Has the Nature of Terrorism Changed over the Last Thirty Years?

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Has the nature of terrorism changed over the last thirty years? Answer this question with reference to three specific examples of terrorist campaigns.

This essay will endeavour to give an historical analysis of contemporary terrorism and its changing nature by focusing on three specific terrorist campaigns over the last thirty years. The essay will begin by first presenting a definition of terrorism and will move on to provide a brief account of the geographical shift in terrorism by discussing the movement from territorial based terrorism to more ideological focused campaigns. In addition, it will give a concise discussion on the theory of globalisation in relation to terrorism and the impact it has had on the growth of international terrorism. The essay will then move on to discuss three separate but equally significant terrorist campaigns within the last thirty years and will highlight how each of these terrorist campaigns became turning points in the evolution of international terrorism and evaluate how each one played a significant role in the evolution of contemporary terrorism. The three individual campaigns this paper will focus on is the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Russian intervention in Afghanistan and the September 11 attacks instigated by Al- Qaeda; this essay will highlight the importance of each of the afore mentioned terrorist campaigns and also the scale of impact they each had on international terrorism. The importance of the question this paper will endeavour to address is that terrorism is a major issue of contemporary societal life; this paper will demonstrate how terrorism is a borderless, faceless threat and as the nature of terrorism changes so too does the extremity and lethality.

It is important to begin any discussion on terrorism by attempting to provide a definition of what constitutes terrorism. A crime such as car theft is somewhat simple to determine, terrorism however, is much more complex to classify in criminological terms (Furedi, 2005). For a crime to be categorised as a terrorist act Jenkins (2003) argues it is not so much the specific form of violence but is the underlying motivation behind the act which may lead to a crime being classified as terroristic. In spite of such inherent difficulties, Mythen and Walklate (2005) provide an adequate account of what can constitute a terrorist act:

‘Terrorism is generally understood to be the use of violence and intimidation to disrupt or coerce a government and/or an identifiable community. Terrorism has traditionally been distinguished from routine criminal violence because it is driven by a particular political and/or religious motivation’. (Mythen and Walklate, 2005:381)

Commonly, terrorist acts target civilians with the intention of creating fear, panic and insecurity among the targeted population. Whilst it is agreeable that the aforementioned components define what may be considered an act of terrorism it is imperative to note that to brand someone a “terrorist” is one of moral and subjective judgement with one persons “terrorist” being another’s “freedom fighter” (Lodge, 1998:2).

According to ex Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “the difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reason for which each fights. For whoever stands by a just cause and fights for the freedom and liberation of his land from the invaders, the settlers and the colonialists, cannot possibly be called a terrorist…” (quoted in Hoffman 1998, 26). In addition to the difficulty in providing a universal definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism there are also ‘many different styles of terrorism that are driven by different motivations, undertaken by different actors and have different targets’ (Mythen and Walklate, 2005: 381).

A significant shift in the nature of terrorism is the transition from state terrorism to international terrorism; prior to the 1960s terrorism was generally restricted within specific...
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