Terrorism has always been present in society. Even in ancient times, religious fanatics resorted to terrorist tactics such as assassination to incite widespread fear and invoke an uprising. It is easy to say that the most well-known and effective terrorist attack took place on the eleventh of September 2001 when terrorists under the Al Qaeda terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden hijacked and flew four planes into the world trade centre. The destruction of this symbol of democracy and freedom shook the entire world and put the problem of terrorism into the spotlight.
Within less than a month, a US led coalition invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to weed out and eradicate the terrorist threat of Al Qaeda and send a message to other terrorist groups worldwide. Security measures in airports were increased in an attempt to reduce the chance of future attacks like the ones on 9/11. Even today, more than ten years after the tragedy, we are seeing more and more security measures that are supposed to prevent future attacks and deter groups from attempting them.
No fly lists, supposedly random screenings, and increasingly probing search procedures that border on infringing our rights as humans are just a few measures that have been implemented to put a stop to the supposedly increasing terrorist threat. The question is: has terrorism actually increased since 9/11? Are we truly in more danger now than we were ten years ago? This paper argues that contrary to what the government and media would have us believe, the threat of terrorism has neither increased nor decreased since 9/11.
Rather, terrorists have just adapted to stay relevant with all the security measures that have been put in place. In order to fully understand and answer this question one must understand the origins and definition of terrorism. In particular, terrorist activities from the 1970s to today will be looked at. After doing so it will become apparent that the frequency of terrorist attacks has not risen since 9/11 but rather remained at roughly the same level as it always has.
Next one must understand how since the creation and widespread use of the internet as a major media source, society has become much more connected and even insignificant events are instantly broadcasted around the world (globalization). Finally the paper will do an in depth look into the history or Al Qaeda, the notorious terrorist group that was responsible for the attacks that have changed our world so drastically, as well as other less well known terrorist organizations that many people have not heard of.
After considering all of the aforementioned points one will understand and have to come to the conclusion that while it may appear that terrorism is on the rise, the truth is that the government and media have just shined a spotlight on terrorism in recent years causing the public to hear more about it in their everyday lives. The word “terrorism” does not have a precise definition. As such the media to describe violent crimes that are not, strictly speaking, terrorist acts. For most governments, terrorism is considered any violent act against them.
From the view of the other side, the government is the terrorist group. The term is loosely thrown around to strike fear into the hearts of the general public and justify any measures that are deemed necessary to prevent it. When it comes down to it, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and so it is virtually impossible to define the word, let alone use it to label a certain group or organization. With that being said there are some acts so heinous, such as the 9/11 attacks, that can clearly be defined as terrorist attacks.
Even so, one must understand why Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda believed that such attacks were justifiable. To do so, you need look no further than the letter Osama Bin Laden wrote to America after the attacks. He outlines why the attacks took place and why more attacks will continue unless America and the western world rights certain wrongs. The most pressing matters on Bin Laden’s agenda are the withdrawal of American military bases from all Arab nations and the withdrawal of the Jews from Palestine. Obviously these demands could not and would not be met and America declared war on Afghanistan.
One of the major problems in the media’s coverage of this war is that when the public at home heard about battles and casualties, the media described them as “terrorist attacks”. In reality, the moment America declared war on Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, they ceased to be terrorists and became and opposing army. When the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy it was not a terrorist attack but a military strike. This false labeling of terrorism has caused the public to see any sort of military retaliation to the occupation of Afghanistan by its residents as a threat to national security.
If another country was to invade Ottawa tomorrow, would you not fight for your freedom? On August 24th, 1970, the Army Mathematics Centre on campus of the University of Wisconsin was blown up, resulting in one death. On October 22nd of the same year a bomb was set off outside a church in San Francisco injuring several people. That’s two separate attacks within two months of each other on American soil. From 1975 to 1984, the number of reported terrorist incidents rose from approximately ten per week to approximately ten per day. That’s a staggering amount by today’s standards.
In fact, there were four major terrorist attacks that took place in the span of 5 years in the 80s . Two of these include incidents on airplanes, one being hijacked and one having a bomb. With all this madness taking place one must wonder why the general public was not seized with the wave of fear the took them in 2001 after the attacks on the World Trade Centre. The answer: media coverage. There is no need to explain the fact that media coverage in the 80s was significantly less than it was in 2001. Before the second plane hit the WTC, every news channel was showing live coverage of what was going on.
The whole nation was watching the scene unfold. This made the public feel as if they were all a part of the attacks. Every subsequent attack or attempted attack was blown way out of proportion by both the government and the media. A big platform for the media’s statement that terrorism is on the rise is that the terrorists are getting more and more advanced in their plots and attacks. This is to be expected, as they have to adjust to more advanced security measures used to stop them. Computer viruses were much less sophisticated before antivirus software was developed.
Naturally the more advanced the security measures, the more advanced the would-be attackers’ attempts to breach them have to be. They needed to adapt to remain relevant, and that’s exactly what Al Qaeda did to become the most relevant terrorist organization in the world. America and its allies did not always see Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization. In fact, during the Cold War Al Qaeda (then known as the mujahedeen) was supported by America with weapons to help repel the Soviet invasion. These mujahedeen fighters were recruited by Osama Bin Laden from arious mosques throughout the Arab world. They were seen as freedom fighters by their people and were instrumental in the Afghan repulsion of soviet forces. After the war Bin Laden, the leader of the mujahedeen, used these soldiers of faith to pursue what he believed to be an agenda that was in the favour of Islam. Bin Laden officially formed Al Qaeda (Arabic for “the base”) in the August of 1988. All members needed to have “good listening ability, good manners, obedience, and take a pledge to follow their superior’s orders” in order to be a part of the group.
After expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan Bin Laden and Al Qaeda sought to help Muslims in need around the world. They took their fanaticism from the war and applied it to every situation they were faced with. When Saudi Arabia allowed the United States to build and maintain military bases within its borders in 1991, Bin Laden became enraged. This is largely due to the fact that the thought of infidels in his homeland was unbearable to him. After several anti government actions, the royal family eventually exiled Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia.
He took residence in the mountains dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan. From there he planned and launches a series of attacks on Americans in Muslim territories including Somalia, Chechnya, and Yemen among others. In 1993 Ramzi Yousef, a member of Al Qaeda under the orders of Bin Laden, set off a bomb in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Centre in an attempt to knock one tower into the other and bring it down. Though the attack failed to produce the desired result, he still managed to kill 6 people, injure over a thousand more, and cause over 300 million dollars worth of damage to the towers.
The attack of 9/11 was not even the first attack on the World Trade Centre; it was just the first (and last) attack to succeed in bringing it down. Al Qaeda is not the only terrorist group that has made attacks on American soil either. There are other groups that were causing damage before Al Qaeda even came into existence. Once such group was the Abu Nidal Organization, otherwise known as the Arab Revolutionary brigades. The Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) was named after its ruthless leader Sabri Al Banna, who used the name Abu Nidal which means father of struggle.
Throughout the eighties the ANO was considered the deadliest terrorist organization in the world. It was this organization that Muammar Gadaffi hired to exact retribution on America for the bombing of Libya in 1985, retribution that was exacted by the attacks on US and Israeli airport counters in Rome, killing 22 and injuring 111. Other attacks orchestrated by the ANO include the assassination of a Jordanian minister, a shooting at a synagogue in Istanbul, and an attempted hijacking of a plane in Palestine.
This was just one of many active terrorist groups in the eighties. Despite all of this, it was only after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 that all of these increased security measures were implemented due to “increased terrorist attacks”. In reality, there has always been around the same number of terrorist attacks per year. The fact that the Americans were slighted by the loss of their symbol of capitalism is the only reason this increase in security took place; to cover their embarrassment and shame of being caught with their pants down.
After considering all the above points one must see that, contrary to what the government would have the general public believe, terrorism is not on the rise but is at the same rate as it always was. All of the increased security measures are not for our safety but rather for the government to exercise another bit of control over the public and disallow any sort of dissent. Exaggerated media coverage, ambiguity of the term, and downplay of past terrorist organizations are all major factors in the myth that terrorism is on the rise.
We have given up so many of our rights in an attempt to extinguish this so called mounting threat. Was it all for nothing? Bibliography Terrorism in the 1980s, Brian Micheal Jenkins, The Rand Corperation, December 1980, Bin Laden, Osama, “Letter to America”, 2001 Pagden, Antony, Worlds at War, Random House Inc, New York, 2008 Listing of Justice Department Report on BLA Activity from January, 1970 – January,1976 Brown, J. William, “The Persuasive Appeal of Meditated Terrorism”, Western Journal of Speech communication, 1980 Matusitz, Jonathan, “Trends in Organized Crime”, Springer New York, 2008
Grau, W. Lester, In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters, MBI Publishing, 2001 Cassidy, Robert M. Ph. D. , Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror, Praeger Security International, 2006 Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. Seale, Partick, “Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire”, Random House, 1993 http://news. bbc. co. uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/26/newsid_2516000/2516469. stm http://www. cfr. org/israel/abu-nidal-organization-ano-aka-fatah-revolutionary-council-arab-revolutionary-brigades-revolutionary-organization-socialist-muslims