Essay on Terrorism: Terrorism and French Terror ‘nothing

Submitted By ghostmall
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Lecture 1 Terror and Insurgency - A Brief History

Subhead 1 Definitional Ambiguities

According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary the term ‘terror’ represents a state of extreme fear, whilst ‘terrorism’ refers to a system of government by intimidation. Significantly, the political character of terrorism and its proponents or ‘terrorists’ dates from the French Revolution and the period of revolutionary terror applied by the Jacobin between March 1793- July 1794. In other words, its political usage coincides with the emergence of modern revolutionary or ideological politics that justifies violence in order to liberate a people from perceived oppression. The term, moreover, was pejorative, coined by the exiled conservative opponents to the French revolution and has something of a Burkean provenance.

As Christopher Hitchens observes (see Reader) the term was notably revived in the course of the Cold War by US governmental agencies and widely deployed by academics seeking to carve out a field of inquiry (as well as government grant aid and high profile careers). Hutchens is notably sceptical of the term and its definition as ‘the use of violence for political ends’ he considers tautological (actually he is wrong, the definition may be problematic, but it is not a tautological). Hutchens makes a perhaps marginally more intelligent point, when he suggests that terrorism has become an all-purpose convenience word to categorize those usually non Western states and or groups that one ideologically discountenances. This has the Orwellian tendency of obfuscating or foreclosing further inquiry, especially when the terrorist is subsequently characterised in the popular press (eg Rupert Murdoch’s Sun as ‘fiends’, ‘maniacs’ , ‘monsters’,‘men of blood’ and ‘crazed ragheads driven by a west hating blood lust’) .

Moving from journalism to an underrated academic, Ted Hondreich in an interesting series of essays On Violence contends that political violence (rather than the more emotive term terror) might have some political utility in certain but not all circumstances. Indeed, modern western political thought since at least the mid sixteenth century has defended the use of force against an illegitimate or tyrannical political arrangement ( the Spanish Jesuit Juan de Mariana defended the assassination of heretic monarchs (monarchomachia) in De Monarchica ( 1567), whilst the Huguenot political classic of the late sixteenth century the Vindicia Contra Tyrranos significantly defended tyrannicide). Such defences, in the course of the seventeenth, made possible the foundations of liberal resistance theory culminating in Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government (1680). By the early nineteenth century an ideological style of thought (in a variety of liberatory modes) explored and explained the uses of violence for justifiable ends-democratic, nationalist, marxist and ultimately fascist. As Saint Just observed at the height of the French Terror ‘nothing resembles virtue like a great crime’.
As Hondreich subsequently argues somewhat controversially even democratic values of freedom and equality can be served by limited violence in certain circumstances.

Subhead 2
Terror and Violence.
It would seem , however, in the literature on terrorism there is understood to be a condition of psychological fear generated amongst civilians (see Vincent in Reader) that goes beyond the odd violent act in a generally stable liberal democratic framework. As Vincent points out although most terror has a sub communal or internal effects, its impact on the international global order has grown in significance both during and since the Cold War. When undertaken by non-state groups, it undermines the rule of international society according to which states enjoy the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. It is also exacerbated by the growing links between terror groups (eg IRA , PLO and Gaddaffi in Libya in 1970s or…