This week we are looking at some of the very early history of terrorism. "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This is a very old quote often applied to modern problems. In our case, the question is whether this can be applied to how we view modern terrorism? This is one of the themes for this week. What can we learn from early manifestations of terrorism, some of which date back to biblical times? What lessons, if any, have older groups taught younger ones? What lessons, if any, can governments learn from earlier terrorism eras? Is any of what came before relevant to dealing with the New Terrorism?
As you may have gathered from the readings, the Thugs were a somewhat different animal from the Zealots or the Assassins. Certainly they committed violent acts in the name of religion. But they neither sought publicity nor political change. In fact, they shunned publicity. Their very success over close to seven centuries depended on secrecy and deception. They were also helped by the environment of the time. Travel of any sort across ancient India was a dangerous proposition. So when loved ones set off on a trip — often expected to take months — and did not return, it was assumed they fell prey to any number of misfortunes including accidents, floods or other natural disasters, sickness, or random bandit attacks. A secret religious killing cult was not usually at the top of the list of suspects. It was only when the cult members began to loose discipline and become more careless in their attacks that a pattern to the killings emerged, and their downfall began.
Their downfall was a direct result of a British colonial official starting to notice this pattern and asking questions. For all the ills of colonial occupations — and there are many — a cult running around killing innocent victims, no matter the national origin of the victims, was not something the British Army was going to tolerate for long. For a great movie on the subject, with admittedly quite a bit of dramatic license, see a video called “The Deceivers” starring Pierce Brosnan.
You also read this week a discussion of various tactics used by terrorists — most of which is fairly self-explanatory. What is not discussed in this section is the use of the media. Many textbooks devote an entire section to this topic and rightly so. We chose, instead, to address it throughout the course, as the use of the media is fundamental to terrorism as a strategy no matter what aspect is being discussed. There is, in fact, a disconcertingly close relationship between terrorists and terrorism and the media. This is not to imply in any way that journalists and reporters want terrorist attacks to happen. They certainly do not. But there is an almost symbiotic relationship between the two. The media needs coverage of sensational events to keep viewers (and thus ratings and thus advertising dollars) especially in competition with social networks, blogs, twitter feeds, and the rest of an ever growing collection of communication medium. And as former Prime Minister Thatcher noted (as cited in the Oates article following Section 9), publicity serves as the oxygen of terrorism and terrorist groups. As you read the material for this week, think about how the media, if at all, uses terrorist groups, and how, if at all, they are used by them.
Also, consider this question? What is the definition of “media”? I think we can agree that it is no longer simply print, television, and radio, but what are the boundaries? What constitutes legitimate media? How does the “new media” affect the relationship between terrorism and the media? One area where these questions are particularly relevant is that of ISIS. Just about all commentators agree that ISIS has demonstrated a brilliant use and manipulation of the media involving a dizzying array of Twitter feeds, You-Tube postings and television coverage. ISIS’ use of the media has been its main recruitment tool and to say it has been successful underestimates the situation. Countries with long traditions of free speech — France for example — have tried to shut down some ISIS-related sites, only to have them replaced by two or three others. The term “frustrating” does not begin to describe government efforts to deal with ISIS’s media strategies.
This week’s discussion stems from the article by Bruce Hoffman. Despite Blakely’s severe criticism of Hoffman, he is considered — and deservedly so — to be one of the most respected scholars in terrorism studies and one of the one’s responsible for bringing scholarly analysis to a field that had been mostly practitioner based.
Same instructions for posting apply to this Forum as Week 2 — see above.
Discussion Question 2-1: What strategic and tactical lessons can be drawn from the anti-colonial groups active in the 1950s and 1960s? How do you think these lessons have been applied by terrorist groups operating from the latter half of the 20th century to today? With what level of success?
Capron and Mizrahi. 2016 Terrorism and Homeland Security: A Text/Reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press.
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