The concept of the new terrorism is articulated to involve different motivations, actors, tactics, and actions in comparison to the old form of terrorism. Many government analysts, politicians, and scholars argue that terrorism has changed into an intrinsically way since mid 1960’s.  The question is whether the characteristics established in today’s terrorism justify the new terrorisms concept. The paper will question the validity of this new concept of the terrorism, and set foundations for a new look at how effective the counter terrorism measures are after the well-known 9/11.

Terrorism has been there since time in memorial. Terrorism, in the form of political violence, can be traced way back in 66 to 73 AD, by the Zealot religion sect, called Sicarii that was fighting against Palestinian Roman rule (Anderson & Sloan 2003).  Nizari and Ismailis religious sects struggled against Saladim Empire in the middle ages (Anderson & Sloan 2003). Small terrorist groups in Albania resisted Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century (Cobban 1981). In 1975, the term terror was first used as a protection policy from the fragile French government against counter revolutionaries.  Assassinations and bombings were used by anarchists as a weapon against autocracy from mid nineteenth century to revolutions in First World War. Terrorism was valued in anti colonial struggles after the Second World War. It was necessary since long term political goals, were achieved by sub-state organizations that used terror as a weapon. 

Terrorism had a contribution to de-colonization, because it led to withdrawal of colonial powers. It is argued that, the period between 1960 and 1980, was marked by traditional terrorism (Duyvesteyn 2004). Traditional terrorism had various characteristics. Traditional terrorism had political and secular motivations.  For example, violence was used to politicize working class masses against the capitalists systems by left wing terrorism. There was room for negotiation. Excessive violence was avoided by the terrorists as this would distance them from their supporters and reduce their legitimacy claims. In addition, excessive violence would also minimize access to funding, and new recruits.

 An additional characteristic of traditional terrorists was the way they selected their targets. This was done in a careful manner, and they were discriminative, while selecting them. Attacks were precise to highly symbolic targets of the opposed authority.  The targets included government officials, banking sectors, military sector, politicians, and symbolic features such as government buildings. Propaganda was used to increase terrorists’ popularity by their actions.  Maximum publicity attracted audience and spread their messages. An attack was followed by a form of communication, indicating reasons for the attack.  Tactics such as machine guns, bombs and hand held guns were widely used. Terrorists had no interest in mass destruction weapons to avoid innocent casualties.  Once in a while, they expressed sorrow if accidental deaths occurred.

The third characteristic of old terrorism is the association with the state for support and sponsorships. The involvement of states with terrorists was secretly done. The states used the terrorists to make attacks to other countries with no initiation in full-scale wars. This was done within the framework of Cold-War.

Lastly, old terrorism was characterized by hierarchical organizations that were clearly organized. Control structures and commands were well defined.  Organizations of old terrorisms were thought to be organized like a pyramid. Leaders are represented by the top part of the pyramid; they decide on which plans and policies to be implemented by the terrorists. The next level was composed of active terrorists who were specialized in different areas.  The areas included surveillance, assassinations and bomb making. Active supporters followed next in the level. Their work is to supply weapons, intelligence, communications, safe houses, and other necessary supplies to the group.  Last in the hierarchy are the passive supporters. Their work is to offer emotional support and spread the group’s ideas.

It is hard to point out where and when the new terrorism started. Many scholars argue that, it stared in mid 1990’s (Duyvesteyn 2004).  The period is characterized by 1993 New York bombings in World Trade Center and the 1995 Sarin gas attack in Tokyo (Duyvesteyn 2004). The new terrorism is said to be different from old terrorism. There is the prominence of religion in the new terrorism as pointed out by the supporters of the new terrorism.  Islam is widely characterized by the new form of terrorism in comparison to old form of terrorism, which was secular. In today’s terrorism attacks, there is an increase in linkage of religious fanatics. In 1980, two out of six attacks were classified as religious; by 1999, 25 out of 58 attacks are linked to religious attacks (Combs 2000).  Religion motivation defines the new terrorism. The new terrorism promotes views of the world, according to belief in religions. 

Another characteristic of the new terrorism is the use of excess undiscriminating violence. Their aim is to destroy large numbers of populations and society. Their aims are not clearly defined by political demands. 60% of all fatalities have been caused by the new terrorism attacks (Duyvesteyn 2004). Their religious beliefs are that terrorists are a form of struggle of right against evil.  This justifies their acts as righteous, and necessary for them to advance in their religions.

Today’s terrorists do not want any negotiations; they just want to cause destructions.  They are, however, willing to engage in complex and risky acts.  The terrorists also are willing to give up their own life in the process of completing their missions. They believe the way to heaven is martyrdom. Another characteristic of the new terrorism is a threat in mass destructions.  Biological, chemical, nuclear and radiology as a weapon of mass damage is extensively used (Carr 2002).

New terrorism lacks state support and funding. They do not fear counterattacks, since they do not have a state sponsor to protect. Therefore, they carry out massive destruction attacks. The terrorists have other methods of getting finances mainly through illegal activities like drug trafficking, credit card frauds among others (Carter, Deutch & Zelikow 1999). The new terrorism relies considerably on network supporters due to the advancement in technology. Their message is spread widely across the world through advanced means of communications. 

Lastly, the new terrorism is characterized by poorly organized hierarchical structures. Technology makes the terrorists flexible by reacting and adapting easily to different situations. This brings out amateur terrorists who come together in meetings or groupings.

The religious motivation, decreased state support, indiscriminate violence, mass destruction weapons usage, and new network structures are inherently new things in today’s new terrorism. Upon proper examination of the characteristics of the new terrorism, questions arise whether the term the new terrorism is valid. The point on increased religious motivation does not mean that the tactic is new; traditionally, religion was a characteristic of terrorism. Historically, the motivation was used to kill non-believers. The new terrorism is said to be more lethal. Traditionally, large number of people were also killed; for example, 367 people were killed in French and US barracks in 1983 (Duyvesteyn 2004). The concept is based on exceptionally few lethal attacks in recent times. New terrorists still want attention after their attacks. They do this via video recordings as seen in cases of Osama Bin Laden (Enders & Sandler 2000).

Availability of information due to the advancement in technology is taken to be nothing new. Traditionally, information such as advice on bomb-making was available in handbooks and newsletters. Old terrorists were also willing to cross the line to use mass destruction weapons; it was their availability that limited them. The organization structures that are unorganized in the new terrorism are nothing new. In traditional terrorism, organizational structures were there but well organized.

It is clear that the characteristics, attributed to the new terrorism, are just valid assessments on the new form of terrorism. They are not new, they were there initially only that some have increased or decreased in their levels. In other words, terrorism has not changed but it is the world that has changed. As the world is evolving, so is the case with terrorism. People would, therefore, have many new things each and every single day. In conclusion, there is no old or the new terrorism. These are just artificially created distinctions.

Order now

Related essays