Terrorism is an excessively multifaceted phenomenon, involving a multitude of motives, strategies and means. The difference between terrorism, as we know it today and terrorism, as it used to be, lies in its ever-extending scope – it is becoming global, much more lethal and reliant chiefly on hatred and advanced technology. By reviewing sundry historical patterns and exploring some of the most significant changes, the following essay will draw attention on the phenomenology and the evolution of present-day terrorism.
The critical discussion provided will present a useful insight in modern terrorist activity, as well as in the ways and means through which it has advanced into a global phenomenon. According to Whittaker (2004, p. 18), the scale of contemporary terrorism has escalated, just as its dispersion has expanded. Since the 1990s, a great number of authors throughout the world have been examining its origins, motivations, strategies and weapons which are becoming more effective in delivering fear to the global population. /11, as the most ominous example, seems to be representative for the undergone changes over the former decades. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11 confirmed, that terrorism not simply have altered, but it had acquired a ‘new face’ (Roberts, 2002), drawing advantage from the opportunities offered by today’s restlessly globalizing world.
Despite this newly occurring ‘face’, terrorism is, beyond all doubt, not new, as several of its most significant features have already appeared in the past. “However much we may wish it were not so, terrorism has been common throughout history” (Davis, Paul K. , 2002). Understanding this is useful as long as it is balanced with an awareness that while the basic elements identifying the act as ‘terrorism’ remain the same, the act itself continues to evolve in sometimes startling and often challenging ways (Combs, 2011). There has been a radical transformation, if not a revolution, in the character of terrorism” (Laqueur cited in Kurtulus, 2011). The process of technological development is a major contributor to this change and since the era of transnational terrorism, from the early 1990s, hijacking airplanes has become a common method through which terrorists successfully achieve their goals and ‘globalize’ their activity.
Having incorporated planes in their arsenal, terrorists are not only aiming at the death of many people, they also target on an appreciable symbol of the interconnected world – the hijacking of the Israeli commercial flight in July 1968, for instance. According to Hoffman (1998) the aforesaid act could be easily considered as ‘the advent ‘of modern terrorism. PLO’s attack, as well as the one by al-Qaeda in 2001, seem to be carried out by analogously motivated groups, namely the spiritually- provoked ones.
Religion defines several important aspects of al-Qaeda, one of the most ‘successful’ present-day terrorist group: its ultimate aim, the constituency to which it seeks to, and the well-known religious concepts which it uses to motivate its operatives (Sedgwick, 2010), like suicide bombing and what is known as ‘martyrdam’ – promise of rewards in the aftertime, driven to kill as many non-believers and unfaithful as possible (Redgrave, PowerPoint slides, 2011), considered to be amongst the most vital ones.
By employing these, Al-Qaeda strives to impose its version of Islam through a theocracy in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some in the Middle East (Henderson, 2004), while seeing themselves as called upon to engage in a holy war against infidels such as Israel, The United States and Russia, which threaten their faith. However, Laqueur (cited in Kurtulus, 2011), argues that religious terrorism is on the rise, not only in Islam, but also in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.
Juergensmeyer, (cited in Kurtulus, 2011) in turn, claims that “religious violence has reappeared in a form often calculated to terrify on a massive scale”. On the other hand, feeling of fear and anxiety at an international level could be caused by yet another key feature of globalization – media. The mass-media has a fundamental role in increasing the efficiency of actors engaging in political violence worldwide. Theorists, such as Martin (2003) have gone as far as describing this relationship as ‘media-orientated terrorism’.
Images and words have been regarded as conveying a great deal more significant meaning for both terrorist and targeted audience than the action, itself. It is also thought, that terrorists want thousands of people as spectators, not necessarily dead (Hoffman, 1999 cited in Whittaker, 2004). Since 9/11, al-Qaeda as a prominent example of this propensity, has competed furiously to win the ‘hearts and minds’ war with sophisticated media strategies, drawing attention to al-Qaeda-the media phenomenon(Aljazeera’s video, 2011).
For more than a decade it has been using, not only bombs and bullets, but also a great number of horrendous images and spin. Evidently, terrorism as ‘propaganda by deed’ has been translated today as terrorism by photographic image and recorded sound (Whittaker, 2004). Therefore the better the terrorist organization understands media, the more coverage they will receive (Baran, 2008) and as it become clear from Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement in July 2005 (Lynch, 2006), terrorists are well aware of this advantage. ‘We are in a battle… ‘ he says, ‘… and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.
We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of ourumma’. Nowadays, the world’s population is timidly expecting a new kind of ‘battle’ – one, involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism is often portrayed as one of the greatest threats facing the world. Since 11th September 2001, it has been widely assumed that terrorist are much more eager to utilize WMDs in their armory, as information and raw materials are readily available, especially after the crumble of the USSR- Aum Shinrikyo’s gas attack from 1995.
As opposed to abovementioned claim from Hoffman (1999), this act is representative of the terrorist’s intention in causing the highest possible numbers of casualties on grand scale, and these weapons present their best mean for doing so. Recent literature on WMD terrorism has focused strongly on one particular aspect – the issue of acquisition WMDs, working on the assumption that, if nowadays terrorists such as al-Qaeda can get hold of such weapons they will not hesitate, but use them.
A series of Al Qaeda-inspired attacks-from Bali to Mombassa, and from Riyadh to Casablanca – all combine to elevate the perceived potency (Parachini, 2003). This essay set out to clarify in what ways and by what means has terrorism advanced to a global phenomenon, and the historical facts examined point that terrorism have truly become ‘a well-established feature of world politics and conflict in the latter twentieth century’ (Harmon, 2008) and is experiencing persistent development.
Though some academics argue that today’s terrorism is a new phenomenon, the evidence provided in the paper support the assumption that it is nothing new in the history of international relations. What’s more, it is fundamental for the international studies, shaking the society to its very core and creating a profound change in its socio-political landscape.