Terrorism is not a new concept, and despite it was used very often over the past decade, it remains one of the most difficult issues to define. Its ambiguity comes from the different connotations that the term has gained over history. James D. Kiras points out that, although the definitions of terrorism vary widely, the all come from a common point: terrorism is a tactic characterized basically by the use of violence and the spread of fear; it can take many forms and often indiscriminately targets non-combatants. The starting points for the most disagreements about terrorism are the purposes for which violence is used, and its root causes (Kiras 2008: 372). According to Professor Adam Roberts, the term ‘terrorism’ historically entered into European languages during the French revolution of 1789, when violence was used by the governments in Paris to impose their new order on a reluctant citizenry. Therefore, as recorded by the Académie Française, the first meaning of the word ‘terrorism’ was ‘system of rule of terror’ (Roberts 2002). However, over the last decades the term ‘terrorism’ has been used to define the recourse to violence by small groups to achieve political change. This has included ideological, ethnic, and religious exclusion or persecution (Kiras 2008). Terrorism has changed over time, and after 9/11 events, specialists in sociology, policy makers, scholars and the mass media have been widely using the term ‘new terrorism’. Therefore, David Tucker states that: ‘This terrorism is reputedly distinguished from the old by a new structure, a new kind of personnel, and a new attitude toward violence.’ (Tucker 2001: 1).
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Furthermore, according to Professor Martha Crenshaw, in order to analyse the differences between old and new terrorism, three key aspects should be debated: goals, methods, and organization. Therefore, the new terrorism can be justified on a religious background, and the new terrorist groups considered having ambiguous goals on the systemic level and to value destruction for its own sake. On the other side, the old terrorism is more comprehensible, limited and more specific, with its roots in political ideology (Crenshaw 2005). The old terrorism was regarded as being a political weapon, designed to produce chaos with the strategic purpose of, either to maintain a regime, or to create the conditions for a new one. Michael Stohl’s study shows that the violence of the terrorist acts is not intended simply to destroy but to be heard, and therefore ‘terror is a message of strength, a warning designed to intimidate, to ensure compliance without the need to physically touch citizen […] the more extensive is the message, the more successful is the act.’ (Stohl 1988: 5). Stohl points out that the old terrorist groups chose their victims and targets with care, in order to achieve maximum chance of success, even if that often meant to target non-combatants or mass innocent victims. An example of terrorist act which has had an important impact on the history was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb student, Gavril Princip, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 (Roberts 2002). Another purpose was to create or enforce obedience, either of the population at large or within the ruling party, in order to ensure greater future reluctance to assist the opposing side and greater obedience to the wishes of the insurgent cause or the security forces. This type of terror was put into effect during the revolutionary movements and in revolutionary regimes to create obedience within the ruling elites, to demonstrate their vulnerability and weakness, and force policy change. This occurred during the French revolution in 1789 and in Peru, when Sendero Luminoso secular organisation sought to destroy the existing social and political order in order to create a Maoist regime (Stohl 1988).
The new terrorism, although is not so new, has changed its purposes over the decades. According to Martha Crenshaw, the new terrorist’s religious point of view is related to the pursuit of mass casualties. Because their goals are religious, the “new” terrorists seek to kill as many people as possible (Crenshaw 2006). Very often associated with Islamic terrorists, nowadays the terrorist groups have widely developed in the fields of transport, communications and weaponry, due to the massive process of globalization. Therefore, they produce greater violence and climate of fear, in easier ways and with a lower level of risk. In the present, the most debated and feared terrorist network is the Islamic organization Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden. According to Global Security, it was established around 1988 by bin Laden. In 1998, Al-Qaeda issued a statement under banner of “The World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders” saying it was the duty of all Muslims to kill US citizens-civilian or military-and their allies everywhere. In consequence, on 9/11, 2001 a series of suicide attackers, members of Al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes, two of them crashing into the World Trade Centre in New York City, the third one into the Pentagon, and the fourth plane, crashing into a field, after being redirected to Washington D.C. (Global Security 2006). Therefore, if the old terrorism could be resembled more with a form of guerrilla warfare, the new terrorism, become global war, representing a much greater danger.
Moreover, in order to analyse the different methods used by the old and new terrorists, Martha Crenshaw divides them in two different categories: secular terrorists and jihad terrorists. In the secular terrorism case the violence is said to be carefully calibrated, going just far enough to achieve their objectives. While they could have killed more people, they stick to their political objectives and chose not to, because indiscriminate killing would not produce success. Therefore, Brian Jenkins states that: ‘terrorists seem to be more interested in having a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead’ (Jenkins 1988). Although the number of their attacks achieved a great number, no attack in the preceding years was as destructive as the catastrophe of 9/11. Still there were a number of incidents that produced well over a hundred casualties, as the midair bombing of Pan Am 103, attributed to Libyan agents, or Air India, attributed to Sikh extremists who wanted an independent Punjab. In Crenshaw’s opinion the jihad terrorists are lead by religion to seek mass causalities. Their attacks are more lethal and they have strategic targets. After the attacks in the United States, a series of other bombing occurred in Bali, Madrid and London, spreading fear not only on the American continent, but all over the world (Crenshaw 2006). Among examples of the “new” terrorism, Aum Shinrikyo’s attack on the Tokyo subway is the only example of use of chemical weapons (Crenshaw 2003).
On the other hand, the organization is widely different between old and new terrorism. As stated by Crewnshaw the new terrorists are often described as a network rather than an organization. By contrast, the old terrorist’s organization is thought to have been hierarchical and centralized. The new terrorism is said to be horizontal and flat, whereas the old terrorism is vertical and pyramidal. The West German terrorists of the ’70s and ’80s were not tightly structured as they appear to be. They were composed of small different groups with shifting political objectives. Neither did the anarchists in the 19th century, who were certainly not a centralised organisation (Crenshaw 2006). Moreover, jihad terrorism appears to be more organizes that any other terrorist network. According to Kenneth Katzman’s study, Al-Qaeda is a very well structured organisation. Also it collaborates with a range number of other terrorist groups. These are either in partnership with Al Qaeda or on their own, attempting to destabilize established regimes in the region. These include the Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen) and Hizb-e-Islam/Gulbuddin) (Katzman 2005).
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Moreover, another crucial difference between old and new terrorism is the massive use of high technology of the new terrorism groups. As indicated by John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt, and Michele Zanini terrorists are likely to increasingly use advanced information technologies for offensive and defensive purposes, as well as to support their organizational structures (Arquilla et al. n.d.). Moreover, according to Kiras elements of globalization that permits the rapid exchange of ideas and good can also be leveraged and exploited by terrorist groups. The technologies associated with globalization allow terrorists to operate in a highly distributed global network that shares information and allows small cells to conduct highly coordinated, lethal attacks. Also, globalization may allow some terrorist groups to acquire, manufacture, and use weapons of mass destruction in order to conduct catastrophic attacks (Kiras 2008).
To conclude, as stated by Tucker, although the networked, ad hoc character of contemporary terrorism is not new, the terrorism we experience today, at least the international terrorism, is more lethal than it was when it first emerged three decades ago and more likely to produce mass casualties (Tucker 2001). Thus, according to Crenshaw the difference between the new and the old terrorism is not as fundamental as proponents of the new terrorism view would have it. The differences among groups and over time do exist, but they are due to the changing environment, in particular the globalization (Crenshaw 2003). The new terrorism has become seriously dangerous since the 11 September 2001 attacks, which have shaped much of the history of the years since. As Grant Wardlaw’s study shows, it is seems likely that terrorism will be a more serious problem towards the end of the century than is currently. The present analysts believe that the incremental changes in the nature of terrorism and terrorist groups will eventually lead some group to attempt mass destruction terrorism. Also, the changes in political socialisation which have occurred worldwide over the past few decades, together with easier access to powerful weapons, suggest the possibility that terrorism may be come to be seen by a wider range of groups as an acceptable way to stop governments operation in ways that group members see as inimical to their interest. (Wardlaw: 1989) Although it changes over the decades, terrorism remains a complex phenomen in which violence is used to obtain political power. The new terrorism presents a great danger as globalization has improved the technical capabilities of terrorists and given them global reach. In other words, globalization changed the scope and the nature of the old terrorism (Kiras 2008).
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