Terrorism is the use or threat of violence to create a climate of fear in a given population. Terrorist violence targets individuals, groups, governments, political parties, corporations, media enterprises and often ethnic and religious groups. The aim is to so frighten a population or group that it will withdraw from territory or change its behaviour, or pressure its government to change. It is designed to have psychological repercussions beyond the specific target. Terrorism can be perpetrated by the state or against the state.
The term terrorism derives from the tactics of the French revolutionary government in 1795, during the Reign of Terror. The term continued to be used primarily to describe actions inflicted by the state on its citizens as exemplified by Leninís Cheka secret police or Nazi Germanyís Gestapo. Resistance to the German occupation of European countries during the second world war was described by the Germans as terrorism.
In the second half of the twentieth century the use of the term came to be associated less with the actions of governments and more with the actions of groups seeking a wide variety of political outcomes, from the African National Conferenceís declaration of armed struggle in South Africa, through the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Irish Republican Army, to the Baader-Meinhof gang of the Red Army Faction in Germany.
Terrorism carries a lot of heat as it involves violent acts committed by people who want to get attention for their cause. Terrorism scares everyone because no one knows when or where it will take place.
The heat also comes from the more recent association of the word with Islam. Terrorist acts are often described on television as the work of Muslim fundamentalists or zealots. Rarely mentioned are the root causes of their anger or what has prompted these people to carry out terrorist acts.
The Koran has also become associated as a source of inspiration for terrorism with media images of Muslims who carry out acts of terror often showing the person holding the Koran or reporting that the person was in possession of teachings of the Koran before committing the act of terror. In fact, the Koran teaches peaceful co-existence.
10 March 2002