The Young Life of Islamic Terrorism

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Many Americans, especially young Americans–those who came of age in the last three decades–have trouble associating terrorism with anything separate from those who carry out attacks in the name of Islam. This, writes Philip Jenkins in The American Conservative, is a product of a short national memory, one that forgets or dismisses the history of terrorism:  

It’s remarkable to see how readily modern audiences credit suggestions about the novelty of international terrorism or its association with Islamist groups. Particularly startling is how thoroughly Americans have forgotten their own terrorist crisis of the mid-1970s. 

Jenkins reminds readers of Abu Nidal–“as infamous in the 1970s and 1980s as Osama bin Laden has been in recent times”–who specialized in simultaneous attacks meant to keep his enemies discombobulated. With that in mind, one need look no further than the concurrent attacks on 9/11 and the confusion and speculation that followed to see Jenkins’ point that Nidal “wrote the playbook for al-Qaeda.” Far from carrying out attacks in the name of any religion, Nidal, Jenkins writes, “usually served Iraq’s secularist Ba’ath regime, which persecuted Islamists.”

Along with Nidal there have been terrorist organizations that run the gamut, “from Western anarchists and nihilists, from the Catholic IRA and Latin American urban guerrillas, from Communists and fascists, from Zionist Jews and Sri Lankan Hindus” and those who owe “much to the Marxist tradition–to Lenin, Guevara, and Mao–and next to nothing to Muslims.” And most of the tactics used today can be traced back to organizations having nothing to do with Islam. “Think for instance,” Jenkins writes, 

of those unspeakable al-Qaeda videos depicting the ritualized execution of hostages in Iraq and elsewhere. To quote Olivier Roy, one of the most respected European scholars of Islamist terrorism, these videos are “a one-to-one re-enactment of the execution of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades [in Italy in 1978], with the organization’s banner and logo in the background, the hostage hand-cuffed and blind-folded, the mock trial with the reading of the sentence and the execution.” 

Pointing to one race, color, or creed as exclusively holding the reigns of terror forgets the long history of modern terrorist tactics, fed by every type of human imaginable. Jenkins’ essay is a humbling read for anyone who has forgotten this history, or who never knew it, and one that reminds us just how short our memories can be.  

Source: The American Conservative

Image by mattlemmon, licensed under Creative Commons.

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