War on Terrorism

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda

According to the description of The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda, “This authoritative work provides an essential perspective on terrorism by offering a rare opportunity for analysis and reflection at a time of ongoing violence, chilling threats, and renewed reprisals. In it, some of the best international specialists working on the subject today examine terrorism's long and complex history from antiquity to the present day and find that terror, long the weapon of the weak against the strong, is a tactic as old as warfare itself. Beginning with the Zealots of Antiquity, the contributors discuss the Assassins of the Middle Ages, the 1789 Terror movement in Europe, Bolshevik terrorism during the Russian Revolution, Stalinism, "resistance" terrorism during World War II, and Latin American revolutionary movements of the late 1960s. Finally, they consider the emergence of modern transnational terrorism, focusing on the roots of Islamic terrorism, al Qaeda, and the rise of the contemporary suicide martyr. Along the way, they provide a groundbreaking analysis of how terrorism has been perceived throughout history. What becomes powerfully clear is that only through deeper understanding can we fully grasp the present dangers of a phenomenon whose repercussions are far from over.”

One reader of The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda, “I like this text in that it sets historical and moral context for today's conflicts. Chaliand and Blin, the editors, lay out the text in chapters on eras and specific conflicts. The text is notable in that it delves into the evolution of the moral debates concerning the targeting of civilians in times of warfare. Few today realize that much of today's terrorism evolved from the guerilla warfare in Occupied Europe of WWII, and the partisan civil conflicts that often followed after Nazi Germany was defeated. The editors draw these connections well, while maintaining a balanced academic-style approach. It is indeed difficult to discuss this field of study without taking sides or pontificating on the morality of "who is a legitimate target." Chailiand and Blin walk this line well.”

One reader of The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda said, “"The History of Terorism" From Antiquity To Al Qaeda" offers a clear-eyed, unsentimental and comprehensive look at terrorism. The editors, Gerard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin, are also the major contributors to a series of well-written essays that trace the historical roots and the modern usage of terrorism.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the prehistory of terrorism, especially by small, specialized groups such as the Zealots. The second section covers the period 1789 to 1968, as terrorism came into its own as a tool of radical political movements. The final section, slightly more than half the book, covers the recent uses of terrorism, especially by Islamic radicals including but not limited to al-Qaeda.

The text appears to have been translated from French, which may be the cause of slightly wooden prose in some of the entries. More importantly, this history is not US-centric, which may be a refreshing change for some students in this field. The approach is generally from the theoretical underpinnings of the politics and/or religious motivations of groups practicing terrorism, to the results of their efforts. "A History of Terrorism" is very highly recommended for its comprehensive and unsentimental look at the topic.”

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