Combating Terrorism

Combating Terrorism


Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri

(Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)

     The English word 'terrorism' is derived from the regime de la terreur that prevailed in France from 1793-1794. Originally an instrument of the state, the regime was designed to consolidate the power of the newly revolutionary government, protecting it from elements considered subversive. At that time terrorism was a positive term. The French revolutionary leader, Maximilien Robespierre, viewed it as vital if the new French Republic was to survive its infancy, proclaiming in 1794:

Terror is nothing other than justice: prompt, severe, inflexible. It is, therefore, an emanation of virtue. It is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of a general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.

Under such justification, some 40,000 people were executed by the guillotine – a fate Robespierre and his top lieutenants would themselves suffer when, later the same year, his announcement of a new list of subversives led to a counter-inquisition by some in the revolutionary government who feared their names may be on the latest roll of 'traitors'. Before long, the Revolution devoured itself in an orgy of paranoiac bloodletting.[1] 

     Meanwhile, terrorism began to take on the negative connotations that it carries today. Initially, this was helped by the writings of people like the English political philosopher Edmund Burke who popularized the term 'terrorism' in English while demonizing its French revolutionary practitioners. The newly defined notions of nationalism and citizenship, which both caused and were the result of the French Revolution, also saw the emergence of a new predominantly secular terrorism. The appearance of political ideologies such as Marxism also created a fertile sense of unrest at the existing order, with terrorism offering a means for change. The Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane's theory of the 'propaganda of the dead', which recognized the utility of terrorism to deliver a message to an audience other than the target and draw attention and support to a cause, typified this new form of terrorism.[2]

(To be continued)


[1]  Weinberg, op. cit., pp. 2-3.

[2]  Hoffman, op. cit., p. 17.