From Terror to Terrorism: the Logic on the Roots of Selective Political Violence0
The Eurasian Politician - July 2004
From Terror to Terrorism: the Logic on the Roots of Selective Political Violence
Anssi Kullberg and Christian Jokinen, 19th July, 2004
Research Unit for Conflicts and Terrorism, University of Turku, Finland
As a phenomenon, terrorism is very much in fashion. It is media-sexy and rises strong emotions. It is therefore en excellent element in political rhetoric. In the last decades – to be more exact, after the end of the Cold War – the "terrorism talk" has been a useful spice for rhetoric, often in collocation with Islam, separatist movements, "civilizations" and their "clashes", "globalization", and generally with all the world's problems, or issues seen as problems. Linking something or someone with terrorism has become a standard piece of derogatory propaganda. Almost any nasty or controversial activity, especially if it's some form of political violence, is eagerly called "terrorism" in today's rhetoric. Everybody now wishes to present their enemies as terrorists. However, this kind of conditioning, at its worst, can seriously harm the task of understanding real terrorist movements, and thereby also make it more difficult to fight them.
Terror and terrorism: the use of fear as a weapon
The word terrorism is derived from the Latin word "terror", which means fear, horror. It is not difficult for languages based on Latin (including English with its largely Latinized vocabulary) to understand the bottom idea of "terror" as strong fear. In languages such as Finnish, "terror" has become to mean a more particular kind of fear, as well as the act of causing the fear. In other words, "terror" is near to terrorizing practiced by people. The verb "terrorize" contains the idea of purposeful mobbing or tormenting of somebody.
Terror and terrorization precede terrorism as notions. The ending "ism" shows that terrorism also contains some kind of an "ideology". Terrorism always has a strong ideological load, which is supported with the perhaps most fundamental idea of terrorism: "Cause justifies the means." A terrorist consciously employs morally condemned extreme means, because he believes that the goal advanced with those means justifies such means that would be otherwise wrong.
Terrorism is not an ideology as such. It has no united political agenda. In principle, almost any ideology could be claimed by a terrorist. (In practice, however, terrorism has historically been strongly connected with a limited amount of ideologies.) The "ideology" of terrorism is more a tactical ideology: It concerns the means. More than final goals, this "ideology" of terrorism influences the tactical goals, which are tools for approaching the final political goals. These tactical goals can be, for example, raising attention, blackmailing, destabilizing the existing order, or humiliating the opponent. It makes sense, however, to separate the definition of terrorism from the final goals advanced with terrorist means, so that the definition would be as widely acceptable as possible.
Understood in this way, the "ism" of terrorism is "an ideology of the use of fear as a weapon in advancing political goals". Therefore the roots of terrorism can be sought in the wider meaning of the word "terror" – in other words, in the history of terrorization.
Some of the examples provided in this article may make the reader ask, what these seemingly distant tragedies have to do with today's international terrorism. However, we find it justified to provide a selected introduction, in order to try to find out how did the general use of terror as a means of warfare, conquest and subjugation turn into a systematic use of strategies that purposefully targeted certain ethnic or religious groups as collectively victimized entities. This explanation, we hope, justifies the mentioning of the "fire and sword" campaigns, ethnic cleansing, genocide, pogrom, and provocation as violent phenomena that preceded what we today call terrorism.
The history of terror is unfortunately part of the humankind's history of executing political power, as force by the use of fear and violence has always been part of our history. Anthropologists have studied only very few characteristically warless societies, and these have almost without exception been located on isolated islands. As war and violence have so greatly shaped the development of human political communities and institutions – especially the state – also the use of "terror" as a part of that violence has roots as long as the history of humankind.
Most typically, terror has been part of armed conflict. The narratives of the Antiquity, as well as those in the Bible, the Quran and other holy books are filled with examples of terror – violence following the strategy of fear-sowing as a means of coercion.
Alexander the Great was practicing state terror at its worst when he destroyed Theba up to women and children in order to set a "warning example" for the other city-states of Greece, so that they would submit to the hegemony of Macedonia. Similar state terror of "a warning example" was used by the Mongols when they were conquering their empire. In Persia the cities who resisted were completely destroyed, and the skulls of the slain inhabitants were piled to skull pyramids. This raised the fear the Mongols wanted, and made numbers of cities and provinces surrender to the Mongols without a proper fight. The cruelty of the Christian crusaders raised fear in the Islamic world before the Mongols already. In 1097, during the siege of Antioch, Prince Bohemond of Otranto roasted on a spit the Armenian spies who had spied for the Turks. The crusaders also catapulted heads of slain Muslims into the cities they had besieged.
From the Middle Ages onwards, state terror became known as the campaigns of "fire and sword", which were regularly combined with the troops looting and raping civilian population. Looting cities and villages had of course been part of wars, conquests and crusades from the dawn of the history, but this activity became state terror by the conscious adoption of the strategic goal of the "fire and sword" campaigns that aimed at the subjugation and discouragement of the local population by using fear (terror).
A notorious user of the "fire and sword" strategy was General Aleksey Yermolov, who used to terrorize Chechens and Dagestanis during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. General Yermolov believed that "the total subjugation of the Caucasians" was only possible with the use of extreme cruelty, which would target civilian population, instead of the Caucasian fighters, known as the Murids, who were difficult to defeat. Yermolov concentrated his troops to destroy villages, burn houses, devastate cropfields, and slaughter the people and cattle. They also cut down beech forests to take away shelter from the Chechens. The outcome of this strategy was, however, that population fled to the mountains and was mobilized into an even fiercer resistance and retaliations against the Russian forts.
Another strategy of terror targeting civilian population was also initiated by the policies of imperial Russia. In addition to Yermolov's unsuccessful terror campaigns in the Caucasus, the Russian Empire launched a new strategy, which was to have long-lasting and tragic consequences for world history. It was the strategy of genocide, combined with mass deportation. The first victims were the Crimean Tatars, soon to be followed by Circassians, and finally Jews.
The first genocidal act took place within days of the declaration of Crimea's annexation by Tsarina Catherine II. At the end of April 1783, several thousand Crimean Tatar intellectuals, military officers and clergy were rounded up in Karasubazar and killed. The whole early 1800s marked a period of genocide and ethnic cleansing targeting the Crimean Tatars and aiming at wiping out their culture, intellectual heritage as well as physical presence from the Crimean Peninsula. Following the Crimean War (1853-1856), by the summer of 1860, the flight of Tatars from the terror in Crimea had turned the once flourishing peninsula into a "torched earth" landscape.
What happened first to the Crimean Tatars, stroke next the Circassians in the 1860s. An unprecedented genocide and wave of terror aimed at emptying the whole Caucasus from Circassians. Russia started a mass expulsion in Circassia in 1860, with catastrophic consequences. Unlike the Tatars, who chose the exile and fled from the dar al-harb, the Circassians put up armed resistance, fortified their capital, Sochi, and made appeals to Turkey and the West to gain recognition for independent Circassia. After having forcibly halted the exodus of Crimean Tatars, in 1862, Russia launched terror campaign, massacres and targeted famine against Circassians, and by May 1864, the Circassian resistance movement had been crushed. In 1865, Russia spread the terror campaign against Chechens. By the 1880s, more than three million Circassians (up to 90 % of the population) as well as hundreds of thousands of Chechens, Abkhazians, Georgian Muslims and other Caucasians had been forced to emigrate to Turkey in the proportionally most massive ethnic cleansing of the time. The number of those directly killed has not been properly investigated. Suddenly, as in the case of the Crimean Tatars, Russia stopped the persecution of the remaining populations, and crushed the voluntary emigration movements by deporting the organizers to Siberia. This coincided with the launch of yet another campaign -–the pogroms and expulsions of Jews.
The careful timing, planning and systematic organization of the ethnic cleansings and genocide against Crimean Tatars, Caucasian Muslims and Jews indicate that imperial Russia, even during the reigns of some monarchs, who have been considered as "more enlightened", did not follow a random strategy in Russia's southward expansion – the policy that Catherine II and her favorite Grigory Potyomkin had designed in order to "gain Constantinople and Jerusalem". Also regarding the history of the time, the systematic use of ethnic cleansing, pogroms and genocide as a means of imperial expansion and colonization marked the beginning of a novel and sinister trend in imperial politics. What was launched by Russia's brosok na yug, with their first victims being the Crimean Tatars and Circassians, was continued against the Jews, and the fashion was soon exported both west – targeting Jews across Europe since the 1870s – and south – leading to the atrocities against Armenians in the 1910s.
The history of modern ethnic cleansing and genocide, therefore, began in the outskirts of the Russian Empire in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. The relevant difference to the medieval campaigns was that the campaigns of "fire and sword" had primarily sought for the subjugation of the conquered populations by terror, the ethnic cleansings in Crimea and the Caucasus marked the beginning of a tradition, where the goal was no longer just vanquishing active resistance, but ethnic cleansing and the physical elimination of the opponent as a collective, ethnic, entity.
Consequently, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Russian word pogrom became known all around Europe, meaning violent operations targeting the civilians of a certain, limited, ethnic or religious group (usually Jews or Muslims). In Western and Central Europe, the pogroms reached their peak in the 1930s by the national-socialist pogroms against the Jews. The Crystal Night was a typical pogrom. Even though often presented as such, pogroms were not then, and have practically never been, "spontaneous outbursts of angry population", but they have been purposefully provoked with agitation, propaganda, and the use of provocateurs, usually by the state authorities or by an organized political group, like the fascists, the national-socialists or the communists.
The pogroms suddenly returned to intelligence and human rights reports at the final stage of the Cold War, when the edges of dominion of the collapsing Soviet empire, in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, started to witness a series of mysterious "ethnic conflicts". Among them, the pogroms of Almaty, Baku, Sumqayit and Hocali offered direct indications of the use of provocations. The conflicts of Karabagh and Abkhazia were pushed into full-scale war with the help of pogroms and other provocations. Provocations and pogroms were connected with the outbreak of all the conflicts in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia in the 1990s, and they were usually targeting Muslims.
In the conflicts of Africa, violence resembling pogroms had shown almost apocalyptic features, such as cannibalism and mutilating and killing people with primitive weapons. Serious pogroms were also witnessed in the 1990-2000s in the great multiethnic empires of Asia. In Pakistan, especially Karachi, "sectarian violence" targeted especially the Shi'as, provoking bloody retaliations between Shi'a and Sunni extremists. In Indonesia, violence turned into pogroms between the Dayaks and Madurans in Kalimantan, and against Christians on Ambon. In the Indian state of Gujarat, in February-March, 2002, the pogroms agitated and perpetrated by Hindu extremists resulted in the killing of 2500-5000 people, almost entirely Muslims. The wave of pogroms started with the Ayodhya temple dispute between Muslims and Hindus, and a mysterious burning of a train transporting Hindu pilgrims. The Gujarat state was run by militant Hindus, and they were also represented in the all-Indian government. The ruling government party of the time, Bharatiya Janata (BJP), which could be described as Hindu nationalists (a Hindutva party), has protected, if not supported, the militant Hindu extremists responsible for the pogroms.
A provocation is an operation or series of acts, used by one party in order to bring about the intended reaction by another party. At worst, the reaction is a conflict or a pogrom. The researcher Antero Leitzinger has described the use of provocation: "A most cunning tool of political manipulation is provocation; instigating one or more theoretically independent parties to commit acts that are then widely condemned, inciting the desired counter-reaction." Provocations are usually performed by the secret services, and a provocateur is usually an agent or for example a fanatic on the opponent side, whose duty is to agitate hatred and violence, or to damage the opponent's reputation.
An early well-known example of the use of provocations in modern Western history was the "Opera Conspiracy" in October 1800. In it, Napoleon Bonaparte's secret police incited the radical opposition and lured it into a trap, resulting the liquidation of first the leftist opposition and immediately afterwards also the rightist opposition. Napoleon's chief of the secret police, Joseph Fouchй, said that a "real police chief almost has to possess a couple of conspiracies in his pocket". Fouchй's legacy was the organization of the world's first modern political police force in 1799-1810. His teachings of provocation and conspiracy later spread to Prussia, and the Prussian chief of espionage, Wilhelm Stieber, exported them to Russia during the reign of Tsar Alexander II. Europe got to know the perpetrators of provocations with the French conception, agent provocateur.
Once adopted in Russia, provocations became widely used by the tsarist secret police, Ohrana. Alexander II's predecessor, Tsar Nicholas I, was notorious for having created a massive secret security machinery, which was to herald the peculiar character of Russian governance. The Ohrana set out for often fantastic conspiracies and provocations that run far off the control of the policy-planners. Provocations were at first especially designed for revolutionary groups like the nihilists, but finally it was asked what part of the nihilist terrorism was actually work of the Ohrana's own provocateurs. The "Black Hundreds" and the pogroms of Odessa in 1905 gave new directions to the use of provocations. At the sunset of the empire, the revolutionaries quickly adopted the system based on the power of the secret services, and so the Cheka, later KGB, developed the use of provocations to its peak.
The use of provocations was equally important for the rise into power of the national-socialists in the 1930s in Germany. The fire at the Reichstag as well as the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, which was used as a launcher for the pogrom of the Crystal Night, have been considered as Nazi provocations. Also the invasion to Poland was claimed justified on the basis of a provocation: The Nazis put Polish army uniforms on concentration camp inmates, shot them on the border, and claimed that the Polish army had invaded Germany. Today, similar operations are uncovered on a regular basis in the conflicts of the Caucasus as well as in the "war of shadows" between India and Pakistan.
In spring 2004, former Macedonian minister of interior Ljube Boskovski and six other Slav nationalists (including at least two generals) were formally accused for a provocation in 2002, when they had seven innocent illegal immigrants arrested and shot, and then presented their bodies as "al-Qaida terrorists", simultaneously attempting to imply that the Albanian UЗK (KLA) would have connections with foreign Muslim terrorists.
Of the seven murdered migrants, six were Pakistanis and one Indian. They were lured by the Macedonian intelligence service to enter the country from Bulgaria, and taken to a spot called the Rastanski vineyard. They were told they were near the Greek border and released to cross over. Then the special police opened fire and killed them. The police planted weapons and uniforms on the bodies to make them look like Islamic fighters, and the Ministry of Interior declared they were terrorists planning attacks on foreign embassies.
The special police units in Boskovski's control were also notorious for their atrocities against Albanians during the Albanian rebellion of Western Macedonia in 2001. The Hague War Crimes Tribunal is investigating Boskovski's role in the killings of civilians in the village of Ljuboten. The "Rastanski Affair" was thought to have been an attempt by Boskovski and the Slav nationalists to gain Western sympathy to the continuation of hard-line anti-Albanian policies.
During the Cold War, modern terrorism became an excellent tool for performing provocations, as well as for propaganda and internal power aspirations. Similar to the use of pogroms and provocations, also terrorism became a part of the activities of secret services.
Especially in connection with the conflicts related with the struggle against (Western) colonial powers in the Third World during the Cold War, terrorism has been called "the poor man's nuke." Reality, however, is more wretched than that. While the nuclear bomb has served primarily as a deterrent between the superpowers, terrorism is not and cannot be a deterrent restraining states. Rather than a "poor man's nuke", clandestinely sponsored terrorism against other states is a "secret weapon", which has enabled states to strike each other to the back or under the belt, without an official declaration of war, while responsibility and consequences are thrown to somebody else's neck. The situation can be compared with a theater scene: Terrorists are often puppets while the secret services are pulling from their financial and political strings. If the play fails, tomatoes and eggs are thrown upon actors.
Therefore, terrorism has offered an excellent tool of subversive, ideological and conspiratorial warfare, with its goals more often being provocative and propagandistic than deterrent.
The logic and thinking of the perpetrator of both terror and terrorism typically tends to believe in extreme and final solutions only. Terrorism is always a kind of war, and therefore, typically for war, "all means are included", and it "cannot be limited", as Carl von Clausewitz would argue. It is not possible "to turn the other cheek" to terrorism.
Terrorism opposed to state authority and terror practiced by states share the same characteristic of a "total war". Terror uses the means of war against civilian population, and does not offer any other options for the other side but to surrender in front of violence or to fight back. The tactics of conquest chosen by Genghis Khan, Timur Lenk, the Spanish conquistadors, and the Russian General Yermolov gave the local population only the options of total submission or resistance. In the worst case both meant death and it was up to individuals to decide whether they risked their lives in prison camps, exile or fighting.
War was extended to fatally include the whole civilian population as a collective – ethnic or religious. The whole civilian population was forced to pay for the existence of resistance. In this sense, the terror of "fire and sword" directly preceded the logic of ethnic cleansing, pogrom and genocide. When the civilian population was considered responsible for the existence of resistance, and war was directed to target a whole nation, it made peaceful coexistence impossible.
This is how terror also changed the nature of war. Previously, the population of conquered areas had been an important part of the conquest and it just got new rulers. However, starting with the policies of the Russian Empire in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the concept of conquest included ideas of territorial ethnic cleansing, so that state terror and genocide became "necessary" characteristics of territorial conquests. The Tatar and Caucasian Muslims of the conquered territories of the former Khanates of Crimea, Kazan and Astrakhan as well as Circassia and Dagestan, were to experience these horrors first, soon to be followed by Jews, Armenians, Balkan Turks, and many others.
In the same way, the modern terrorist does not give his victims any other options but a full submission to his demands, or the continuation of violence. The logic of terrorism, too, makes peaceful coexistence ultimately impossible, and its logic seems to lead to the demand of the physical extermination of one party as the only chance. These features are well witnessed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is impossible to give in to terrorists, but when a whole population is being considered guilty to terror, it becomes a logical goal to completely wipe out the opponent as a nation: either by exterminating the Jewish state, or by ethnically cleansing the area of Arabs.
Terrorism should be defined in such a way, that the definition is not so restrictive that it excludes some of the essential forms of terror used as a weapon or tactic, while it is not so wide and vague that it may include any form of violence or opponent activity. All warfare or use of violence is not terrorism, and not even terror. There is a need for a useful definition, at least for each text. Therefore, we expect "terrorism", as understood in this text, to fulfil the following criteria:
Terrorism is defined through the means, not through the causes, of violent activity. Any political ideology, religion or opinion cannot be terrorism. Rather, terrorism refers to certain means used in the name of some ideology. Opposition activity, dissidence, or for example separatism, are not terrorism, although a terrorist group may claim these causes.
Terrorism must be violent. It must be based on direct physical violence or at least the threat of it. For example economic sanctions, boycotts and diplomatic pressure are not terrorism. Also demonstrations, strikes, and other non-violent means of political influence are not terrorism, even if they were illegal. However, material violence, like sabotage, "cyber-terrorism", "ecological terrorism", and so on, can be included in the concept of terrorism, if they fulfil the rest of the criteria.
Terrorist violence must target civilian population. The sowing of fear by terrorism happens through the very idea that practically "any of us" could fall victim to terrorism. Thus, normal warfare, guerrilla warfare, armed resistance, or police activity, are not terrorism, although there might be terror involved in their use.
The strategy of terrorist violence is agitating fear among the civilian population. Sometimes, distinguishing it from political murders might cause problems. Single assassinations of political leaders and similar representatives of public authority are not necessarily terrorism, even though the perpetrators might be terrorists, and the murders politically motivated. Many such assassinations are closer to another tradition of political violence, the "tyrannicide".
The murder of the Russian General-Governor Nikolai Bobrikov by the Finnish activist Eugen Schauman was not an act of terrorism or even terror. Meanwhile, the murders by many terrorist organizations against claimed "collaborators" of the opposed regimes are indeed terrorism. The difference is that Schauman did not seek agitating general fear by assassinating Bobrikov, although the murder was politically motivated; also, Bobrikov was not an "innocent civilian". Meanwhile, the series of murders by, for instance, the IRA, ETA and PKK, targeting for example municipal clerks and school teachers – and especially the "owns", i.e. the Catholics, the Basques and the Kurds, who have been accused for collaborating with the "occupants" – are acts of terrorism, as they do not intend to assassinate certain representatives of the oppressive regime, but to sow general fear with the intention to intimidate the "own" population into obedience towards the terrorist organization, and to force them by fear to cease all co-operation with the opponent.
A typical characteristic of terrorism is the extension of the logic and means of war to target civilian population. State terror works in the same way. Thus, typical features of state terror include murders of dissidents, opposition politicians, journalists, and aid workers. These killings distribute general fear, and they are often purposefully left unsolved, because the purpose of the killings is not only the removal of troublesome individuals, but also generating common fear, and by that, forcing people into obedience, and to stay out of activities "aiding and abetting the enemy" or otherwise unfavorable for the terror regime. In many countries, the regime does not even try to suffocate rumors telling that if you, for example, criticize the president publicly, you might be targeted by mysterious masked men or you might disappear.
Terrorist violence is always politically motivated. The acts of terrorism intend to advocate ideological goals through mid-term objectives such as blackmailing or coercing the opponent to yield to the terrorist's will. Terrorism is also useful for performing provocations (and provoking violent reactions by the opponent), agitation of the supposed "owns" to join fight or violence, gaining publicity, or presenting a showcase of the organization's own capacity. These, in turn, can lead to the objectives of threatening the opponent, humiliating the opponent or its agencies responsible for security, or agitating the "owns" to similar activity.
All these mid-term operational objectives, however, serve an ultimately ideological goal. Terrorist organizations are often categorized by dividing them, for example, into nationalist, ideological (leftist and rightist-extremist), religious, etc., but essentially all terrorist organizations are actually political extremist groups. For example a religious organization's involvement in terrorism shows as such that it is also a political organization.
A limit case could be for example terror used by mafia for economic purposes (blackmailing protection money, eliminating competition), although usually there is a clear power-related and coercive function in that, too. For example massacres committed by mentally disturbed individuals, like in the case of the bomb blast of the Myyrmanni shopping mall in Finland in 2002, or the school shootings in the US and Germany, may have been acts of terror, but not terrorism, as they lacked an "ism", the political ideology advocated with the action.
Finally, terrorism can be defined by a last criterion: It means repeated, organized action. Terrorism is distinguished with single acts of terror in the fact that terrorism usually contains, in addition to an ideological motivation, at least some level of institutionalization and organization. Terrorism is almost always performed by an organized terrorist group, or in the case of state terror, by a security service or army. However, as an exception, there have been and will probably be also lonely terrorists (for example the Unabomber).
Following these considerations, we define terror and terrorism as follows: Terror is the use of violent means in order to sow fear and thereby coercing the target into something. Terrorism is the organized, ideological use of terror against civilian population for politically motivated goals.
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The next parts of this essay series will be published during the following months.
The authors are researchers within the Research Unit for Conflicts and Terrorism at the Department of Contemporary History, University of Turku, Finland. The Unit is producing a book on international terrorism, publications on the controversy between radical Islamism and nationalist groups in Eurasian conflict areas, on the development and roots of radical Islamist ideology, on the connections of conflicts and terrorism with illegal trade and organized crime, and on comparative success of counter-terrorism. The Unit produces a monthly report on conflicts and terrorism in Finnish. It also advocates fact-finding trips and expeditions of its researchers to the relevant regions. For inquiries and publications please contact Christian Jokinen: christian.jokinen @ utu.fi
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Richard Deacon: A History of the Russian Secret Service. London, 1972, 67-68; Antero Leitzinger: Caucasus and an unholy alliance. Tummavuoren kirjapaino, Vantaa, 1997, 21-22.
A. Leitzinger, 1997, 22-27.
Mitko Jovanov: Macedonia calls for the extradition of its fugitive minister. ISN, May 17, 2004 < IWPR Balkan Crisis Report.
See: Christian Jokinen: Tyrannicide: Heroism or Terrorism. Part I: The Case of Eugen Schauman. The Eurasian Politician, July 13, 2004.