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Terrorism




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Terrorism is unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons. It is also a systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. It has been used throughout history by political organizations, by nationalist and ethnic groups, and by revolutionaries. Although usually thought of as a means of destabilizing or overthrowing existing political institutions, terror also has been employed by governments against their own people to suppress dissent; examples include the reigns of certain Roman emperors, the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and Argentina during the "dirty war" of the 1970s. Terrorism's impact has been magnified by the deadliness and technological sophistication of modern-day weapons and the capability of the media to disseminate news of such attacks instantaneously throughout the world.

Although ancient, terrorism has become a common feature of the late 21st century, when it has raised a host of complex moral and practical issues. The spread and sophistication of modern communications has ensured that modern terrorists have an effect out of all proportion to their numbers, a factor which has been crucial to late 20th-century terrorists for whom publicity is indeed oxygen. In Europe, the IRA in the UK and the Basque separatists ETA in Spain both generated publicity out of all proportion to the number of activists engaged.

Other extremist groups, such as animal rights campaigners, anti-abortionists, and some extreme ecologists, have also used terrorism, justifying it with the familiar ‘state terrorism’ arguments. Modern crime gangs and drug barons have also acquired the resources to wage terrorist-type campaigns. Though the methods may be identical, the motivation is financial, not political. The portrayal of destruction and terror by the media underlines the core function of terrorism, which continues to be achieved by a tiny minority of zealots. Some commentators have now identified ‘cyber terrorism’, where no physical violence is threatened (or implied) to humans, but rather information systems themselves are the target. A computer virus circulated via the Internet is, in its way, as newsworthy as a traditional terrorist bomb.



Terrorism has caused many nations to develop specialist anti-terrorist units in the military or police, though the distinctions between the traditional functions of each sometimes became blurred in the process. In the British model, troops were used in support of the civil power, well demonstrated in 1980 with the storming by the SAS of the terrorist-held Iranian Embassy in London. The internationalization of terrorism generated an international response, particularly in terms of the pooling of police intelligence, although the old question of value judgments continues to enable one state's terrorists to emerge as another's political refugees. Most visibly, terrorism has resulted in the tightening-up of security at ports, airports, and public buildings. In this respect its consequences may prove more enduring than those of many aspects of conventional warfare, for they will remain with us.

In fact, our planet seems to be many more and more like a small boat driven by a fierce gale through dark and uncharted waters, with more and more people crowded on board, hoping desperately to survive. None of us can afford to ignore the condition of our fellow passengers on this little boat.

 


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