly asserted that “ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around”. Bakunin declared that “we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda”. Peter Kropotkin, the advocate of anarchist communism, insisted that “a single deed is better propaganda than a thousand pamphlets.” Carlo Cafiero demanded:
“Action and still more action … Our action must be permanent revolt by the spoken and written word, by the dagger, the rifle, dynamite … We will use any weapon when it comes to striking as rebels. Everything is good for us that is not legal.”
The principal terrorist tactic during the anarchist era was political assassination. Some of the more notable victims in this period included Lord Cavendish, the Chief Secretary of the British Administration in Ireland, in 1882. In the USA, Presidents Garfield (1881) and McKinley (1901) were also killed. French President Carnot was murdered in 1894, Spanish Prime Minister Canovas in 1897, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1898), King Umberto of Italy in 1900, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914. More heads of state were murdered in this period than in any other era in European history.
In a crucial attack, the populist terrorists, Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will), assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881, deploying propaganda of the deed, as Rapoport explains in ‘The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism’. (Current History, December, 2001):
“Seeking a radical transformation of society, [Narodnaya Volya] understood terrorism as [means] to ‘raise the consciousness of the masses’ and selected victims for symbolic reasons – that is, for the emotional and political responses their deaths would have. Their … influence endured to generate a ‘culture of terror’ for successors to inherit and improve.”
There were also many spectacular bombing ‘outrages’ using Alfred Nobel’s newly invented dynamite. These were directed against anonymous citizens (e.g., in restaurants, theatres, etc), selected precisely for the terrorizing effect generated by such acts of seemly random barbarism. For example, in 1893 a performance of Rossini’s William Tell at the Barcelona Opera house was bombed, killing over 30 people. As Richard Bach Jensen observes in “Daggers, Rifles and Dynamite: Anarchist Terrorism in Nineteenth Century Europe” (2004):
“The 1890s also became the era of the terrorist bloodbath, as anarchists hurled explosive devices into crowded cafes, religious processions, and operatic performances … In an age unaccustomed to terrorist attacks on women and children, the shocking spectacle of their murder at the hands of anarchists drove many observers into frenzy.”
As with contemporary Jihadism, such actions deliberately violated the rules of war, ignoring any distinction between combatant and non-combatant. As Rapoport makes clear, according to terrorist theory:
“Terror would command the masses’ attention, arouse latent political tensions, and provoke governments to respond indiscriminately, undermining in the process its own credibility and legitimacy.”
Then, as now, the most glorious death was that of execution as a terrorist ‘martyr’ after a lengthy trial that gave the terrorist an opportunity to proclaim the justice of his/her cause and denounce the legal system as a sham and agent of oppression (and it was common for terrorists to assassinate presiding judges and prosecutors – which might explain the timidity of politicians with a legal background).
Also, right from the outset, modern terrorism targeted reformist politicians. For example, Alexander II was a reformer who freed the serfs and his assassination installed the fiercely reactionary reign of his son Alexander III who wound back his fathers reforms. This laid the basis for the disintegration of Tsarist Russia, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the emergence of the Soviet Union. Subsequently, according to Rapoport:
“Revolutionary anarchists mounted assassination campaigns to frustrate drives towards universal suffrage, a reform they thought would make existing political systems invulnerable.”
The crucial lesson here is that terrorists are seeking to destroy the very structure of society, and any attempts to appease Islamists, Jihadists or other terrorists will only encourage or even call forth further exemplary violence.
Jihadism also feeds off the great myth of alleged ‘Western imperialism’. This entered the terrorist lexicon during the second wave and nurtured the vital presumption that terrorism and guerrilla warfare were legitimate tactics in what were presented as anti-colonialist struggles or wars of liberation. This notion proved very attractive to the adversary culture of the Western intelligentsia as, bizarrely, it set about de-legitimatizing the very civilization that made its existence possible.
The second wave began soon after the Great War and grew out of the fierce desire for national determination that had been promoted by President Wilson as a rallying cry of the War. Such rhetoric left the victorious world powers caught in a fundamental contradiction: they had presented themselves as champions of democracy and national self-determination in order to ensure the support of their own peoples in the war, but they were themselves colonial powers. Consequently, according to Rapoport:
“The ambivalence of colonial powers about their own legitimacy made them ideal targets for a politics of atrocity.”
Morally dis-empowered and exhausted by war, the central Western nations became ideal targets for terrorism. Once again the parallel with the present situation of America is obvious.
The West was also confronted with the immense resources of the Comintern, which seized control of the world’s communist parties and national liberation movements. It not only funded and trained innumerable terrorists; it also promulgated the Marxist-Leninist theory of imperialism that depicted the West as the fount of all evil in the world. This gave terrorists a tremendous ideological advantage over liberal democracies dominated by elites that allowed themselves to be paralysed by confected feelings of guilt. The same phenomenon is occurring at present as the West seeks to mobilize its resources against Jihadism.
Conscious of the need to maintain their moral advantage and retain global public support, terrorist groups during this period generally focused on police or military targets and sometimes even sought to minimize civilian casualties. However, the Jewish terrorist attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, was a notable exception, as the Stern Gang used a massive amount of dynamite and TNT to obliterate 91 people and injure 46 more.
The Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) was an even more horrific exception that reveals the horrendous damage that a sustained terrorist campaign can inflict upon a Western society. Along with a murderous anti-colonialist campaign aimed at separating Algeria from France, this involved a fratricidal civil war between Algerians loyal to France and their anti-colonialist compatriots. This was accompanied by a state of virtual civil war in France itself, as the loyalist Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS), fought to keep Algeria for France through a massive campaign of bombings and murders that brought down the Fourth Republic. The conflict was a bloodbath characterized by systematic terrorism, counter-terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and widespread torture. Casualties reached at least 350,000.
This extended period of anti-colonialist terror accelerated the collapse of high culture in the West. This was exemplified by John-Paul Sartre’s fawning endorsement of the doctrine of ‘cleansing violence’ promoted by the Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon insisted that terrorist violence must be pursued for its own sake as it offers a cathartic and therapeutic experience for terrorists. The latter become a vast collective force as they destroy their oppressors and everyone linked to them. According to Fanon:
“The practice of violence binds [the oppressed] together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards”.
Fanon influenced many terrorists with this vision of a great collective terrorist force, including Che Guevara in Cuba. He also influenced terrorists and other militants in Latin America, Africa, Iran, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and the United States, especially the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. Barack Obama cites Fanon as a major influence in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father and this ideological orientation helps explain his increasingly disastrous policy towards Islamism and Jihadism.
The tendency of terrorism to operate on a global scale became a reality during the third wave, which began at the height of the Cold War. It became known as the wave of international terrorism because it was characterized by global cooperation between terrorist groups and a shared commitment to global revolution, usually funded by the Soviet Union, China, Libya, Cuba, Syria, or Iraq.
Many major terrorist groups appeared or reasserted themselves at this time, including the Italian Red Brigades (which engaged in some 14,000 terrorist acts in their first 10 years), the Japanese Red Army, the German Red Army Faction (aka, the Baader-Meinhof Gang), the Weathermen and Black Panthers in the United States, the French Direct Action, the Irish Republican Army, the Basque ETA, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Tupamaros of Uruguay, the Maoist Shining Path in Peru, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the M-19 in Columbia, and many others.
These organizations groups often trained together, provided mutual support, and even carried out attacks for each other. As Cindy Combs observes in Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (2003):
“Terrorists in the latter part of the twentieth century shared intelligence information, weapons, supplies, training facilities and instructors, sponsors, and even membership.”
Consequently, in a remarkable example of globalized terrorism the Japanese Red Army carried out the Lod Airport massacre in Israel in May, 1972, on behalf of the Palestinians, killing mainly Puerto Rican Catholic pilgrims in order to punish the Jews. Similarly, a team of international terrorists carried out the Munich Olympic massacre of Jewish athletes in 1972 for the PLO. Another international team kidnapped OPEC ministers in Vienna in 1975.
There was also an international character to the campaign of aircraft hijacking, which quickly came to characterize terrorist tactics during this period, with around 100 aircraft a year being hijacked during the 1970s. This inevitably involved the taking of large numbers of hostages and this also quickly became a major terror tactic, that was taken in an entirely new direction by Al-Qaeda on 9/11.
Another typical tactic in this era was political kidnapping. For example, the Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1979 and was murdered after the government refused to negotiate his release. In a major strike against Great Britain, the Provisional IRA murdered Earl Mountbatten (who had been the last Viceroy of India and had seen India granted independence) and his grandson and killed 18 British soldiers, all on the same day, also in 1979.
Outside Europe and the Middle East there were other long-term terrorist campaigns during this period, especially in Latin America, e.g., in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Latin American terrorists pioneered urban guerrilla warfare and the tactic of kidnapping diplomats. Turkey also saw a fearsome period of violence during the 1970s, involving left-wing and right-wing terrorists funded by foreign powers and leading to martial law, thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of arrests and the seizure of some 730,000 weapons. Irish and Basque terrorism continued at high levels of ferocity during this period.
One of the primary strategies promoted during this period had been developed by the anarchists and involved the deliberate provocation of the state into massive acts of repression, on the (extremely doubtful) assumption that this would trigger a widespread popular uprising against the state. Argentina in this period is an excellent case-study of the tragic outcomes produced by this strategy. After 646 political murders occurred in 1976 alone there was a brutal government-military crackdown. This involved mass torture and the permanent ‘disappearing’ of between 9000 and 30,000 people under a military junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983.
It is notable that the leadership and most of the membership of these groups in this period were generally provided by young, middle-class university students and intellectuals. Despite their idealism and apparent intelligence, they were frequently naive. For example, in the USA, groups such as the Weathermen (with whom Obama has a controversial relationship) had a romanticized view of the groups they sort to help through terrorism. As Walter Laqueur observed in The New Terrorism (1999), such would-be terrorists
“were motivated by a crisis of identity, suburban boredom, and the desire for excitement and action. For them, more often than not terrorism was the cure for personal problems. All this was immersed in intellectual confusion that espoused the idea that almost anything was permitted and denounced the absence of values.”
As with contemporary jihadists these terrorists embraced a nihilistic world-view in which any outrage was acceptable because it opened the door to a future paradise.
The fourth wave of religious terrorism currently dominating world politics has seen the culmination of all these trends that have been present in the tradition of terrorism for 150 years.
Its capacity for horrific violence committed in the name of ethnic and religious identities is exemplified by the relentless terrorism of the Tamil Tigers, which sustained the Sri Lankan Civil War for 26 years after 1983 and led to some 100,000 deaths, innumerable casualties, and the devastation of the country. The Tigers executed many high-profile attacks, assassinated two heads-of-state and many high-ranking Sri Lankan and Indian politicians. They also pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks and invented the suicide belt.
Even more dramatic has been the precipitant rise of Islamism and Jihadist terrorism. This has its origins in the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, led by the ultra-reactionary Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the subsequent Salafist revival in Wahabbist Saudi Arabia, and the emergence of Al-Qaeda out of the Arab militia that served in Afghanistan in the 1980s as part of the resistance to the Soviet invasion.
These events encouraged the view in the Muslim world that the two superpowers were in decline and lacked the resolve to preserve the global order. Certainly, the success of the Iranian Revolution and the humiliation of the United States in the subsequent hostage crisis convinced many Muslims that their moment had arrived and this perception was reinforced by the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Islamists believe that this situation has created a global power vacuum in which they can operate with comparative impunity. The foreign policy of Barak Obama (such as it is) appears designed to ensure that this is the case.
Consequently, the present era has witnessed the shift in the history of terrorism from the pursuit of radical and secular ideologies and objectives (e.g., Marxism-Leninism and a global communist state) towards radical and religious ideologies and objectives (e.g., Islamism and a global Caliphate). It has also seen the emergence of Islamo-fascism, a synthesis of radical Islamism and totalitarianism derived from fascism and Marxism-Leninism. Militant religion and terrorism have become increasingly synonymous, as exemplified by Jihadism.
Historically, this appears to have been inevitable as Islamism is fundamentally and explicitly totalitarian. As Ziauddin Sardar explains in “Islam and the West in a Transmodern World.” (2002):
“Islamism insists on a single interpretation of Islam which can only be manifested in terms of an ‘Islamic State’. In this framework, the integrated, holistic and God-centred world-view of Islam is transformed into a totalitarian, theocratic world order.”
Islamism therefore follows the classic totalitarian political model pioneered by Nazism and Communism and makes absolutist claims upon its adherents and all other people subject to its rule.
Islamism is therefore not pluralistic or relativistic like Western culture, which it regards with contempt. It has no interest in coexistence between Islam and the West or other civilizations. As Bassam Tibi notes in Islam between Culture and Politics (2001):
“The leaders of Islamic movements criticize Western dominance from a civilizational rather than a political viewpoint. Their contention is not based on an assumption of egalitarian and pluralist definitions of cultures and civilizations. Islamists want, rather, to reverse the hegemonic power situation in favour of Islam. They envisage a reversal leading to the emergence of structures that shift the centre of power in decentring the West to pave the way for a global dominance of Islam.”
In terms of the history of terrorist techniques the present period has been innovative, especially with the use of airliners as flying bombs, which has seriously degraded air travel and imposed enormous security costs.
Most notably however has been the shift away from all remnants of civilized or conventional conduct in warfare. This is illustrated by the systematic use of child soldiers, suicide bombers and other operatives, ethnic cleansing, genocide, the execution of prisoners and other war crimes. This is clearly not accidental but a deliberate policy of ISIS, which is making explicit the fact that is has taken a quantum leap in terms of terrorist barbarity.
Equally ominous is the strong connection between contemporary religious terrorist groups and various forms of organized crime that yields billions of dollars to augment the massive funding already being provided by Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim theocracies. These criminal activities include drug trafficking (‘narco-terrorism’) people and arms smuggling, piracy, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering, passport forgery, credit card fraud, cyber crime and now the criminal trade in antiquities. Note that the latter is not accidental, as it has been combined with the deliberate destruction of historical sites and museums, once again making explicit the rage against civilization that historically has driven terrorism.
These are profoundly powerful forces. Politicians need to recognize that we are enmeshed in a struggle for civilization against an extremely well-resourced enemy that regards us, our society and its values as decadent and contemptible. Jihadism is the culmination of a highly coherent tradition of terrorist violence, now informed by religious fanaticism, that stretches back 150 years and that has evolved many effective military and ideological weapons. Our enemies are a force for barbarism that has few parallels in history. They will destroy us unless they are stopped.
Either our leaders will protect us from our sworn enemies or we’ll have to get some that will.