The General Assembly of the United Nations states:

..terrorist acts are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or of any other nature that may be invoked to justify them…
(Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism Resolution.49/60 9/12/1994)

Terrorism is the use or threat of violence, to create a climate of fear in a given population. Terrorist violence targets individuals and groups, governments, political parties, corporations, media enterprises and often ethnic or religious groups. Organisations that engage in acts of terror are almost always small in size and limited in resources compared to the populations and institutions they oppose. Through publicity and fear generated by their violence, they seek to magnify their influence and power to effect political change on either a local or an international scale. (1)

Terrorism has been practiced throughout history. However it is only in modern times that the term terrorism has been used to describe terrorist violence.

In ancient Greece the historian Xenophon (430 – 350 BC) wrote of the effectiveness of using psychological warfare against enemy populations. In the first century Roman emperors such as Tiberius and Caligula were known for using exile, confiscation of property, and assassination as means to discourage opposition to their rule. From the thirteenth century the Roman Church set up inquisitions initially to regulate violent public reaction to so-called heretics but abandoned their support when they could no longer control the terror tactics of the Spanish Inquisition.

It was not until 1795 that the terms terrorism and terrorist were recorded and used to describe the Reign of Terror instigated by the French revolutionary government in the period. The guillotine was used to consolidate the regime by killing enemies and intimidating the potential opposition. After the American Civil War the Ku Klux Klan was formed and used terror tactics to deny civil rights to newly emancipated slaves. The use of terrorist in an anti-government sense was recorded in 1866 (referring to Ireland) and in 1883 (referring to Russia) but until well into the twentieth century terrorism usually meant terror inflicted by the state as exemplified by Lenin’s Cheka secret police or Nazi Germany’s Gestapo.

During the second world war resistance fighters, supported mainly by the British, operated in most occupied European countries. They were termed terrorists by the Nazis. This was because they were involved in sabotaging and assassinating the Germans and their local collaborators.

Since World War II terrorism and terrorist as terms have been more freely used. In particular these terms have been used by the media and historians to describe tactics including those used in the:

  • 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem
  • 1953 massacre of nearly 100 members of the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya
  • 1968 bomb explosion in open-air market in Jerusalem, killing 12 and wounding 52.
  • 1972 attack on Israeli Olympians in Munich
  • 1978 murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro
  • 1985 bombing of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour
  • 1988 attack on a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland
  • 1995 Oklahoma City bombing
  • 1995 sarin attacks on Tokyo subways
  • 1996 hostage taking and occupation of the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru
  • 1997 killing of 58 tourists in Luxor, Egypt
  • 1998 car-bomb attack in Omagh, Northern Ireland
  • 1999 kidnap and murder of eight foreign tourists on the Congo-Uganda border
  • 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in port in Yemen killing 17 U.S. sailors

In the twenty first century terrorism has already been clearly associated with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the bombing of tourist venues in Bali in 2002 and the suicide bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia in 2003. In 2004, amongst other tragedies, there have been a series of rush-hour explosions at Madrid train stations, the blowing up of two Russian civilian aircraft and the siege of a school in Beslan, Russia, with the killing of at least 350 hostages.

Terrorists throughout history have argued that the use of peaceful means to resolve or advance issues has been unsuccessful. The current international situation has impacted on the world’s security environment. This impact has been greatly heightened by the use of modern telecommunications with instantaneous television cover of the demands, threats and actions of terrorist groups.

Although most acts of terrorism in Australia are caused by or have their focus on conflicts in other parts of the world and are acts of international rather than domestic terrorism the Commonwealth Government is conducting a national campaign to inform and reassure the community about national security issues. The National Security Public Information Campaign Let’s look out for Australia, consists of television, radio and print advertisements, a booklet delivered to all households and a hotline for Australians to report concerns.

(1) Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1998


Theme: International racism and anti-racism