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Terrorism And Globalization

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5491 words Published: 18th May 2017

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Defining terrorism

The terrorist phenomenon has a long and varied history, punctuated by lively debates over the meaning of the term. The term itself has always been a difficult one to define. This is partly because the term has evolved over the years and in part because it is associated with an activity that is designed to be subjective. Generally speaking, the targets of the terrorists are not the victims who are killed or injured in the attack. The terrorists hope to engender a reaction such as fear, repulsion, intimidation, overreaction, or radicalization. Terrorism is intended to be a matter of perception and is thus seen differently by different observers.

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The problem of defining terrorism has hindered analysis since the inception of studies of terrorism in the early 1970s. One set of problems is due to the fact that the concept of terrorism is deeply contested. The use of the term is often polemical and rhetorical. Even if the term is used objectively as an analytical tool, it is still difficult to arrive at a satisfactory definition that distinguishes terrorism from other violent phenomena. Generally speaking, terrorism is deliberate and systematic violence performed by small numbers of people, whereas communal violence is spontaneous, sporadic, and requires mass participation. The purpose of terrorism is to intimidate a watching popular audience by harming only a few, whereas genocide is the elimination of entire communities. Terrorism is meant to hurt. Terrorism is preeminently political and symbolic, where as guerrilla warfare is a military activity. Repressive” terror” from above is the action of those in power, whereas terrorism is resistance to authority. Yet in practice, events cannot always be precisely categorized.

A few generalizations can be made about terrorism that differentiates it from the states’ use of force. First, terrorism always has a political nature. It requires the occurrence of outrageous acts that will lead to political change.

Second, it is the nonstate character of terrorism that differentiates it from the many other uses of violence that are inherently political such as war among states-even when terrorists receive military, political, economic, and other means of support from state sources. States obviously employ force for political ends: When state force is used internationally, it is considered an act of war; when it is used domestically, it is called various things, including law enforcement, state terror, oppression, or civil war. Although states can terrorize, they are not defined as terrorists.

Third, it is generally the innocent that become the target of terrorism. This also distinguishes it from state. In any given example, the latter may or may not be seen as justified but this use of force is different from terrorism.

Finally, state use of force is subject to international norms and conventions that may be invoked or at least consulted. Terrorists, on the other hand, do not abide by international laws or norms. In fact, in order to maximize the psychological effect of an attack, the terrorist activities have a deliberately unpredictable quality.

Thus, generally speaking, terrorism can be said to have the following characteristics: a fundamentally political nature, the surprise element (use of violence against seemingly random targets), and the targeting of the innocent by nonstate actors.

Even within the terms of these general characteristics, the practice of terrorism is highly diverse. The conceptual category of “terrorism” encompasses a wide variety of phenomena, ranging from kidnappings of individuals (in order to pressure governments to agree to specific political demands) to indiscriminate mass-casualty bombings of high-profile symbolic targets. Terrorism occurs in widely different cultural settings.


Terrorism is as old as human history. Modern terrorism, however, is generally considered to have originated with the French Revolution. The term “terror” was first employed in 1795, when it was coined to refer to a policy systemically used to protect the French republic government against counterrevolutionaries. Modern terrorism is a dynamic concept, from the outset dependent to some degree on the political and historical context within which it has been employed.

Although individual terrorist groups have unique characteristics and arise in specific local contexts, an examination of broad historical patterns reveals that the international system within which such groups are born does influence their nature and motivations. A distinguishing feature of modern terrorism has been the connection between political or ideological concepts and increasing levels of terrorist activity internationally. The broad

political aim has been against (1) empires, (2) colonial powers, and (3) the U.S.- led international system marked by globalization. Thus it is important to understand the general history of modern terrorism and where the current threat is within an international context.

David Rapoport has described modern terrorism as part of a religiously inspired “fourth wave.” This wave, according to him, follows three earlier historical phases in which terrorism emerged in relation to the breakup of empires, decolonization, and leftist anti-Westernism. Rapoport argues that terrorism occurs in consecutive if somewhat overlapping waves. The argument here, however, is that modern terrorism has been a power struggle along various scales: central power versus local power, big power versus small power, modern power versus traditional power. The key variable is a widespread perception of opportunity, combined with a shift in a particular political or ideological paradigm. Thus, even though the newest international terrorist threat, emanating largely from Muslim countries, has more of religious inspiration, it is more accurate to see it as part of a larger phenomenon of anti-globalization and tension between the have and have-not nations, as well as between the elite and underprivileged within those nations.

In the nineteenth century, the emergence of concepts such as universal suffrage and popular empowerment raised the hopes of people throughout the western world, indirectly resulting in the first phase of modern terrorism. In Russia, for example, it was stimulated not by state repression but by the efforts of the czars to placate demands for economic and political reforms, and the inevitable disappointment of popular expectations that were raised as a result. The goal of terrorists was to engage in attacks on symbolic targets to get the attention of the common people and thus provoke a popular response that would ultimately overturn the prevailing political order. This type of modern terrorism was reflected in the activities of groups such as the Russian Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) and later in the development of a series of movements in the United States and Europe, especially in territories of the former Ottoman Empire.

The dissolution of empires and the search for a new distribution of political power provided an opportunity for terrorism in the nineteenth and twentieth century. It climaxed in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, an event that catalyzed the major powers into taking violent action. World War I, the result of the assassination can be said to have ended the first era of modern terrorism. But terrorism tied to popular movements seeking greater democratic representation and political power from coercive empires had not ceased. For example, the Balkans, after the downfall of the former state of Yugoslavia.

A second, related phase of modern terrorism is associated with the concept of national self-determination. It can be said to have developed its greatest predominance after World War I. It also continues to the present day. These struggles for power are another facet of terrorism against larger political powers and are specifically designed to win political independence or autonomy.

Terrorism achieved an international character during the 1970s and 1980s, evolving in part as a result of technological advances and partly in reaction to the dramatic explosion of international media influence. International links were not new, but their centrality was. Individual, scattered national causes began to develop into international organizations with links and activities increasingly across borders and among differing causes. The 1970s and 1980s represented the height of state-sponsored terrorism. Sometimes the lowest common denominator among the groups was the concept against which they were reacting-for example, “Western imperialism”- rather than the specific goals they sought. The most important innovation, however, was the increasing commonality of international connections among the groups. After the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of eleven Israeli athletes, for example, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its associated groups captured the imaginations of young radicals around the world.


While globalization is for many a causal variable generating backlash and resistance, there also have been earlier waves of globalization. If terrorism and globalization appear together today, it is possible that terrorism and globalization co-appeared during an earlier period that ran from the 1880s to 1914. Associated with the idea of “propaganda by deed,” Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, American, Serbian, and Macedonian terrorists were involved in a period of assassination and bomb throwing from the Russian and Ottoman Empires to the east through the Austrian Empire and Western Europe to the United States in the west. In Serbia, there was the Black Hand; in Russia, Narodnaya Volya, or People’s Will; among Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, the Young Bosnians and the Narodna Obrana, or the People’s Defense. Terrorists from one country also killed people from another. While the contemporary period is known as one of “international terrorism,” there are clear grounds for considering the anarchist period as one that also had international or global aspects.

Some scholars have made comparisons between figures like bin Laden and late 19th-century Russian terrorists. Similarities in the political religion of their ideologies, the diasporic-or transnational-nature of both sets of terrorists who often resided and planned attacks abroad, and the similarity of global political economic conditions at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries have been noted. If al-Qaeda is a reaction to American empire, as few scholars argue, then one could see earlier terrorist resistance in the form of pre-1914 terrorist groups attacking the empires of their day (the Serbian Black Hand versus the Austrian Empire; Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization versus the Ottoman Empire; and the terrorists of Narodnaya Volya versus the Tsarist Russian Empire). In the case of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, a comparison with the Sudanese revolt of the Mahdi in the 1880s against the British Empire and bin Laden against the United States has been made. Some note a similarity between the hatred of London as the financial center of world capitalism at the end of the 19th century and the hatred by “fanatical Muslims today” of the dominance of Wall Street and the Pentagon.

Since the September 11 attacks, the world has witnessed the maturation of a new phase of terrorist activity, the jihad era, spawned by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well as the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan shortly thereafter. The powerful attraction of religious and spiritual movements has overshadowed the nationalist or leftist revolutionary ethos of earlier terrorist phases (though many of those struggles continue), and it has become the central characteristic of a growing international trend.

Religious terrorism is not new; rather it is a continuation of an ongoing modern power struggle between those with power and those without it. What is different about this phase is the urgent requirement for solutions that deal both with the religious fanatics who are the terrorists and the far more politically motivated states, entities, and people who would support them because they feel powerless and left behind in a globalizing world. Thus if there is a trend in terrorism, it is the existence of a two-level challenge: the hyper religious motivation of small groups of terrorists and the much broader enabling environment of bad governance, nonexistent social services, and poverty that punctuates much of the developing world. Al-Qaeda, a band driven by religious extremism, is able to do so much harm because of the secondary support and sanctuary it receives in vast areas that have not experienced the political and economic benefits of globalization.

There are four types of terrorist organizations that can said to be currently operating around the world, categorized mainly by their source of motivation: left-wing terrorists, right-wing terrorists, ethno nationalist/separatist terrorists, and religious or “sacred” terrorists. All four types have enjoyed periods of relative prominence in the modern era, with left-wing terrorism intertwined with the Communist movement, right-wing terrorism drawing its inspiration from Fascism, and the bulk of ethno nationalist/separatist terrorism accompanying the wave of decolonization especially in the immediate post-World War II years. Currently, “sacred” terrorism is becoming more significant. Although groups in all categories continue to exist today, left-wing and right-wing terrorist groups were more numerous in earlier decades. Of course, these categories are not perfect, as many groups have a mix of motivating ideologies-some ethno nationalist groups, for example, have religious characteristics or agendas-but usually one ideology or motivation dominates.


Following incidents such as the bombing of the WTC in 1993, U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, and the attacks on the Pentagon and WTC in 2001, the conventional belief of researchers and commentators on terrorism was that the world had entered a new phase since the 1990s that departed dramatically from what had gone before. It variously was called the “new terrorism” or spoken of as involving “new types of post-cold war terrorists” or “a new breed of terrorist” or “new generation of terrorists”; or “terror in the mind of God” or a “clash of fundamentalisms” or simply a new “wave” of terrorism. In these analyses terrorism seemed to be changing in some of the following ways.

Several recent works focus on a “new” terrorism that is motivated by religious belief and is more fanatical, deadly, and pervasive than the older and more instrumental forms of terrorism the world had grown accustomed to. This emerging “new” terrorism is thought to differ from the “old” terrorism in terms of goals, methods, and organization. The comparison goes roughly as follows.

Whereas the “old” terrorists sought short-term political power through revolution, national liberation, or secession, the “new” terrorists seek to transform the world. Motivated by religious imperatives, they are thought to lack an earthly constituency and thus to feel accountable only to a deity or to some transcendental or mystical idea. Conventional left-right ideological distinctions are not applicable. Because they do not want popular support, they are unlikely to claim public credit for their actions. Also, “new” terrorists are thought to be more inclined to use highly lethal methods in order to destroy an impure world and bring about the apocalypse. The strategies of the “old” terrorists were discriminating; terrorism was a form of communicating a specific message to an audience. In the “new” terrorism, unlimited ends lead to unlimited means. Thus the “new” terrorists seek to cause high numbers of casualties and are willing to commit suicide or use weapons of mass destruction in order to do so.

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Finally, whereas traditional militants were linked in tight, centralized, structured conspiracies, the organization of the “new” terrorists is decentralized and diffuse. Adherents are united by common experience or inspiration rather than by direct personal interaction with other members of the group and its leaders. Institutions and organizations are less important than beliefs. An earlier and more violent historical antecedent of the conception of a “new” terrorism is anti-Western terrorism originating in the Middle East that is linked to radical or “fundamentalist” Islam. This concern dates from the 1980s and terrorism attributed to the Shiite Hezbollah action in Lebanon. Alarm over the emergence of radical Islam (which is a small minority of the Muslim world) was heightened by a combination of factors: the resort to suicide bombings in Lebanon and Israel, a general willingness to inflict mass civilian casualties, and anti-Americana and anti-Western targeting patterns. The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 as well as the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 further increased the American sense of vulnerability.

Trends in Modern Terrorism

By the late 1990s, four trends in modern terrorism were becoming apparent: an increase in the incidence of religiously motivated attacks, a decrease in the overall number of attacks, an increase in the lethality per attack, and the growing targeting of Americans. Statistics show that, even before the September 11 attacks, religiously motivated terrorist organizations were becoming more common. The acceleration of this trend has been dramatic: According to the RAND-St. Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism, in 1968 none of the identified international terrorist organizations could be classified as “religious”; in 1980, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, there were 2 (out of 64), and that number had expanded to 25 (out of 58) by 1995.

Another important trend relates to terrorist attacks involving U.S. targets. The number of such attacks increased in the 1990s, from a low of 66 in 1994 to a high of 200 in the year 2000. This is a long-established problem: U.S. nationals consistently have been the most targeted since 1968. But the percentage of international attacks against U.S. targets or U.S. citizens rose dramatically over the 1990s, from about 20 percent in 1993-95 to almost 50 percent in 2000.

In addition to the evolving motivation and character of terrorist attacks, there has been a notable dispersal in the geography of terrorist acts-a trend that is likely to continue. Although the Middle East continues to be the locus of most terrorist activity, Central and South Asia, the Balkans, and the Transcaucasus have been growing in significance over the past decade. International connections themselves are not new: International terrorist organizations inspired by common revolutionary principles date to the early nineteenth century and complex mazes of funding, arms, and other state support for international terrorist organizations were in place especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

Terrorism Becoming Global

Newer terrorist organizations seemed to have moved away from the earlier model of professionally trained terrorists operating within a hierarchical organization with a central command chain and toward a more loosely coupled form of organization with a less clear organizational structure. Similarly, whereas from the 1960s through the 1980s groups more clearly were bound nationally (German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Palestinian, and so forth), more recent organizations like al-Qaeda have members from multiple nationalities and organizational sites outside the leadership’s country of origin.

The identities of terrorist organizations have become more difficult to identify. Terrorist organizations also seem to identify themselves or to claim responsibility for specific acts less often, such as the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa or the events of September 11, which while purportedly organized by bin Laden and al-Qaeda, never clearly were claimed by that organization. This is in contrast with earlier terrorist organizations, which were much clearer in taking responsibility for their actions and defining who they were, often with elaborate radical political ideologies.

Terrorist ideologies have become more religious. What has been called the new religious terrorism or holy terrorism reflects the increasing prevalence of religion in the ideology of terrorist organizations, with the most notable being Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam, and also including Christian fundamentalism or the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese terrorist group that released poisonous gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995. There also seems to be an increase in groups with more vague and religious ideologies than earlier radical groups such as the German Red Army Faction, the Italian Red Brigades, or the Japanese Red Army.

Terrorist violence becomes more indiscriminate. Along with a geographical dispersion of targets, there seems to be a move away from specific targets, for instance as when hundreds of civilian Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy employees and passersby were killed to achieve the objective of bombing the U.S. embassy. The 1993 and 2001 attacks of the WTC were also examples of more indiscriminate targets, as opposed to earlier skyjacking of a national airline’s plane in order to attain specific demands or the kidnapping a particular politician.

On reflecting upon these changes, many of them suggest the process of globalization raising the question of whether terrorism, like other economic, cultural, and political aspects of life also is globalizing. Arguments about a growing dispersion and indiscriminateness of terrorist violence also express a disregard for national boundaries and, as such, a growing global, as opposed to national, character of terrorism.


Some scholars interpret the link between globalization and terrorism in a causal fashion: globalization generates a backlash or resistance that can take the form of terrorist attacks on national powers in the forefront of the globalization processes. In this regard, some see terrorism as a defensive, reactionary, movement against global forces of cultural and economic change. Industrialization then and globalization now involve integration into a larger web of economic transactions that threatens local authority and sense of place. The result is defensive, reactionary mobilization, manifested in European food riots then and Middle Eastern terrorism now. In their article, International Terrorism and the World System, Albert J. Bergesen and Omar Lizardo have formulated a number of theories and bring forth the links between globalization and terrorism.

World-System Theory

While world-system theorists normally are concerned with questions of development and underdevelopment, they have advanced similar ideas regarding globalization and terrorism. Chase-Dunn and. Boswell in “Transnational Social Movements and Democratic Socialist Parties in the Semiperiphery” speak of the “reactionary force” of international terrorism as an anti-systemic element or “globalization backlash”; M,Jurgensmeyer in Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence links the disruption of globalization with defensive reactions that often take a religious character, and when that reaction is terrorism, it can take the form of fundamentalist Arab-Islamic terrorist organizations.

World-Society/Polity Theory

While world-society theorists have not addressed the issue of international terrorism directly, they have documented the continued expansion of Western originated cultural models of rationalized action and universal standards during the same period that a rise in international terrorism has been observed. To the extent that there is a possible causal relationship, world-society theory’s top-down model of the intrusion of the world-polity’s global standards, expectations, norms, and definitions of reality also might generate defensive backlash that might, under some circumstances, take the form of international terrorism. It would seem that the growth in world society provides a generalized empowerment for international action on the basis that social existence is global existence and that social problems are global problems. The expansion of global society should empower action across the globe as a distinctly glob logical effect, which means that individuals in Latin America suffering from the side effects of economic globalization should feel just as globally empowered to engage in international backlash terrorism as those of the Arab-Islamic Middle East. But this does not seem to be the case; there is not as much international terrorism emanating from Latin America as from the Middle East, yet both are or should be globally empowered (world-society effect) and angry (globalization creates resistance effect). But the anger seems to be turned inward in Latin America and outward in the Middle East. What accounts for differences of response? Relative openness, democracy, representational institutions, and levels of functioning intermediary social organization may absorb, channel, or somehow provide outlets for the tensions and anger set off by globalization. Their anger is channeled into electoral politics, demonstrations, social move-mints, and domestic terrorism; in the more autocratic Arab-Islamic regimes, dissent is suppressed more often, and there are fewer opportunities for its expression within the institutionalized political opportunity structures of those states. As a result, given the same level of global empowerment, the anger is turned outward to take the form of international terrorism more often than in Latin America. There is also no doubt something of a curvilinear effect with linkages to world-society. They empower and, given grievances, would have a positive effect upon contentious acts like international terrorism. But continued linkage into world-society also would seem to have an integrative effect and thereby would dampen terrorism rates, yielding an overall curvilinear relationship between linkages to world-society and rates of international terrorism

Blowback Theory

M.Crenshaw in “Why America? The Globalization of Civil War” argues that “terrorism should be seen as a strategic reaction to American power,” an idea associated with Johnson’s “blowback” thesis. In this view, the presence of empires-both at the end of the last century and today-and the analogous unipolar military position of the United States today provoke resistance in the form of terrorism. Johnson notes that the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires-which controlled multiple ethnic, religious, and national peoples-led to a backlash, or blowback, by Serb, Macedonian, and Bosnian terrorist organizations . By analogy the powerful global position of the United States, particularly in its role of propping up repressive undemocratic regimes, constitutes something of a similar condition with Arab-Islamic terrorism as a result.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (2002) attempts to precisely define globalization, calling it “a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology.”

Some aspects of globalization facilitate terrorism. At its basest meaning, globalization means internationalization. Something is taken from a national setting and projected across the world. Certain nations adopt this, others reject it. When most nations do accept it and adopt it, globalization is taking place.

A K Cronin in “Behind the Curve” suggests that terrorism cemented itself as an international phenomenon in the 1970s and 1980s, “evolving in part… in reaction to the dramatic explosion of international media influence.” At this point in time, news media was truly becoming international in scope. Many broadcasting companies maintained correspondents or sister stations in other nations, sharing information back and forth. This would lead to the first visions of terrorism for many peoples who had never seen it. Presently, the media can be responsible for perpetuating the climate of international terror.

Another aspect to this concept is that the media can be used by terrorists for their purposes. Osama bin Laden released his now-infamous recorded statements using instruments of globalization. Many have seen video of bin Laden on American media outlets even though it was originally released to regional network Al-Jazeera.

International media certainly is not the main byproduct that facilitates terror. Perhaps the main facilitator stemming from globalization is communications technologies. There are many devices taken for granted in Western society that changed the way terrorists operate, especially digital communications device. Clansmen fighting Americans in Somalia in the early 1990s used digital phones that could not be tapped. The internet, mobile phones, and instant messaging have given many terrorist groups a truly global reach. Leading up to the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda operatives used Yahoo e-mail, while the presumed leader made reservations online and other members researched topics such as using crop dusters to release chemical agents Perhaps even more troubling is that these technologies can be used to disperse terrorists to different locations yet stay connected. Cells can stay in touch through internet communications while websites spread ideologies. It is estimated that al-Qaeda operates in over sixty countries now as a result of using technologies inspired by globalization

Globalization makes CBNR weapons increasingly available to terrorist groups. Information needed to build these weapons has become ubiquitous, especially through the internet. Among the groups interested in acquiring CBNR (besides al-Qaeda) are the PLO, the Red Army Faction, Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, German neo-Nazis, and the Chechens.

Globalization has enabled terrorist organizations to reach across international borders, in the same way (and often through the same channels) that commerce and business interests are linked. The dropping of barriers through the North American Free Trade Area and the European Union, for instance, has facilitated the smooth flow of many things among countries. This has allowed terrorist organizations as diverse as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Egyptian al-Gama’at al-Islamiyya to move about freely and establish cells around the world. Movements across borders can obviously en-able terrorists to carry out attacks and potentially evade capture, but it also complicates prosecution if they are apprehended, with a complex maze of extradition laws varying greatly from state to state. The increased permeability of the international system has also enhanced the ability of nonstate terrorist organizations to collect intelligence. States are not the only actors interested in collecting, disseminating, and/or acting on such information. In a sense, then, terrorism is in many ways becoming like any other international enterprise.

Terrorist organizations are broadening their reach in gathering financial resources to fund their operations.. The list of groups with global financing networks is long and includes most of the groups identified by the U.S. government as foreign terrorist organizations. Sources of financing include legal enterprises such as nonprofit organizations and legitimate companies that divert profits to illegal activities and illegal enterprises such as drug smuggling and production. Websites are also important vehicles for raising funds. Although no comprehensive data are publicly available on how lucrative this avenue is, the proliferation of terrorist websites with links or addresses for


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