Terrorism is a complex global phenomenon that has overlapping psychological, ideological, cultural, social, economic and political dimensions. It has been subjected to superficial or one-dimensional interpretations and has been used in international media platforms to condemn certain Muslim countries or to vilify Islamic faith as a source of terrorism, notwithstanding the fact that the term (terrorism) appeared in its political sense during the so-called the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution which erupted in 1789. It was an era filled with violence and killings, during the vicious struggle between the bitterly opposing political factions of Girondins and Jacobins. One of the most notorious leaders of the Reign of Terror was the French lawyer and political leader Mr. Maximillien Rosbespierre, who stated in his book Principles of Political Morality, published in 1794, that: “Terror without a virtue is fatal; virtue without terror is impotent and terror is nothing but justice prompt, severe; it is thus an emanation of virtue.”
Various eras of history have witnessed horrible terrorist attacks. A case in point were those that were carried out by the anarchists. Anarchism was a global movement that was founded in 1870, and related in a loose sense to the concept of justice. It was directed to the abolition of the power of the state. The first anarchist group emerged in Russia under the name Narodyan Volya (People’s Will). It relied on violence to force the Russian Empire to guarantee constitutional rights. They only approach they adopted was the use of political terror, such as the suicide bombing to assassinate the Russian Tsar Alexander II and the assassination of many Russian ministers.
The movement spread quickly to Europe and then to the Americas. Between 1894 and 1900, the murderous anarchists assassinated the French president, Austria’s empress and Italy’s king. And on Sep. 1901, the anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated the U.S. president William McKinley. Then the international community deemed anarchism a grave danger that threatens the political, economic and social stability of the world. Thus, the historian David Rapoport stresses that anarchism represents the first wave of modern terrorism.
Depicting violence as a religious product is part of much debate in which there has been a tendency to link religion and violence. The British author Karen Armstrong states that: “we constantly hear the repeated statement: religion is violent and aggressive.” This idea is further expressed as: “religion is the cause behind all major wars in history.” This statement is recited as a dictum and being repeated on American Radio and TV stations and said by psychiatrists, or even by taxi drivers in London, not to mention the academics of Oxford University. Such widely used statements are bizarre, given that both World War One and World War Two were not fought for a religious cause.
Political violence and terrorism experts argue that humans commit atrocities for a varied and complex social, ideological and material reasons and factors. War historians, when debating causes of war, maintain that there is a plethora of interrelated social factors, and ideological and material factors that are responsible for leading humans to wars. Furthermore, experts in political violence or terrorism maintain that humans commit atrocities for various and complex reasons.
A closer look into human history reveals that violence is rooted in internal interactions between civilizations. In a study titled (Quantitative exploration of violence across world civilizations), which was published by the Royal Center for Islamic Research and Studies in 2009, Dr. Navid Sheikh surveys victims of religious and political violence during the past two millennia and the possible links with culture and civilization. He set up a list of more than 3000 violent conflicts in history, in each of which more than 10,000 people were killed, and categorized them based on the number of people killed, by putting the largest number of people killed first, then ranked the results on a civilization line.
Debates that take place in which religion is attacked or defended have nothing to do with the origin of the problem, since the structure of extremism is the same, but there are clear differences among extremists, whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims, nationalists, Communists or Nazis. The extremism that has driven all of them is of one nature, regardless of whether it is of a religious, racial, nationalistic or social origin. And there is a degree of similarity among extremist movements that is manifested in their severity, the absolute and dedication belief of their followers and the force that drives them to expand and attempt to control. Such movements create in the minds and spirits of their followers a readiness to die and a motivation for organized team work. Likewise, all these movements, irrespective of their ideology, school of thought or program, instill in their followers extreme enthusiasm, evil hatred and intolerance. All of them are able to unleash a great amount of energy in some walks of life. Meanwhile, such movements inculcate their followers to have blind belief and absolute loyalty. The researcher on extremist movements, Scott Atran, states in the introduction of his book Talking to enemy: Faith, Brotherhood and (Un) making of Terrorists that: “terrorists do not take revenge because they are exceptionally vengeful, or because they are uncaring, poor, uneducated, mean, lack self-esteem, have received an extreme form of education in their childhood, brainwashed, predisposed to criminality or suicidal. In most cases, terrorists are not nihilist, but they are moral extremist and they are influenced and tied to a stupid hope.)
Olivier Roy has also noticed that some similarity on the level of psychological structure between al-Qaeda and Daesh operations and the suicide attacks carried out by the followers of the anarchists in terms of self-display, attempt to extremely distinguish oneself, disconnection with society, sudden turn against the immediate surrounding, treating those around them as infidels, apostates or guilty, and treating the new group members as a family or a tribe.
(There are no innocents; that is the phrase used by the anarchist Emile Henry in 1894 when he detonated a bomb at café Terminus in Paris.)
Others also noticed a huge similarity between ISIS members and the Nazis at the psychological level, in being influenced by the narrative of struggle and self-sacrifice, in addition to the self-image in their formation and structure as a (superman) beings.
Thus, investigating the terrorism phenomenon must transcend a great deal of general beliefs, and need to be studied as any complex, overlapping social phenomenon.