September 04, 2003

Modern Terror

Maryam of A Dervish's Dua has a post on a program that aired in Australia, Age of Terror. It is difficult to tell from either her description or the program description what qualifies as modern, but she writes,

Tonight's show was essentially about state sponsored terrorism. Yes, the terrorism you have when you're not having a terrorism. (Apologies to Claytons). There were interviews from US CIA bods who had been involved in the Contra guerrilla war and Argentianian military bods who had terrorised and tortured their own citizens during "The Dirty War".

It made me realise, how dark the twentieth century really was. The first modern acts of terrorism (according to this show) were committed by those fighting to establish the nation state of Israel, and today Israel is beleagured by suicide bombers. Despite the glitz of the eighties, the democratic US was committing acts of terrorism on foreign soil. Now in the new millenium, terrorism is coming home to the whole planet. When will we learn? The ends don't justify the means!

The twentieth century was certainly dark, but with all due respect to victims of Argentinian or Nicaraguan terror, I think it pales in numerical terms to the terror of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. And as to the origins of modern terror, I do not know how the program's makers could have chosen the Palestinian Mandate as the place in which the first modern acts of terror were committed. As I once noted on paleo Ideofact, the blood bath that was the twentieth century began on July 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, when a group of Serb terrorists assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, touching off the Great War and all the horrors of Fascism and Communism that followed.

Posted by Ideofact at September 4, 2003 01:27 AM

IIRC modern terrorism is generally thought to begin with the anarchist assassinations of the late nineteenth century. Anarchists murdered Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, King Umberto of Italy, President Carnot of France and US President MacKinley amongst others. There were also some particularly brutal terrorist groups operating in the early decades of the last century, especially in the Balkans. I believe VMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - which confusingly split into two: an "internal" and "external" faction) still holds the record as Europe's most violent terror group.

Posted by: C.Bloggerfeller at September 4, 2003 06:34 AM

I'm familiar with the Russian terrorists of the 19th Century and some of the Balkan groups. I think I picked Sarajevo in 1914 because of the perception that the short, twentieth century began in 1914 and ended in 1989. I suppose it depends on what one's definition of modernity is. Starting with the Jews in the Palestine Mandate seems to me, though, to be a less defensible proposition for the beginnings of "modern" terror.

Posted by: Bill at September 4, 2003 11:07 AM

Having recently re-read parts of Albert Camus' book "L'Homme Révolté" ("The Rebel") I think the "morality" of modern terrorism was developed by those Russian figures (and, of course, in books like "Reflections on Violence" by Georges Sorel, a particular favourite with both extreme leftists and rightists from 1908). I think there is a continuity between their thinking (and actions) and that of contemporary fanatics. Incidentally, I believe there was an international conference held in 1937 by the League of Nations to agree on a generally acceptable definition of the concept "terrorism", but the conclusions of the conference were never ratified due to the outbreak of World War Two.

Posted by: C.Bloggerfeller at September 4, 2003 12:04 PM

After having read your post and the comments, I don't know why they chose the Israeli example as the first modern terrorist action. I have to confess I missed the first three shows, and so this was more of a summary at the end that I got.

In a promo blub, it says: "The first part, In The Name Of Liberation, looks at the use of terror by national liberation movements around the world, starting with the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by members of Menachem Begin's Irgun terrorist group in 1946"

But that still doesn't explain why it picked that particular moment as the beginning of modern terrorism - maybe because of the link btwn the use of terror and political liberation movements? I must confess I am not well versed enough in modern terrorism history to be able to make an informed comment.

Posted by: Maryam at September 4, 2003 12:36 PM