5.3: Terrorism

10. The Time of Television and Computers
5.3. Terrorism

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10. The Time of Television and Computers
5.3. Terrorism

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What is terrorism?

Terrorism is the use of violence, often on civilians, with the aim of creating fear in order to achieve certain goals. It is generally used by small activist groups in peacetime. The motives of terrorists can vary a lot and they often have multiple motives. However, some particular motives for terrorism reoccur: religious, nationalistic and ideological motives.

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what terrorist acts do you remember
seeing on the news?

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people in this lesson
George W. Bush
Saddam Hussein
Barack Obama
Osama bin Laden
leader Al Qaida

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Religious terrorism

A great influence of the rise of fundamentalism was the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In 1979, revolutionaries overthrew the shah (king) and installed a government led by religious leaders.
Many terrorist attacks across the world in the past thirty years have been inspired by the religious thinking of Islamic fundamentalists. Islamic fundamentalism started to gain appeal in the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s. This area was (and is) politically very unstable and the population itself is strongly divided. The main religion is Islam, but this religion has many variations: moderate forms and more strict or fundamentalist forms. Recently, fanatic Islamic fundamentalists have gained more support. They want to live in a theocracy, a state form in which religious leaders rule in the name of a god. They want to create a society based on Islamic rules, laws and tradition, purified from Western influence. This has to be achieved by all means, included terrorist attacks on Western targets.

Revolution in Iran, January 1979. Revolutionaries carry the image of their religious leader: Ayatollah Khomeini

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Nine Eleven

Religious terrorism often comes in the form of suicide attacks. These terrorists believe that god will reward them if they die while standing up for their religion.
The largest terrorist attack, in terms of the number of victims, has been the one that became known as ‘Nine Eleven’. On the morning of 11th September 2001, two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, the so-called Twin Towers, in New York. Members of the Islamic fundamentalist organisation Al-Qaida had hijacked these planes. The towers caught fire and collapsed within hours and more than three thousand people from over ninety different countries lost their lives. The attack came as an enormous shock to the world and in particular to the Americans; because since the Pearl Harbour Attack of 1941 the USA had never been hit by an outside attack on its own soil.
The Americans already knew of Al-Qaida and its leader, the Saudi Arabian billionaire Osama bin Laden. He had founded Al-Qaida as early as 1988 in Afghanistan, during the Cold War era. The Americans then considered Bin Laden as an ally in the struggle against the Russians in Afghanistan.

cameras capture the moment when a second airplane hits the World Trade Center

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Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden believes that the United States has received justice.
 He believes that most residents of the United States do not live by the rules of Islam.
 He also believes that the United States supports Israel too much in its struggle against the Islamic Palestinians.

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War on Terror
2001 - present day

  • US President George W. Bush swears revenge and starts the "War on Terrorism."
  • In Iraq and Afghanistan, difficult wars are fought against (Muslim) terrorists ...

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  • ... but now, more than 15 years later, there is still a lot of unrest and instability in those countries.
  • This causes new violence and attacks.

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... and new terrorist organizations, such as IS (IS), can be created that cause even more unrest and terror.
Not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe, IS supporters carry out bloody attacks.

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‘Wars on Terror’

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, US President George W. Bush declared a War on Terror. However, fighting terrorism is not easy. It is often unclear who the terrorists are and where they are located; communication with them is hardly possible. In 2001, Bush attacked Afghanistan on suspicion of supporting and hiding Bin Laden. The result was the end of the rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban that had been in power in Afghanistan since 1996. Bin Laden was able to hide until 1st May 2011, when the American foreign intelligence service (CIA) found him in Pakistan, where he was killed.
After 2001, NATO troops (including Dutch soldiers) stayed in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from returning to power. Up to this day, the Afghan administration has not been strong enough to keep the Taliban ‘war lords’ out of power.

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In 2003, president Bush, supported by the UK, also attacked Iraq. Iraq was accused of supporting international terrorism and of producing nuclear weapons secretly, though proof for these accusations was never found. After the Americans defeated the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, many Iraqi groups started to fight for power. The USA got stuck in a hopeless situation which cost thousands of American and British lives and many more lives of Iraqis. This war ended in 2011, when President Obama pulled back his troops, leaving Iraq in a very unstable state. In the north, the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisation Islamic State (ISIS) won terrain. Neither of the ‘Wars on Terror’ have had the effects that the Americans had hoped for.

British soldiers check Iraqi civilians for hidden weapons and explosives.

After a short war US soldiers tear down Saddam Hussein's statue in the capital city of Bagdad

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Another form of terrorism is nationalist terrorism. The assassins of Franz Ferdinand that caused World War I, the Moluccans hijackers in the Netherlands and the PLO in Palestine were all nationalist terrorists. They used violence to achieve their goals, such as independence for their people. A recent example of nationalist terrorism is that of militant people from Chechnya, a province of Russia. As you have read in section 6.1, many new states were founded when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The largest, Russia, however was still made up of many ethnic groups; among these are Chechens, who want independence. When the Russians did not allow this, nationalist groups tried to take power in Chechnya by force. In response, Russia bombarded Chechnya. Thousands of people have lost their lives and the conflict goes on, with Russia still having troops in Chechnya. In protest, Chechen nationalists have been committing terrorist attacks in Russia. This started in 1998 with bomb explosions in Moscow flats and other places. In 2002 and 2004, more than a hundred people died after Chechens occupied a theatre and a school. Russia did not give in to any of their demands, on either occasion.

Chechnya has been plagued by two wars and an ongoing insurgency since the fall of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Chechen militants have escalated attacks in the North Caucasus and revived bombings in Moscow.

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Ideological terrorism

A third form of terrorism could be called ideological terrorism: terrorism based on a belief in a certain ideal that is not strictly religious or nationalistic. From the examples given in the introduction, the Ku Klux Klan was such a terrorist organisation. Their ideal was a society in which white people had more rights than coloured people; they killed and intimidated coloured people to try and reach this goal. Often, ideological terrorism is committed by individuals who are not part of an organised group. A recent example of an action by such a lone wolf is the Norwegian extreme-right activist Anders Breivik. In July 2011, he placed a car bomb at a government building and shot 69 young members of a left wing political party at a summer camp. For this, Breivik was arrested. As a motive for his actions, Breivik said he blamed the left wing political parties for allowing too many immigrants from Muslim countries into Norway. He said he wants to protect Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover.

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